Dampening Effect: Widespread Shutdowns Take a Toll

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New boat registrations in April fell 36.3 percent overall year-over-year and 37.8 percent in the main powerboat categories, according to preliminary data from Statistical Surveys, a Michigan firm that tracks new boat registration data.

This is the first full month of data that reflects the effects of the covid-19 pandemic on consumer trends. However, there are some caveats. The data represents 24 states — less than half (45 percent) of the U.S. boat market. In addition, some states may also be lagging in submitting registration data because of widespread shutdowns and work-from-home orders, says SSI director Ryan Kloppe.

Even still, the National Marine Manufacturers Association, which typically releases a more complete picture after the later-reporting states have submitted data, was able to spot some trends while still gathering data.

“We expect to see a dampening effect on boat sales overall this spring as a direct result of the business lockdowns and shelter-in-place orders from the public health response to the pandemic,” says NMMA business intelligence director Vicky Yu. That impact will not be felt equally across the board, Yu says. Some segments appear to be bucking the trend while others are trailing.

New boat sales for all states were down 6 percent on a rolling three-month, year-over-year through March, Yu says. According to SSI’s preliminary data, new boat registrations dropped 12.3 percent year-to-date in the main powerboat categories, and were down 14.2 percent year-to-date. Fiberglass outboard-powered boats were down 43.5 percent in April year-over-year, and were off 14.6 percent year-to-date. During the month, the top three boat categories on a percentage change (with at least 100 units registered) were ski and wake, down 28.9 percent year-over-year; pontoon, down 34.9 percent; and aluminum fish, down 35.3 percent compared to April 2019.

One bright spot was high-volume PWC, which enjoyed a strong uptick in April, according to data that NMMA obtains directly from manufacturers, Yu says.

However, while up 8 percent from a year ago, the category’s strong April wasn’t enough to offset March losses — year-to-date, that category is still down 3 percent — but Yu says the shift is encouraging.

“These are challenging times, and those businesses that are quick to adapt will be better positioned to capitalize on any pent-up demand in the market,” Yu says. “Especially as summer camps, sports leagues and vacations have been canceled, boating provides families with a restorative way to escape and enjoy the water while social distancing responsibly.”responsibly,” says Yu. 

This article was originally published in the July 2020 issue.

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