There were smiles on the faces of many brokers during the first quarter this year. After moderate gains in January and February, U.S. brokerage market volume eased slightly in March, but total volume for the three months was 3 percent higher than in 2016 at 5,709.
The total value of sales for the quarter showed a substantial (29 percent) gain from the same period last year, rising from $701.9 million to $904.1 million.
The strongest volume gains for the quarter were in the 26- to 35-foot range, according to reports in SoldBoats, the proprietary database of YachtWorld member brokerages. Sales in the segment were 9 percent higher at 2,118.
There were value increases in nearly all size ranges, and although the superyacht segment — boats 80 feet and longer — gained the most, increasing sales by $132 million, to $265.6 million, several other ranges had increases of $20 million or more. Looking at sales by type, class, brand, size and geography revealed a market in transition, with many facets of strength and relative weakness during the quarter.
Type: Powerboat sales rose 3 percent as 4,676 boats were sold, but sailboats had no extra wind in their sails as only 1,033 boats changed hands — virtually the same number as in 2016.
Classes: Making strong gains were center consoles, power cruisers and saltwater fishing boats. Declining sales occurred among bowriders, sportfishing boats and cuddy cabins.
Brands: Four of the six most-sold brands showed gains, with Beneteau and Grady-White showing the largest sales increase. Sea Ray models were virtually level (down two boats) and only Bayliner models showed a notable decline.
Sizes: Four of six size ranges made gains, with two of three high-volume segments making good gains; boats from 26 to 35 feet gained the most — 176 boats, to 2,118 — and boats from 36 to 45 feet increased by 36 to 1,266. The two sizes with lower sales for the quarter were boats under 26 feet and boats from 56 to 79 feet, with declines of 106 to 1,721, and 12 boats to 154, respectively.
Regions: Stronger sales were registered in the Southeast, Great Lakes and Pacific Northwest. Lower-sales regions were the Mid-Atlantic, Northeast and West.
States: Five of the six states with the highest volume of sales showed growth — Florida, California, Washington, North Carolina and Michigan. Only Maryland showed a decline.
After two years of incrementally lower sales, the brokerage market might be at the beginning of a rally or it might simply have made a short-term positive correction.
As always, many forces are at work, but one key is the highest-volume segments of the market, the ones below 45 feet. As long as two of those three remain in growth mode, the outlook for the brokerage business will be good.
John Burnham is the managing editor of Boats Group (formerly Dominion Marine Media).
This article originally appeared in the May 2017 issue.