Aviation, tourism and energy writer for the Business Herald

Auckland housing squeeze also putting pressure on boat owners

The builder of one of New Zealand's best known boats says the Auckland property squeeze is making it difficult for boaties.

Sea Craft, manufacturers of Haines Hunter power boats, says smaller section sizes meant it was more difficult to store them.

''The quarter acre section where you could park a boat in the backyard has all but gone,'' said director of Haines Hunter, Lionel Sands.

Storage space in dedicated facilities was limited and boaties were also facing a shortage of launch facilities in Auckland.

Sea Craft has just turned 70 and while in a period of solid growth was also being affected by a labour shortage.

''There is a critical shortage of skilled boat builders. What happened during the recession was that there was no focus on training new staff, businesses retrenched and we're paying for that now,'' said Sands.

''We're also suffering from a generation of educationalists pushing the academic aspect of education rather than a trade - there's only so much room for so many doctors and so many lawyers - kids who haven't achieved to that level are almost regarded as failures,'' he said.

The company employs 28 staff at its Auckland plant and they produce between four or five boats a week, approaching the sales enjoyed during the heyday of the industry in the 1990s.

The boats sell for between $40,000 and around $200,000 and Sands said the market was reasonably buoyant at the moment.

''My gut feeling is we're in a period of relative stability. I'm reasonably confident there will be four or five years of reasonably stable trading conditions,'' said Sands.

The biggest market for Haines Hunters was in Auckland where about a quarter of the country's estimated 345,000 power boats are based but the Central North Island had been strong for sales during the past two years.

Buyers ranged from the wealthy from overseas who were in New Zealand for a few months a year to tradespeople cashing in on the building boom.

A V198 Haines Hunter. This is one of the earlier models that established the brand in New Zealand.
A V198 Haines Hunter. This is one of the earlier models that established the brand in New Zealand.

The family-owned company was established as Sea Craft Ltd in 1946 by Lionel's father Yeomen "Sandy" Sands after he returned from WWII. The company manufactured oars and clinker built boats of varying sizes.

The company moved from clinker boat building, to being one of the first in New Zealand to pioneer fibreglass boat building, after Sandy Sands sent two staff to California to learn the new processes in 1965.

In 1985 Sea Craft bought Haines Hunter NZ Ltd from the Australian parent company.

Today Haines Hunter makes 14 different models and has 10 resellers nationwide.

It hasn't been all smooth sailing for the company though, firstly with the introduction of 20 per cent sales tax on power boats in 1977 and then later in 2010 after a fire in the factory resulted in the loss of all their boat moulds.

After Sandy Sands died in 1990, boat builder and former America's Cup crew member Denis Kendall entered the management team alongside Lionel, becoming a 50 per cent shareholder in the company. During the past 70 years the company has sold about 14,000 boats.

Sands said making it to 70 years was an achievement in the marine industry.

For the future of the boating industry, Sands sees a steady growth despite the challenges from overseas imports, including boats from China and the United States.

"The free trade agreement between China has impacted the industry in terms of the ability to import cheaper trailer boats into New Zealand. The Free Trade Agreement is not a level playing field in terms of compliance aspects, however, I think New Zealand consumers are sophisticated enough to know that imports may be cheaper, but they're not as good quality," said Sands.

And the weather affects interest in buying boats, he said.

''There's the old saying that when the diamonds are sparkling on the water people think about boats. There haven't been too many diamonds recently.''

- NZ Herald

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