A year ago, spring arrived early in many parts of the country and the recreational boating industry rode a large and early wave of customers to strong results in February. This year, the industry appears to have caught a chill.
Sales in the industry’s main powerboat segments reversed course. Rather than the double-digit gain of a year earlier, the group that consists of two aluminum and five fiberglass categories saw a 9.5 percent decline in sales, to 4,013 boats in February, from 4,434 in the same month a year earlier, Statistical Surveys Inc. said.
Industrywide, sales dropped 9.8 percent, to 5,853, from 6,491 a year earlier.
Ryan Kloppe, Statistical Surveys’ national marine sales manager, said the 2013 results suffered by comparison with the sharp sales gains the industry had in 2012.
“We had a heck of a February last year,” he said.
The February 2013 data in the Statistical Surveys report are based on information from 27 early reporting states that represent about 63 percent of the U.S. boat market. Reports of sales of documented vessels were complete only through November because of data entry delays at the Coast Guard, creating an incomplete report for boats larger than 31 feet and understating the cruiser and yacht markets.
“Obviously we know how far the Coast Guard is behind and that is part of [the reason the sales figures appear so low],” Kloppe said.
A year ago, when reports from all 50 states were in, main-segments sales rose 34 percent in February, to 5,662, from 4,228 in February 2011. Industrywide sales climbed 28 percent, to 10,119, from 7,814 in the previous February, Kloppe said.
February sales typically amount to 4.4 to 5.5 percent of the year’s retail activity. The month represents the start of the spring selling season, which runs through May.
Among the main segments, the only category that showed a gain in February this year was aluminum pontoon boats, where sales rose 10.6 percent, to 636. Categories that declined did so in double digits, except for 11- to 40-foot outboard fiberglass boats, where sales were off by a slight 1.8 percent, or 32, to 1,745.
Aluminum pontoons and fiberglass outboards have been strong sellers for the past year as the industry continues to rebound from the effects of the Great Recession.
“Those segments continue to do well,” Kloppe said. Among small to mid-size outboards, “we only need a few units there [to show a sales gain for the month],” he said.
Sales of aluminum fishing boats fell 19 percent in February, to 1,197, sales of 14-to 30-foot inboard and sterndrive boats dropped 24.5 percent, to 358, and sales of 41- to 62-foot yachts dipped 53.1 percent, or 26 boats, to 23.
Sales rose industrywide in January, mitigating the effects of the February slump. For the first two months of the year, main-segment sales are off 3.7 percent, at 7,577 boats, and industrywide sales are off 5 percent, at 11,054.
This article originally appeared in the May 2013 issue.