Survey finds ‘more people buying more pontoons’

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The aging baby-boomer population, affordability and fewer entry-level boaters are causing the shift from runabouts and cruisers to pontoons, not an exodus from one segment to the other.

That’s according to Jack Ellis, managing director at Info-Link Technologies, a Miami-based market research and analytics firm, who told Soundings Trade Only that the company looked at the migration from one segment to the other, speculating that such a shift was occurring.

“We don’t see people necessarily exiting runabout and cruiser markets to pontoon,” Ellis told Trade Only. “Or, they do but it’s not any more prevalent today than it was in the past. So it’s not like people are defecting in significant numbers.”

Instead, there are just more people buying pontoons, Ellis said.

The fact that boaters are aging and few young families and new boaters are joining the recreation is more cause for concern for the overall industry, Ellis said.

“We know for a fact that over the past 15 years the average boat owner has gotten eight years older,” Ellis said. “There is nothing we see that is going to make that demographic change. Now fast-forward that 10 years. My average buyer is going to be 58. Is that going to be a problem?”

Fifteen years ago the average boat owner was in his early 40s; today relatively few people in their early 40s are buying boats, Ellis said.

“For the most part the market is just chewing through its current customer base,” Ellis told Trade Only. “We’re adding new entrants and obviously we’re doing everything we can to keep them, but the majority are people who are already boating.”

“We know that 70 percent of first-time buyers, they sell their boat and never come back,” Ellis added, “but we don’t know why.”

The company found when it studied pontoon buyers last year that about half are first-time buyers, a proportion that hasn’t grown since 2006.

The decline in fiberglass runabout sales would appear to support a defection to pontoons, but the percentage of pontoon boat buyers who previously owned a fiberglass boat, which has always been about 50 percent, has not moved, Info-ink found.

The company also found that the percentage of people who previously purchased used boats and were buying new pontoons hadn’t budged.

“Instead we just see more people buying more pontoons,” Ellis said.

It’s an affordable way to stay comfortable, get plenty of people on board and do so for considerably less money than can be done on a fiberglass cruiser.

Ellis speculates that the decline in runabout purchases is attributable to fewer entry-level boaters, those who traditionally bought in that segment.

“Pontoons is an older purchase. I think that’s why it’s seeing so much popularity these days,” Ellis said.

— Reagan Haynes


5 comments on “Survey finds ‘more people buying more pontoons’

  1. Joe Grayson

    People are buying Pontoons because they are “More square and feet Less money” than fiberglass….plus they can truly support any watersports need.
    A 12 person capacity fiberglass ski boat will cost anywhere from 60 to 100+K and in a “pontoon ski boat”this is going to be 35 to 70K loaded with a 50+ mph performance. This is the attraction.

    If you told me 5 years ago that we are going to sell more pontoons than bow riders…I would of said your crazy. I think our ratio now is almost 2to1 alum. to fiberglass.

    Pontoons are not “fuddy duddy ” anymore. They actually seem to fulfill every family members need or want for less $.

    Joe Grayson

  2. jake

    6 yrs ago we used to have a reputable pontoon from a very popular mfg but had to keep in water (forklift drivers at marina refused to lift) and bottomed painted with specialty bottom paint. Aluminum bottom paint was kept up but if a barnacle attached the metal became paper thin and then leak. Pontoons started taking on water. We were constantly bottom painting, putting more holes in the bottom to drain where a barnacle got thru and then welding. Became a maintenence nightmare.

    Has anything changed to make pontoons more durable for saltwater?


    The boating industry is pricing itself out of the market. As incomes shrink and costs continue to accelerate buyers are continually looking for a way to stay on the water at a reasonable cost. Pontoon boats fit the bill. They cost a fraction of the cost of traditional runabouts and small cruisers and deliver in usability for the family just looking to spent a great day on the water. You can do just about anything you can do on a traditional style boat except traveling and overnighting. Even that has been done by some.


    Haven’t you guys heard the hit song “Pontoon” by Little Big Town.
    I’ll bet big money that it has had an effect on sales.

  5. Outboardman

    Our family marine store sold Weeres pontoons (MN) long before they were popular, beginning with the heavy and rust-prone steel tubes and ending with state of the art aluminum performance models. Through nearly 46 yrs of sales and service, our customer base stayed with us, upgrading, for service and storage and so pontoons ended up as our principal line. Speedboats, rowboats, cruisers, all took a nosedive or became prohibitively expensive to buy and maintain. I cannot recall one disenchanted customer and in fact, many became our closest family friends. Pontoons will continue to evolve and improve in the coming decades and I for one, will be cheering on those builders.

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