Grow Boating study finds drop in first-time buyers

Posted on Written by Reagan Haynes

First-time boat buyers represent 33 percent of all boats sold in the United States, which is nearly a 20 percent decline since 2005.

The decline is largely the reason that the age of the average boat owner continues to increase — the number of owners under the age of 50 has gone from 55 percent of all owners to fewer than 35 percent.

That’s according to a Grow Boating study released today and titled “First-Time Boat Buyer.”

“We’ve worked very closely with Info-Link to understand the latest boat owner trends,” Grow Boating president Carl Blackwell told Trade Only Today. “In particular, two things stood out: The total number of boat owners has decreased by more than 1 million since 2000 and the percentage of first-time boat owners dropped from 42 percent to 33 percent in 2015. This confirms previous findings that showed a decline in the number of boaters under the age of 50 — from 55 percent of all owners to now under 35 percent.”

“We are losing boat owners faster than we can replace them,” Blackwell added. “Some of this is age-related, and some of it involves a lower percentage of first-time buyers becoming repeat buyers.”

Another key insight from the First-Time Boat Buyer research is that two-thirds of first-time buyers will only provide personal information at the point of purchase, which means that manufacturers and dealers are not getting traditional leads from two-thirds of first-time buyers.

“The way people shop today is very different than in 2005, and through this in-depth analysis we, as an industry, have to realize that traditional leads may soon be harder to come by and there is a need to identify more impactful ways to connect with potential first-time buyers,” Blackwell said in a statement.

Because of changes in consumer shopping and online behavior during the past decade, the board of Grow Boating commissioned the study in an effort to better understand today’s first-time boat buyer and determine how manufacturers, dealers and the industry’s marketing campaign, Discover Boating, can apply the findings to generate sales.

The study identified six types of first-time buyers: the “gear guys,” or mostly younger men who are motivated by hobbies with specialized equipment; the merry mates, those who want to connect as a family; luxurious leisurers, image-conscious people who seek status; water weekenders, those who did not grow up boating, but love hosting friends and family on their own boat; seclusion seekers, or nature lovers who seek to escape busy lives; and nautical natives, those who grew up boating and continue to do so.

Click here to read more about the study and read more from Carl Blackwell on the research in Soundings Trade Only’s May Q&A.


16 comments on “Grow Boating study finds drop in first-time buyers

  1. Emory Shover

    My opinion: Yes, younger people are not getting into boating, especially cruising boats. All one has to do is look at the price of new boats, the cost of maintenance, slip fees, etc. not to mention fuel (which has at least been stable for the moment. Young folks simply cannot afford to buy new, or in many cases, used boats. The costs of simple stuff like boat wash and wax products has gone through the roof. If you own a cruiser and require bottom paint, the prices of $170 – $200 a gallon (and up) for a quality paint would scare many folks away. I used to have several friends who cruised with me and enjoyed boating. After the economy collapsed and fuel went to $4-5 a gallon, they have all sold their boats. Very sad. The RV industry beats the stuffing out of the marine industry.

  2. Howard McMichael

    The under 50 couples are far more involved in their children’s sports than in years past. Taking off a weekend or even a Saturday would probably conflict with a soccer game, rowing practice, lacrosse game etc. Driving their kids or carpooling breaks up a day. Also, many more parents are two income families and both are sharing the duties on weekends.

  3. Glenn McCarthy

    Give me a break. Boating has always been expensive, and always will. I am so tired of this being the “excuse.” The vast majority of marketing in the entire industry is focused on those who already boat (look at all of the ads in the boating magazines). It is pathetic that boat ads are found “outside” of the Usual Boating Suspects. We continue to sell to ourselves who are graying, dying, retiring, fortunes changing. We do not work to get young (30 – 40 year olds) boating.

  4. Zephyr

    Boating does not have to be more expensive than other leisure pursuits that people spend money on: golf, RVs, skiing, etc. But, the entire industry has gradually moved to chasing the higher and higher end of the market. Sailing companies simply stopped making smaller, more affordable boats decades ago, if they managed to stay in business. Wander around any boat show and the prices of many boats are more than the homes buyers own. We do need smaller, simpler, cheaper boats, and also an industry that supports those boats and boaters because they are the buyers of the future. Go to most harbors and you will still see these boats on the water, but they are used and in many cases decades old because you can’t go out and buy anything remotely close on the new market. The truth is that you don’t need to have all the mod cons to go cruising, but you wouldn’t know it from the way boats are marketed and promoted.

  5. Boat lover

    The boating industry is changing. The price of boats are very expensive and puts most people out of their price range. The last boat show I went to I saw ski boats in the $80K range. That will certainly keep a buyer away. Unless you plan on using it every day, you will never see a return on this investment. Boating is a great lifestyle but should not put people in the poor house.

  6. Scott Wiliams

    This article is misleading, and I challenge the validity of the numbers AND the way this article is presented.

    Is the cup half full or half empty?

    The 08 recession is going to knock the wind out of the numbers just like it did to the economy, so those with money were the only ones buying for a while, and most likely they were existing boaters too. So, yeah, first time buyer numbers are misleading.

    SHOW US the numbers from 09 till now and my guess is we’ll see awesome growth and a lot of new boaters and etc. In the real world out here, most any dealers and manufacturers are experiencing record growth and great sales, and many first time boaters are getting into boating. And YES, the boats have become expensive, but what hasn’t? That is another discussion about why “income” has not moved much in 20 years.

    I would like to see MORE SUPPORT for our industry with POSITIVE articles. I’m not saying don’t report on other things, but damn…this article could have been written to support our industry, not trying to scare dealers and manufacturers.

    TradeOnly has become like CNN in their reporting.

  7. Don Hyde

    I agree with Glenn McCarthy’s realism and would posit a few other fundamentals that I believe are informative.

    The nature of the “potential” boat owner has profoundly changed and this has not been acted upon by the industry at large. The potential incoming demographic explicitly expects simplicity, sophistication, and performance to seamlessly coexist in the products they buy without requiring personal effort. They operate their lives based on information delivered by a plethora of browser and mobile apps to the connected device of that moment. They are more dependent upon packaged information and less self-reliant. This is not going to change for the better. Look at the way car manufacturers sell cars. They don’t talk about anything important, they set a mood and let the viewer place themselves in the picture. Is Grow Boating doing that? Also, the historical prototype of boater self-reliance is just out dated.

    Boat ownership is not an intuitive activity, and with fewer young people growing up with boating as a family activity it is seen as complex, perhaps even unattainable by those with no background in the lifestyle.

    The message of Grow Boating should be that boating is sophisticated, tech driven and cool. Telematics and the Internet of Things present opportunities for the boat ownership experience to match the expectations of those needed to keep the boating industry vibrant in the 21st century.

  8. AnonymousBob

    Why do we have 600+ builders in our industry? Too many backyard builders without sufficient capital to support customers or dealers only muddies our industry waters. A first-time buyer who decides to jump into boating by buying some locally built “Sea Crap” or “Aqua Whatever” brand has an issue with their boat and decides to get service on it only to find the builder no longer exists. The buyer goes to a local dealer who says they won’t work on the boat because it wasn’t bought there. The buyer then goes to one of the ever-truthful online forums for help only to get blasted by boat snobs for buying their “Sea Crap” 20′ runabout. Voila! A disgruntled, disheartened first-time boater jettisons their boat and decides to go RVing or golfing, only to never pursue boating again.

  9. Scott Wiliams

    Don Hyde
    The message of Grow Boating should be that boating is sophisticated, tech driven and cool. Telematics and the Internet of Things present opportunities for the boat ownership experience to match the expectations of those needed to keep the boating industry vibrant in the 21st century.

    SERIOUSLY? You want GROW BOATING to put out #FakeNew? Every production boat builder is still in the 20th century, and the most advanced part any boat available today is the GPS.


  10. Curtis

    I see the problem as many of the young people are still living at home living off of mom and dad while they pretend to go to school or work.
    Back in the day my wife and I married at 21, had kids at 22,bought a house and boats cost $10,000 and trucks to pull them were $8,000. Now the youth of today is still living at home at the age of 26 to 30, Still on mom and dads insurance and cell phone plans with no intentions of ever owning a house. Boats cost $40,000 plus and trucks to pull them are $60,000, or you can buy something old and have it break down every five minutes, fight the launch ramps and lack of parking get frustrated and get out of boating. Boating is not fun anymore.

  11. Capt Lou

    A lot of the commenters above are confusing first time boat owners with buyers of new boats. Most first time boat buyers buy a small trailerable, used boat for $5,000 or less, so attracting first time boat buyers has nothing to do with price of new boats or cost of gas. Owning a boat is supposed to be fun, filled with adventure and excitement. I believe the problem is with the way the boat manufacturers do their marketing – directing their sales to existing boaters, trying to convince them that their boat is 2 feet too small or obsolete. That doesn’t do a thing to attract a young first time boat buyer.

  12. CaptA

    Young people don’t have the money baby boomers had. IT IS THAT SIMPLE!!!!

    High school debt, low wage jobs and an economy that works only for the upper classes—DUH! What did you all expect?

  13. Dan Erickson

    It seems like the kayak business is doing well with the younger buyers, however the industry doesn’t appear to view this group as boaters or boat buyers. IMO the industry will not find their future until they accept todays reality. Padding around is the new boating life style. Accept it and find a way to make a profit. Its time to engage these boaters and rebuild the industry by focusing on the lifestyle of being on the water. Someday, some of this segment will move into power or sail boats.

  14. Scott Wiliams

    Dan Erickson
    IMO the industry will not find their future until they accept todays reality.

    AGREE. And that reality comes in many shapes, colors, styles and forms. If the marine industry had a team of leaders, who could embrace the 21st century, even just a little, they could create so much excitement and cross-over appeal that the industry would explode within 18 months… but they won’t.

    They will talk about it, argue about it, resist it, print articles about it, and some will try on their own… but for it to really work and appeal to the consumer, it MUST be an effort that considers the industry as a whole.

    And this could happen so easy…anybody want to form the next Marine Association?

    Sad, really… sad.

  15. Jeff

    Keep it simple, make it safe, make it run well, make it fun to own, and make it affordable. Allow the owner to update it at will and teach the owner how to maintain it. Not hard, boating is not rocket science, no need to break the sound barrier, cook meals, or a status symbol it’s just boating. ENJOY !

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive. For more information, please see our Comments Policy.

Vote Today

What's most important to you when it comes to the federal budget?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Login to Trade Only Today

Lost Password