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Boating Reaches Highest Sales in Nearly a Decade

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Memorial Day weekend signals the start of summer boating season in the U.S. Recently, the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) reported that the $36-billion U.S. boating industry is seeing some of its highest sales in nearly a decade.

Unit sales of new powerboats increased six percent in 2016, reaching 247,800 boats sold, and are expected to increase an additional six percent in 2017 – a trajectory NMMA expects to continue through 2018.

“Economic factors, including an improving housing market, higher employment, strong consumer confidence, and growing disposable income, are creating a golden age for the country’s recreational boating industry,” noted Thom Dammrich, president of NMMA. “Summer is a busy selling season for our industry, and we expect steady growth to continue across most boat categories through 2017 – and into 2018 – to keep up with the acceleration in demand for new boats.”

Demand continues to grow across nearly all powerboat segments. Outboard boat sales, which represent 85 percent of new traditional powerboats sold, and include pontoons, aluminum and fiberglass fishing boats, as well as small fiberglass cruising boats, were up 6.1 percent in 2016 to 160,900 units.

Sales of new ski and wakeboard boats, used for popular watersports such as wakesurfing and wakeboarding, saw a double-digit increase, up 11.5 percent to 8,700 boats. New personal watercraft sales, often considered a gateway to boat ownership, rose 7.3 percent to 59,000 craft, and jet boats, smaller fiberglass boats that use jet engine technology to propel the boat, saw a sales increase of 8.7 percent to 5,000 boats.

Sales of yachts (33-foot and higher) saw gains of 3.5 percent, reaching a seven-year high of 1,715 units in 2016.

“One of the standout areas of growth in 2016 was among yachts – a category that has been slower to rebound as high net worth individuals looked to remain more liquid post-recession,” noted Dammrich.

U.S. Recreational Boating by the Numbers

  • Annual U.S. sales of boats, marine products and services totaled $36 billion in 2016, an increase of 3.2 percent from 2015.
  • There were approximately 247,800 new power boats sold in 2016, and increase of six percent from 2015.
  • The recreational boating industry in the U.S. has an annual economic impact of more than $121.5 billion (includes direct, indirect and induced spending), supporting 650,000 direct and indirect American jobs and nearly 35,000 small businesses.

Leading the nation in sales of new powerboat, engine, trailer and accessories in 2016 were the following states:

  • Florida: $2.5 billion, up five percent from 2015
  • Texas: $1.4 billion, up five percent from 2015
  • Michigan: $868 million, up nine percent from 2015
  • Minnesota: $710 million, up nine percent from 2015
  • North Carolina: $689 million, up eleven percent from 2015
  • New York: $688 million, up 14 percent from 2015
  • Wisconsin: $622 million, up nine percent from 2015
  • California: $615 million, up 15 percent from 2015
  • Georgia: $551 million, up eleven percent from 2015
  • South Carolina: $544 million, up ten percent from 2015

It’s not just new boats Americans are buying; there were an estimated 981,600 pre-owned boats (powerboats, personal watercraft, and sailboats) sold in 2016, totaling $9.2 billion in sales, an increase of two percent from 2015.

Sailboat sales rebounded in 2016 with 6,500 sailboats sold, an increase in unit sales of 16.1 percent over 2015 driven by a 23.4 percent increase in the ‘20 ft. or less’ category.

Boating is predominantly “middle-class” with 72 percent of boat owners having a household income less than $100,000.

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