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‘It’s All Up This Summer’

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New-boat registrations continued to show strength in August, as more people looked to stay socially distanced on the water. Registrations increased 31.8 percent year-over-year in the main powerboat categories and were up 5.9 percent year-to-date in those segments, according to preliminary data from Statistical Surveys representing about half the U.S. boat market.

The numbers show that the industry has largely recouped sales lost in spring during widespread lockdowns. “We’ve been seeing this through the monthly data; we’re seeing an increase in demand,” says SSI sales director Ryan Kloppe. “People have been stuck inside and finding ways to get out. We track recreational industries, and whether it’s RV, powersports or marine, it’s all up this summer.”

The National Marine Manufacturers Association, which obtains data from manufacturers and other sources, has also seen boat sales soar. “We saw new-boat sales slow down in August, but still it’s really strong,” says NMMA business intelligence director Vicky Yu. “Year-to-date, seasonally adjusted new-boat sales are up 8 percent compared with 2019. All segments have recovered from any pandemic-related losses and with double-digit growth in six out of nine segments. We expect the year end, with new-boat sales, reaching a 13-year high.”

According to SSI data, pontoons grew 43.7 percent year-over-year, giving the segment an 11.3 percent year-to-date boost over last year. Ski and wakeboats continued to show strength, with 43.5 percent growth in August year-over-year. The segment is up 14.5 percent over last year.

Personal watercraft declined 22 percent after posting several double-digit increases through the spring and summer. However, that could be reflective of inventory shortages caused by continued demand and manufacturing shutdowns in the spring. “I was talking today to someone who was surprised PWCs were down, and I said, ‘there’s none left out there,’ ” Kloppe says.

Jetboats, which also have experienced a crush of demand, were off 1.4 percent.

Statistical Surveys delayed the release of preliminary data for more than a week because so many states struggled to provide data. “Between Covid and being short-staffed, some have been backlogged, so we’ve been diligently working with them,” Kloppe says.

SSI is confident that the early numbers were an accurate reflection of the overall industry. As a whole, the industry is up 14.2 percent year-over-year and 4.3 percent year-to-date, positioning it for growth in 2020, Kloppe says. “Now it’s our job, the industry’s job, to keep them … whether it’s by properly servicing them or providing the experience needed to keep them in the boating world because we know those numbers don’t look great,” he says.

Historically, the attrition rate of first-time buyers has been high, with 42 percent selling their boat within five years and opting not to replace it, according to a Discovery Boating survey. “It’s a different situation, but we have to take advantage of it. … We’re in a global pandemic, yet our industry is growing,” Kloppe says. “When you think about the other industries struggling to survive while ours is growing, we can’t waste this opportunity.”

This article was originally published in the November 2020 issue.

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