July Boat Sales up Across Most Categories

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New-boat sales bounced back following a few months of slow growth, with large gains across most categories, including sterndrives 20 feet and larger.

Preliminary registration data from Statistical Surveys showed sales in the main powerboat categories increased 10.7 percent year-over-year, and overall sales grew 11.1 percent. The data represents 30 states, roughly 66 percent of the U.S. boat market.

The growth was on top of a relatively easy comparison, since July 2017 was down 0.5 percent, says Statistical Surveys marine sales director Ryan Kloppe, who attributed some of the growth to boat sales that had been deferred from earlier summer months.

Kloppe also suspects some of the July registrations were from June. “I think we had a few states that were running behind that finally got caught up,” Kloppe says. “But overall, we had some really good numbers in there; pontoon, aluminum fish, ski and wake, and even some of the bigger boats all had increases in July. The big-dollar boats obviously had a great month.”

Even sterndrives 20 feet and larger were up in double digits, growing 11.5 percent over 2017, says Kloppe. “That’s a sterndrive number people haven’t seen in years,” Kloppe says.

Aluminum fishing boat registrations grew 15.1 percent, from 3,007 in 2017 to 3,460. Pontoons were up 11.5 percent, from 4,828 to 5,383. The ski-and-wake segment rose 10.6 percent, to 1,002 units, last month.

Fiberglass outboard-powered boat sales, which had been flat for a few months, grew 7 percent to 4,916 units this year.

Large-boat sales climbed dramatically in July. Sales of 31- to 40-foot cruisers grew 29.1 percent to 133 units (from 103), yachts between 41 and 65 feet increased 53.4 percent to 112 (from 73), and semicustom and custom yachts 66 feet and above grew 33.3 percent to 20 units. Though the category has much smaller volumes, the dollar amount and margins are high on large boats and yachts.

Florida once again led boat sales for July, with 3,673 registrations, incrementally more than July 2017’s 3,645 registrations.Texas was second, with 3,639 boats registered, and Michigan was third, with 2,980 registrations.

SunTrust analyst Michael Swartz was among those responding positively to the early numbers, particularly since 76 percent of annual sales historically occur by July. “In light of the softer-than-expected June data (up 1 percent), July was particularly encouraging and reaffirms our view that the marine/boat industry remains healthy, with strong demand carrying into the later months of the retail selling season,” wrote Swartz in a report. “With sales now up 3 percent year-to-date and easier comps in the second half [of the year], we believe the industry remains on pace to hit our 4 to 6 percent growth target for 2018.”

This article originally appeared in the October 2018 issue.

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