April boat registrations varied dramatically among segments, with ski and wake boats continuing to outpace the overall industry with 8 percent growth. “This is the sixth consecutive month of at least high-single-digit unit growth and marks the 25th time in the past three years where sales have come in at 8 percent or higher year over year,” writes SunTrust analyst Michael Swartz.
Pontoon registrations were up 10 percent, and personal watercraft registrations grew 14.7 percent, according to data from Statistical Surveys, a Michigan firm that gathered data from 30 states representing more than 60 percent of the U.S. boat market.
Year-over-year growth was 0.4 percent in the main powerboat categories but down 3.8 percent year to date, according to preliminary data from SSI. The new numbers followed a solid comparison with April 2018, when the main powerboat categories were up 4 percent year over year, says SSI sales director Ryan Kloppe.
“There’s some good segment growth, and hopefully this will give us a little lift until the weather gets nice and we come into the big selling months,” Kloppe says. “They’re here.”
Swartz wrote that while sales growth was modest, “it marked a significant improvement from the trends seen earlier in the year — down 6 percent through March — and came on top of a fairly difficult year-over-year comparison.”
The rise in registrations comes as good news, given the bad weather throughout much of the country during April, according to Wells Fargo analyst Tim Conder. “We believe trends accelerated through April despite less-favorable weather, with positive momentum likely carrying into May,” Conder wrote.
Though channel inventories aren’t an issue, dealers will need to actively manage them to avoid winding up with too much inventory during the off-season heading into 2020, Conder says.
PWC saw a 14.7 percent jump in registrations, breaking 5,000 sold for the month. And while there were strong gains in pontoons, outboard fiberglass (2.6 percent) and towboats, aluminum fishing boats saw a 10.5 percent decline. “The aluminum fish [decline] was interesting,” Kloppe says. “The majority of those are sold in the North, and the weather has obviously not been ideal for the kickoff of the marine season.”
However, Eric Wold, an analyst with B. Riley, says the dip was unsurprising. “The two boat segments that declined in April — aluminum fish and sterndrive/inboard — should not be a surprise, given the weak wholesale shipment results and associated management commentary we have seen around smaller, value boats during the [first quarter],” Wold wrote.
Cruisers and yachts, though small in numbers, declined sharply. Registrations for yachts 41 to 65 feet were almost half of what they were in 2018, going from 82 boats last year to 42 this year.
The sterndrive/inboard category fell again, this time by a combined 107 units, which represented a 10.6 percent year-over-year decline.
Florida led states for registrations with 3,880, down from 3,988 in April 2018. Four states — Texas (2,723), Michigan (2,190), North Carolina (1,441) and Alabama (1,167) — all saw gains. “Initial year-to-date retail softness and current inventory levels will likely limit any H219 [second half of 2019] U.S. shipment upside,” Conder says. “Conversely, shipments into Canada should benefit from the tariff repeal.”
This article originally appeared in the July 2019 issue.