New-boat registrations declined 12.1 percent year-to-date and 9.2 percent year-over-year in the main powerboat categories, according to preliminary data from Statistical Surveys, using numbers from 27 states representing approximately half of the U.S. boat market. However, early sales data show new-boat sales strongly rebounded in May, up 59 percent compared to April and up 9 percent from prepandemic levels on a seasonally adjusted basis, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association.
Overall, the industry was down 1.5 percent year-over-year and 11 percent year-to-date, in part reflecting strong activity in the personal watercraft and jetboat segments. There were upticks across all major segments, says NMMA business development director Vicky Yu.
“This was a positive start to the summer boating season, and underscores a heightened interest in boating as a way to enjoy the summer while recreating responsibly,” Yu says, noting that PWC, saltwater fishboats and jetboats were growth leaders in May. “We expect that momentum to continue with outboard engine shipments to boatbuilders up for the second consecutive month through June. This is encouraging because outboard boats account for 60 percent of new-boat sales annually, and suggests that dealers are placing orders and that manufacturing is revving back up.”
According to the SSI preliminary registration data, jetboats saw a 27.6 percent surge in registrations, from 554 in May 2019 to 707 this year. PWC registrations jumped 18.6 percent, from 7,189 units in May 2019 to 8,527 last month. “That is a great indicator of maybe some new people getting into the industry as well,” says SSI sales director Ryan Kloppe.
Several states were missing data because of the pandemic. They included California, Michigan and South Carolina, Kloppe says. “They’re so messed up right now, we don’t even have data from 2020 from them,” Kloppe says, indicating that the numbers might rise later. “We’ve been working with these states left and right, and I know some of them are sick of hearing from us, but we know there’s some missing data and there’s going to be some late registrations. The states we publish are the ones that seem complete.”
Florida, the No. 1 state for boat registrations, saw a 16 percent increase in registrations compared with May 2019, and North Carolina was up 21 percent over the same period last year, Kloppe says. But not all states experienced a surge. Registrations in New York, for example, were down nearly 22 percent.“New York was on lockdown for three straight months,” Kloppe says. “California was on lockdown for three straight months. It’s going to be down.”
North Carolina was up 21 percent, and Arkansas registrations increased 20 percent. “So there’s some positive data in there,” Kloppe says. “There is no bright spot with Covid unless we’re talking about as an industry, if it can draw some new people into the recreation, and people can go buy a boat and have a mini-vacation.”
This article originally appeared in the August 2020 issue.