With a weak economy and high gas prices, the recreational-boating industry is steering through troubled waters.

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With a weak economy and high gas prices, the recreational-boating industry is steering through troubled waters.

Boaters are spending less, delaying pricey purchases or upgrades and taking shorter trips.

Sales of new boats in Washington state were down about 40 percent in the first six months of this year compared with the first half of 2007, said Mike McQuaid, of the Northwest Yacht Brokers Association, a Seattle trade group.

“We are facing a nervous economy with an uncertain outlook in an election year,” McQuaid said. “All this together makes consumers more careful, postponing bigger investments in boating.”

Recreational boating is one of the important industries in Washington state. Last year, the state had about 2,400 recreational-boating businesses and about 10,500 industry jobs, according to the Northwest Yacht Association.

One recent sign of the industry’s troubles: Olympic Boat Centers’ parent company — OBH Holdings, based in Redmond — filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in July in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in California. Olympic Boat Centers has 18 stores on the West Coast.

At this week’s Boats Afloat Show in Seattle, which runs through Sunday on Lake Union, exhibitors and visitors are talking about the state of the industry.

Ron Chace, of the Seattle broker Crow’s Nest Yacht, is selling a 65-foot yacht for $2.1 million at the boat show. He hopes to get $1.9 million.

“It’s definitely a buyers’ market,” Chace said. “Although the economy is weak, if you want to buy a boat … this is a good time.”

Meagan Randall, of Seacoast Marine Finance in Seattle, agrees. Interest rates are around 6 percent for a 15- to 20-year loan, she said. The monthly payment on a boat is by far the largest cost of ownership. Lower loan rates mean lower overall cost.

And fuel efficiency is a big selling point. Although a small part of boat ownership, the industry and boaters are looking for ways to lower that cost.

Patrick Kelly, president of Seattle boat seller Blackfish Marine, is touting Volvo’s new propulsion system, Penta IPS, which reduces gas consumption by up to 30 percent.

“The car industry would be glad to have such a motor,” he said.

Trevor Brice, of North Pacific Yachts in Vancouver, B.C., said that “people are definitely looking for more fuel-efficient boats.” Brice said he has seen fewer American boats in the harbor of his hometown.

“I suppose people take shorter routes” to save money, Brice said.

Bob Ross, of Sail Northwest in Seattle, who sells motor- and sailboats, said some of his customers are cutting costs by buying single-engine motorboats instead of twin-engine models.

“They also want lighter boats, and manufacturers are reacting to that,” Ross said.

Georg Kern: 206-464-3283 or gkern@seattletimes.com