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Demand Remains High

February registrations continued to soar. NMMA says builders “are shipping approximately 20,000 new boats monthly and operating at 13 percent above normal levels”
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Preliminary data from just over half of the U.S. boat market showed what was largely expected: February’s registration numbers continued to ascend, with little sign of plateauing, according to Statistical Surveys, a Michigan firm that tracks new-boat registrations.

With 29 states reporting — approximately 56 percent of the U.S. boating market — registrations in February were up 16 percent in the main powerboat categories and 19 percent on a year-over-year basis in those segments. “What we’re seeing is there’s still high demand,” says Statistical Surveys sales director Ryan Kloppe. “As long as [manufacturers] can continue to build boats, there’s people waiting to buy them.”

Looking at total industry registrations, the numbers continue to impress: 28 percent growth in a YOY comparison, with 21,741 boats sold, a figure that will grow as the remainder of states report.

Per usual, Florida led the nation in registrations with 3,676, a 49 percent gain compared with 2,459 the previous year. Just behind the Sunshine State, No. 2 Texas posted more modest gains with a less than a 1 percent rise at 1,264 registrations, compared with 1,252 in 2020. North Carolina, at No. 3, was up 37 percent from February 2020 (to 876 from 641). Michigan and Alabama rounded out the top five states. The most notable jump in the top 10 was No. 6 Louisiana, which saw a 56 percent increase at 524 registrations, compared with 336 in 2020.

The next few months are the time period when most boat production was halted last year, and a significant number of builders and dealers shut down operations due to the pandemic. “Expect some bigger increases in the spring,” Kloppe says.

With demand not waning, builders continued to take measures to keep pace. Brunswick Corp. and Correct Craft announced significant expansions earlier this year. Contender and Williams Jet Tenders are increasing production levels. In March, pontoon builder Bennington secured a 43,485-square-foot facility near its Elkhart, Ind., headquarters to meet demand, and White River Marine Group — the marine manufacturing arm of Bass Pro Shops — says its newly expanded Missouri plant is now operational, part of an expansion plan that looks to double Tracker’s pontoon output.

Pontoons continued to be a popular choice, increasing 47 percent year over year (to 3,325 from 2,190) and posting a 35 percent jump compared with February 2020. Bowriders and deckboats saw just 8 percent growth for the month (to 282 from 261) but are enjoying 21 percent YOY growth.

On an overall percentage basis for the year, jetboats and PWC continued to put up big numbers. Jetboats are up 63 percent, with 487 units moved, compared with 298 in the first two months of 2020. PWC sales totaled 2,721 for the month (from 1,457), up 87 percent year over year; with nearly 5,000 units sold, PWC are up 85 percent on a YOY basis.

The only thing that could impede growth is product availability. Kloppe says “nearly all industries” are experiencing some sort of supply issue.

“We’re ramping up production as fast as we can, not just to satisfy retail demand but all sorts of demand to fill the pipeline, which became very depleted of field inventory,” Brunswick CEO David Foulkes told CNBC.

Chris-Craft parent Winnebago says dealer inventories are at a 12-year low, with an approximate six-month backlog of sold boats in production and no meaningful pipeline refill until 2022.

“New-boat sales are still on a steadily upward trend, averaging around 33,000 units sold monthly since last summer [on a seasonally adjusted basis],” says Vicky Yu, director of business intelligence at the National Marine Manufacturers Association. “However, headwinds caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and winter storms remain, particularly with supply chain disruptions causing a backlog in production that’s impacting already lean inventories.” 

This article was originally published in the May 2021 issue.

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