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A Steady Decline

1_BTN_Soundings Oct 2021

Boatbuilders and dealers are seemingly in the catbird seat. Demand continues to bludgeon supply, and customers are flocking to boat shows and dealerships, ready to buy whatever vessels are still in stock — or to preorder and wait until next season for a boat.

But with supply-chain constraints continuing to dominate headlines and Covid-19 variants slowing the international flow of goods, there is no discernable path to a return to normalcy.

October’s boat registrations directly reflect the hydra-headed problems manufacturers are facing getting customer-ready products to market. Preliminary numbers from Statistical Surveys, a Michigan firm that tracks new-boat registrations, confirm a sixth consecutive month of constricted boat sales.

Total industry registrations, representing 38 states or about 76 percent of the U.S. boating market, were down 20 percent for the month, with the main powerboat segments dropping 21 percent when compared to October 2020.

On a year-to-year basis, registrations in the most popular boating categories were off 9.3 percent year-to-date. Industry numbers dropped 8.3 percent with 259,142 boats registered in 2021, compared to 282,568 at the same time last year.

For the month, double-digit drops define the main powerboat segments, with pontoons, outboard vessels and aluminum fishboats plunging by a combined average of 20 percent. On a year-to-year basis, the most popular categories are down a combined average of 9 percent.

Total industry registrations followed the same pattern, with every category down minus sailboats, which are having a banner year. That category is up 49 percent (to 134 from 90) for October. With 1,296 units sold, sailboats continue to put 2020 total sales in their wake.

Some other categories of note include boats larger than 66 feet, which are up 13 percent for the year (to 139 from 123). Houseboats have seen 21 percent growth for the year, with 58 work-from-anywhere offices registered in 2021 (up from 48). And electric boats continue to charge ahead, with 264 units sold this year, a 24 percent jump from 2020.

On a state-by-state basis, only two of the top 10 saw positive sales numbers for the month. No. 4 South Carolina had a 14 percent jump in sales (to 814 from 717), and the Great Lakes State, No. 8 Michigan, saw registrations increase, albeit slightly, with four more boats sold in October (to 445 from 441).

Florida again occupied the top spot with 2,204 boats registered, slipping 35 percent from 2020 (when the figure was 3,365). The remainder of the top five — Texas, California and North Carolina — posted smaller losses for the month.

While it’s a foregone conclusion that sales for the year will not reach 2020’s numbers, the future looks bright. The annual Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show is a reliable bellwether for the marine industry, and this year’s five-day event saw several builders — including Boston Whaler, Sea Ray, Scout Boats, Tiara Yachts and Valhalla Boatworks — reporting record sales. Even with many of these boat companies acknowledging significant backlogs, customers still flocked to the docks, and seemed willing to wait for the exact boat they desire. 

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