The recreational boating industry’s growth engines sputtered in March amid inclement early spring weather as overall sales dropped for the second month in a row after a year of recovery and consistent gains.
Sales of aluminum pontoon boats rose just 1.3 percent, or 18, to 1,386 from the same month last year in early reporting states and sales of 11- to 40-foot outboard fiberglass boats were virtually flat, dropping by 15, or 0.5 percent, to 2,767, Statistical Surveys Inc. reported.
Both categories were sales leaders in 2012 as the industry began to turn its fortunes around after the recession ended.
Sales in the industry’s main powerboat segments, which consist of five fiberglass and two aluminum categories, fell 5.9 percent to 7,257 in March and industrywide sales dropped 10.7 percent to 10,564 in 27 states that represent about 63 percent of the U.S. boat market.
A year earlier, with all 50 states reporting, main-segments sales rose 16 percent in March, or 2,192 boats, to 13,552, from 11,360 in March 2011. Industrywide sales climbed 14 percent, or 2,906 boats, to 20,226, from 17,320 in March 2011.
The industry is at the midpoint of the spring selling season, which runs through May. March sales represent 11.4 to 12.6 percent of the year’s retail activity.
Statistical Surveys national marine sales manager Ryan Kloppe said chilly, wet weather limited sales in March.
“I don’t think the recovery is in jeopardy,” he said. “In March last year it was 82 degrees in the Midwest and sunny. This year it was 42 degrees and it was raining and snowing.”
Kloppe said builders and dealers told him they’ve seen good attendance at boat shows, but that poor weather, particularly in the Midwest, has discouraged people from buying.
“They expect slight growth as soon as the weather warms and people start purchasing boats,” he said.
Sales of aluminum fishing boats dropped 12.2 percent in March to 2,263 and sales of 14- to 30-foot inboard and sterndrive boats fell 19.4 percent to 675.
The smaller-volume categories of larger boats fared better in early-reporting states in March than they have for months. Sales of 31- to 40-foot cruisers rose by five, to 89, sales of 41-to 62-foot yachts climbed by 17 to 69 and the 63- to 99-foot yacht category was nearly flat, down by one boat, to eight.
The Coast Guard was up to date on its reports of sales of documented vessels and Kloppe said the improved results in the bigger-boat categories reflected that.
“Now that they’ve caught up you can get a true year-over-year comparison,” he said. “You get an accurate representation of what’s going on in that market.”
Sales of personal watercraft fell 7.8 percent in March to 1,317. Sales of jetboats fell 35 percent to 170 and ski boat sales dropped 8.1 percent to 272.
Sailboat sales bucked the downward trend, rising by eight, to 138.
This article originally appeared in the June 2013 issue.