MEREDITH — When fiberglass-hulled boats became available for mass market sales, they presented a game-changer for consumers. Whereas wooden boats required maintenance each year to remain watertight, this new material could last for decades. Boat shoppers jumped on board with the advancement, and the boat-building industry changed nearly overnight.
That was about 40 years ago, and now, those first fiberglass boats have reached the end of their serviceable life, and there are many, many more right behind them. The National Marine Manufacturer’s Association estimates that there are more than 12 million recreational boats in the U.S.
So, what happens when someone brings one of these old boats to trade in to their dealer? First, they’ll be lucky if the dealer accepts it, as it likely will cost the dealer to get rid of it.
“It’s a pain – the biggest pain we have,” said Merrill Fay, owner of Fay’s Boatyard in Gilford. “What do we do with them?”
Once the fiberglass starts to break down, dealers don’t want to risk selling them. So they dispose of them. However, that’s not as easily said as done. All of the non-fiberglass components have to be removed: all the glass, the rubber, and all the metal, including the motor, drive, fuel tanks and lines.
“Then we crush them, take them to the Laconia Transfer Station, and they put them in the landfill, which is a shame,” said Fay. “I’m hoping they get into fiberglass recycling soon.”
In fact, Ralph Reinhold, yard manager at Fay’s, said he prefers if their customers find another way to dispose of their old fiberglass boats. “We just tell them, please don’t bring them here.”
The problem is, where can they take them? Until recently, the answer was M&M Marine Salvage in Meredith.
M&M Marine Salvage was started by Manny Makris, who ended up with a salvage business after starting or operating several marinas on the southern end of Lake Winnipesaukee in the 1960s and '70s. When he sold a marina, any used stock he had would be brought to a warehouse he had built in Meredith.
“In the mid-1980s, the phone started ringing like crazy,” said George Makris, Manny’s son, who took over the operation. If someone had an older boat, they might not be able to get particular components from the manufacturer. Or if they could, they could get it cheaper – about half the price – from M&M.
As demand grew, Makris said, they needed to find a supply of components to keep their shelves stocked, so they started taking boats that people didn’t want anymore. “Some I bought, some I took for free, some I charged to get rid of,” he said.
It all depended on the value of the componentry. If the engine and outdrive were operational, Makris might pay $500 for a boat. If they weren’t, he might charge as much as $2,000 for someone to leave it with him.
That’s because of all of the labor required to remove all of the materials and hazardous fluids. “It takes a day to strip a boat. It’s a process,” said Makris, adding that he’s done it hundreds of times.
Then he takes the bare hull to the town transfer station, where he pays by the pound for it to be added to a demolition waste bin. Even after it’s been stripped, most boat hulls weigh 1,300 to 1,500 pounds, he said.
Makris said business has been “excellent,” especially after bringing in his daughter, Stacey, to manage eBay sales. They now ship boat parts all over the country. He even sold a boat to a customer in Germany. Why would someone in Germany buy a boat from him? “I have no idea,” he said.
Despite his success, Makris decided two months ago to stop accepting scrap boats. He’s winding down his business, with an eye toward converting the property to self-storage.
“I turned 70, I don’t want to do it anymore,” Makris said. It’s provided a living for him, but it demands a lot of his time, and his children don’t want to take over.
Still, he wonders where people will turn.
“I turned down 35 boats in the last 60 days when I decided not to do it anymore,” he said. “I don’t know where they’re going to go now.”
“I think the question for the marinas is, where are they going to take the old boats now? Somebody will pick up that slack somewhere. It’s kind of a dilemma where to go with them.”