Data shows total 2017 boat sales approached 2008 levels

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Boat sales in 2017 beat expectations, and the final tally was just a few thousand off from prerecession totals in 2008.

Outboard-powered fiberglass boats, pontoons and personal watercraft accounted for more than 60 percent of the 270,000-plus new registrations.

There were 273,251 total units sold on a 12-month rolling basis in 2017 — a 4.2 percent increase over 2016. This fell just short of the 279,692 sold in 2008, according to Statistical Surveys Inc., which released 2017 registration data collected from all 50 states.

“This is our strongest year since 2008 with unit counts,” says Ryan Kloppe, SSI sales director. “The industry touted early last year it thought it would grow 4 to 6 percent, and we’re right in that alleyway.”

There were 179,859 boats sold in the main powerboat segments — pontoons, aluminum fish, outboard-powered fiberglass, sterndrive and inboard fiberglass, yachts, cruisers and tow boats — accounting for an increase of 5.2 percent over 2016.

Outboard-powered fiberglass boats saw the highest sales in the main powerboat categories, with 4.2 percent growth and 53,992 units sold. Pontoons followed close behind, growing 7.8 percent year-over-year to 53,273 units. Ski and wake boats had the largest percentage growth with 7.1 percent gains for 9,522 sold.

Sterndrive and inboard bowrider and deck boats between 14 and 30 feet continued their post-recession decline of 5.5 percent and 11,114 units sold. Cruisers 31 to 40 feet with offset big gains with 1,397 sold and an 8.6 percent drop in year-over-year sales.

Boats with electric propulsion continued to post gains, with 25.7 percent growth for the year from 226 units to 284.

Thirteen of the top 15 states had growth in overall sales.Florida, up 2.67 percent in 2017, remained the top-selling state, followed by Texas, up 5.38 percent; Michigan, up 5.45 percent; Minnesota, up 4.46 percent; Wisconsin, up 6.24 percent; and North Carolina, up 8.85 percent.

Sales of powerboats in the main segments grew 6.8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2017 in all 50 states. Pontoons and towboats led the growth, and fiberglass outboard-powered and aluminum fish boats led unit sales.

In early reporting for February, boat sales were up 2.5 percent in the main powerboat segments and up 1.1 percent across all categories, according to data from 28 states.

Pontoons and ski and wake boats were up 10.8 percent and had 11.6 percent year-over-year growth.

The top two states for boat sales, Florida and Texas, were down in February. Florida sales were off 12 percent, a reduction attributed to colder weather. Texas was down 8 percent. California’s February sales grew 44 percent and Georgia and Washington were up 30 percent apiece.

Fiberglass outboard-powered boats sales — up 2.9 percent year-to-date — rose less than a percent in February, a slowing that Kloppe attributes to Florida’s declines.

“When you have Florida down, you’re going to have some downward trends because it’s such a big state” in terms of sales, Kloppe says.

“We don’t get too hyped off February data anyway,” he adds. “And the weather has not been awesome for people buying boats, pretty much throughout the country.”

This article originally appeared in the May 2018 issue.

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