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Glimmers of Hope

Manufacturing, still in recovery mode, shows signs of picking up to meet unwavering demand
Screen Shot 2022-02-23 at 9.06.08 AM

New-boat sales in 2021 are on track to be down 6.6 percent in the main powerboat categories and 6 percent overall for the year, reflecting global supply-chain struggles amid a nationwide surge in demand, both brought on by the pandemic. However, December marked the second month in a row that saw modest year-over-year gains in the main powerboat categories, with a 2 percent rise versus December 2020, according Statistical Surveys, a Michigan firm that released December registration data from 31 early-reporting states, accounting for about 60 percent of the U.S. market.

Though not yet complete, the numbers are a “good predictor” of the full year, according to SSI director Ryan Kloppe. “As far as comparatives go, 2020 was the best year we’ve had since 2007, so you’re talking over a decade record high,” Kloppe says. “That’s a tough comparison, especially without inventory. I think the sales are a positive for the marine industry and will continue into 2022.”

The second consecutive monthly increase, on top of strong earnings reports for fiscal 2021, signals that boatbuilders have worked through the largest supply-chain tangles and are ramping up production to meet demand that has persisted through winter months for the second year in a row.

“Given the impressive order books in hand with the various OEMs under coverage and the improving ability to maneuver around various supply-chain issues, we would expect to see strengthening shipment levels in the months ahead prior to the start of the boating season,” B. Riley analyst Eric Wold wrote in a February report.

Sterndrive and inboard boats had the toughest run out of the main powerboat segments, falling 21.1 percent for the year and almost 16 percent in December — unsurprising, since most builders had retooled their sterndrive offerings as outboard boats after more than a decade of declines. The segment had its first positive year in 2020 after more than a decade of declines because inventory in more popular categories was so limited and new-boat demand was so hot.

Pontoons dropped 4.7 percent for the year but showed impressive gains in December with a 21.5 percent increase. Fiberglass outboard boats were down 1.8 percent in December versus 5.9 percent for the year, with 59,155 units sold. The semicustom and custom yacht category was up 12.1 percent for the year, a possible effect of factory-ordered boats being a year or more out.

“Every boat coming off the line right now is retail-sold,” Kloppe says. “It’s not going to a showroom to sit there.”

Ski and wake boats managed to mostly hang on to impressive strides made in the past year, dipping only 2.6 percent for the year and maintaining unit count above 13,000 for the year. PWC, which had a challenging December with almost a 30 percent plunge, rose 0.2 percent for the year to more than 76,600, possibly reflecting a shorter supply chain and mirroring the powersports industry, which was up 3 percent last year.

The sail and electric-boat segments were likely beneficiaries of production chokeholds; the sailboat segment leapt 78 percent in December and 28.6 percent for the year after years of declines, posting more than 1,500 units.

The month’s top three states — Florida, Texas and South Carolina — all posted declines versus 2020, with Florida down 7 percent to 2,617 units, Texas off almost 11 percent to 985, and South Carolina down 41 percent to 502 units. 

This article was originally published in the March 2022 issue.

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