Memorial Day is the unofficial start of the boating season, but high fuel prices may limit the amount of leisure boating on the river.
Every two years for the last decade Bruce Heilman has navigated his boat by river from Peoria to the Florida Keys for vacation. But with diesel fuel for his two-miles-per-gallon yacht topping $5 a gallon, Heilman might skip the monthlong trip this year.
"I haven’t made a decision," said Heilman of Spring Bay. "I’m going to wait and see."
It costs him about $1,500 to fill up his boat’s 300 gallon tank and the 2,000 mile trip would cost the experienced boater about $5,000 in gas, at current prices.
Memorial Day is the unofficial start of the boating season, but high fuel prices may limit the amount of leisure boating on the river for Heilman and others.
"It’s made a difference already with the members of our boat club," he said. "There were a few trips planned last year, that now, with the price of fuel, everybody’s rethinking their summer plans. So, it will affect boating."
For local boat owners who don’t plan on taking any cross-country trips, rising gas prices may just mean less time zipping up and down the Illinois River, and more time rafting and idling.
Gary Hunt of Morton docks his 26-foot cruiser at the IVY Club, where a gallon of gas costs non-members $4.16. Members receive a 15 cent discount.
"We’ll probably spend most of our time rafting up downtown or along one of the beach areas," he said. "People might be hanging around cooking out at the docks a little more."
He said a leisurely day on the river might cost about $50 to $60 in gas.
"Even if gas was 50 percent higher, even if you had a $2,000 fuel bill for the year, that other thousand isn’t going to keep you from using your boat," he said.
He said rising prices for boat fuel hardly compare to the effect gas prices have on people who commute by car to work, and the rising price of commodities.
Dick Hamm, owner of Hamm’s Holiday Harbor in Chillicothe, said he is breaking even on gas sold to customers in order keep prices affordable for boaters. About 125 people pay to keep their boats docked for the season at his harbor.
"If you run the boaters out with high prices, you won’t make any money," he said. "If you want to run a business you have to take it easy on something.
"You’re going to have a little bit of fun. But you’re not going to have as much fun as you used to."
Jim Wirt, owner of Jim’s Marine Service, said he hasn’t seen a difference in the number of people who come to his business to service their boats. The business also facilitates the sale of used boats from private sellers.
"We’ve actually sold a few boats," he said. "But who knows how long it will last. If you’re selling gas or diesel, you’re going to starve to death."
He said people will think twice about hopping in their boat, unless it’s perfect weather or a special occasion.
"Running your engine now has got to be quality time," he said. "It’s got to be worth it to run up and down the river."
Ed McMenamin can be reached at (309) 686-3196 or firstname.lastname@example.org.