MIAMI BEACH - There's no doubt it's been a very difficult 12 to 18 months in the boating business, but there's evidence suggesting the industry is poised for a comeback.
That was the message this morning from National Marine Manufacturers Association president Thom Dammrich at the IBEX industry breakfast and awards presentation.
A recent Discover Boating advertising contest asked boaters for their photos and videos showing what they love about their pastime. The NMMA expected about 40 entries; it received around 400.
Dammrich played four of the winning videos this morning, all of which show boaters having fun and spending quality time with friends and family on the water. Participation in boating peaked in 1997, he said, with about 32 percent of the adult U.S. population saying they had been on a boat.
Since Discover Boating was launched in 2006, participation rates have started climbing again and were back at about 32 percent in 2008. And once people get on the water and enjoy the boating lifestyle, Dammrich noted, they are more likely to buy a boat.
There are other signs the industry will soon begin to see a turnaround.
Boat sales tend to follow consumer confidence, which has been declining. However, Dammrich said he expects that will begin to rise by the end of the year.
"When that turns positive, historically, boat sales turn positive," he said.
Other good news cited was the bottoming of the housing market and signs of growth in the RV industry.
About 135,000 new boats will be sold this year, Dammrich said. That number should remain relatively flat or increase slightly in 2010, but by 2011 he predicts 150,000 to 175,000 new boats will be sold.
Also, while around 52,000 new units will be built this year, that number should climb to 135,000 in 2010 as inventory levels continue to drop.
There are "green shoots" in the industry and overall economy, Dammrich said. The boating business is beginning to come back to life.
— Beth Rosenberg