Marking another milestone in its recovery, the U.S. recreational boat industry sold more than 250,000 boats in 2016 for the first time in eight years.
With all 50 states reporting, Statistical Surveys said 258,879 boats were sold last year, an increase of 5.4 percent from 2015. The company said the last time industry sales topped a quarter million was in 2008, when 279,139 were sold as the Great Recession started.
A preliminary report Statistical Surveys issued in January said 246,891 boats were sold in 2016 in 27 early-reporting states. The remaining states added about 12,000 to the final total.
Statistical Surveys sales director Ryan Kloppe agreed that topping the 250,000 sales figure was a psychologically important accomplishment for the industry. He said his company predicted sales growth of 4 percent to 6 percent last year, “and it was right in that ballpark.”
The 50-state figures included sales of 169,121 boats in the main powerboat segments, an increase of 5.7 percent from 2015. The main-segments sales were dominated by three categories that have been the group’s best sellers since the recession ended.
Outboard fiberglass boats from 11 to 50 feet were the top-selling category in the main segments at 50,087, up 5.8 percent from 47,351 the previous year. Not far behind were aluminum pontoon boats at 48,564, up 9.4 percent from 44,406 in 2015.
Sales of aluminum fishing boats totaled 47,461, 3.7 percent higher than the previous year, when 45,751 were sold.
“That’s a lot of volume,” Kloppe said. “There were some segments that had really solid years.”
Sales of ski and wake boats, a rising category, rose 11.7 percent to 8,787 from 7,868 the year before, achieving the highest percentage gain among the main segments.
Kloppe expects that outboard fiberglass boats, aluminum pontoons and fishing boats, and ski and wake boats will continue to carry the industry this year.
“We’re predicting a couple more years, at least, of moderate [industrywide] sales growth,” he said.
Kloppe said builders and dealers he spoke with at the recent Miami shows were optimistic about 2017.
“They’re not expecting any hiccups, barring an economic disaster,” he said.
The top-selling category in the overall industry was personal watercraft, which sits outside the main segments. A total of 59,419 PWC were sold last year, a 7.6 percent increase from 55,221 the previous year.
Jetboat sales rose 5.8 percent to 4,721 from 4,463 the previous year.
Sales of inboard and sterndrive boats, which have not fared well in recent years, fell 4.1 percent to 11,538 from 12,027 in 2015.
The Coast Guard was up to date in its reports on documented vessels, providing complete figures for the full year in the bigger-boat categories. Sales of 31- to 40-foot cruisers rose 5.6 percent to 1,504 from 1,424 the previous year. Sales of 41- to 65-foot yachts rose 3.4 percent to 1,035 from 1,001; and sales of 66-foot and larger semicustom and custom yachts fell 7.1 percent to 145 from 156.
Sailboat sales rose 3.9 percent to 2,080 from 2,002.
The industry’s fourth-quarter sales were nearly flat. Sales rose 0.4 percent in the main powerboat segments to 16,733 and they were up 1.3 percent industrywide at 22,842.
This article originally appeared in the May 2017 issue.