How two very different boating companies are impacted in different ways by the Trump administration’s tariff on Chinese goods

Two very different boating companies have been impacted very differently by the Trump administration’s tariff on Chinese goods that went into effect at 10% last year and were raised to 25% in the past week. One seems to be weathering the storm while the other is finding it increasingly difficult to keep the business afloat.

Sea Eagle Boats, in Long Island, New York, has been importing inflatable boats, paddle boards, and kayaks from China since the late 1990s.

“We have been forced, so far, to pay US$180,000 in tariffs,” co-owner John Hoge told WNYW-TV, “which is a lot for a small family business.”

So far, Sea Eagle has raised prices on its Chinese-made product by 7.5% – before the additional tariffs kicked-in – and Hoge notes that sales for the year are already off. His is a middle-class customer base and he fears a further falloff once the products with a 25% tariff reach US shores.

Hoge said while he has sought alternative ways around the additional expenses, suppliers refuse to move production to other countries. And manufacturing the boats in the United States is too expensive.

“Finding an alternative source for product that has to be made well and has to be made safely is not easy,” he said.

Meanwhile, across the state border in Connecticut, Defender Industries is benefiting from its 80 years in the marine industry and the expertise that comes with it. The global internet-based marine-supply company took seriously President Trump’s threat to increase tariffs to 25%. When the first round of 10% tariffs was enacted, Defender moved to stock its shelves.

“We hedged our bets early,” Stephan Lance, co-owner and president of Defender, told The Day. “When the tariffs were 10%, we heard that there was a possibility that they’d be going to 25%, so we doubled down.”

Among its myriad products, Defender also sells inflatable boats built to its specifications in China, until recently. Early last year, it moved production to France, enabling it to avoid tariffs as well as develop a better product, according to Lance.

“It was worth it to have the boats built there [in France] because of the difference in quality,” he said. “But it was a win-win when the tariffs went into effect.”

The latest round of tariffs affect many of the products Defender imports. Even products manufactured in the UK or Japan may have Chinese content impacted by the tariffs.

For the most part, tariffs are borne by the consumer, Lance said.

“We heavily invested in stock before the tariffs took effect,” he said. “Until we sell through that stock, we’ve insulated the customer [from the effect of tariffs]. My goal is to get through the season.”

Defender sells products in 130 countries, including, ironically, China, Lance said. Two-thirds of the company’s sales take place online. So far, they have been able to hold the line on pricing.

“We continue to look for products based on cost, value and where they’re coming from. In the boating industry, there are alternatives to China.”

“Honestly, I’m more worried about the weather than tariffs,” he said.