‘A Strong Finish to a Strong Year’

Booming demand for boats continued as the year ended, with the industry posting the highest sales since 2007
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The marine industry finished 2020 a high note. With 32 states reporting — approximately 64 percent of the U.S. boating market — new-boat registrations in December were up 12.8 percent year to date in the main powerboat categories and showed few signs of abating.

On a year-to-year basis, registrations were up 37.3 percent, according to preliminary numbers provided by Statistical Surveys, a Michigan firm that tracks new-boat registrations. Statistical Surveys sales director Ryan Kloppe says that when all the numbers are in, registrations will shoot well past 300,000 for the year, the highest sales in the United States in the last 13 years.

“It’s a strong finish to a strong year,” Kloppe says. “We’re still seeing a lot of registrations coming in.”

Last year, newcomers and those returning to boating create a perfect storm of sales, as a good portion of the country emerged from pandemic lockdowns in late spring and were looking for safe ways to recreate.

“What we saw in the unprecedented year that was 2020 is Americans taking to the water in record numbers to escape pandemic stress and safely enjoy the outdoors,” says Vicky Yu, senior director of business intelligence at the National Marine Manufacturers Association. “This resulted in more than 310,000 new powerboats sold and sales up across all boat categories. Those are levels the industry hasn’t seen since before the Great Recession in 2008, and we expect that consumer demand will continue in the year ahead.”

Warm-weather states showed strong numbers for December. Florida was No. 1, posting a near 31 percent gain compared with December 2019 at 2,777 registrations, versus 2,125 the previous year. The No. 2 state was Texas with 1,111 registrations, compared with 652 in 2019, a 70.4 percent increase. North Carolina posted a 69 percent jump (305 to 516), and South Carolina was up 67 percent (301 to 502).

Even as inventory shortages continued, demand was up nearly across the board, and builders responded. “Production picked up in the second half of 2020 to reach an estimated 211,000 new boats built and shipped,” Yu adds.

Jetboats showed year-over-year growth for December of 206 percent, with sales of 193 units, compared with 63 in the same period the previous year. The segment is up 18.1 percent for the year. PWC sales rose 85 percent for the month to 1,601 (from 863), with year-to-date numbers up just over 4 percent.

Pontoons increased 48 percent year over year, and the segment is up 18 percent year to date. Fiberglass outboard boats were up 28 percent year over year (to 2,636 from 2,060). Aluminum fishing boats had 1,436 registrations — up from 1,124 the previous year, which is nearly 28 percent growth compared with the same month in the previous year.

Even sterndrive and inboard bowrider numbers increased, up 80 percent for the month to 199 (from 110) and just shy of 10 percent for the year.

For 2021, Kloppe predicts more of the same. “Expect demand to continue into the new year,” he says. 

This article was originally published in the March 2021 issue.

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