New registrations rise 1.5 percent for main powerboat categories

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Boat registrations were up 1.5 percent in July in the main powerboat categories compared to July last year — a tough comparison for a month that had been up 10.7 percent in the main categories over July 2017, according to preliminary data from Statistical Surveys Inc. The July 2018 data was somewhat skewed because of incomplete reports from Florida and the U.S. Coast Guard.

The month’s registrations lessened the year-to-date decline in main powerboat categories from 6.3 percent as of June’s preliminary data to 5.6 percent through the preliminary July data. Ski and wake boats grew 17.4 percent versus July 2018, and remained in positive territory with 2.7 percent growth year-to-date, according to preliminary SSI data gathered from 32 states representing almost 74 percent of the U.S. market.

Pontoons grew 9.3 percent in July versus July 2018, but were off 3.7 percent year-to-date. The aluminum fishing boat category grew 1.9 percent year-over-year compared to July 2018, but was down 10.7 percent year-to-date.

Outboard fiberglass boats were down 5.1 percent compared to July last year, and were down 3.2 percent year-to-date.

The sterndrive/inboard category fell again with a year-over-year decline of 19.6 percent, continuing “a clear pattern of consumer preferences moving away from this category for years,” B. Riley FBR analyst Eric Wold wrote. Excluding that category, the remainder of the industry experienced a 3.4 percent increase in registrations.

Florida was included in the July numbers despite the fact that SSI knew the data was incomplete, says SSI Sales Director Ryan Kloppe.

“If Florida continues like this, they will not be in the monthly data,” Kloppe says. “They know there’s something wrong with their systems, but they haven’t figured it out. It’s not just affecting marine. It’s affecting automobile registrations, power sports and marine.”

The U.S. Coast Guard has also been behind on data that’s usually included in preliminary numbers, Kloppe says. That lag explains the significant drop in large boat and yacht registrations: Cruisers 31 to 40 feet were down 25.6 percent, and yachts 41 to 65 feet were down 54.3 percent. The Coast Guard’s website states that delays in issuing certificates of documentation are due to performance issues with its information technology system.

While industry speculation had been that tariffs and weather were a drag on new boat sales, July’s preliminary data encouraged investors.

“Following an anemic June, this was exactly what the industry needed to provide some comfort that retail demand has not fallen off a cliff,” SunTrust Robinson Humphrey analyst Michael Swartz wrote. “While improved weather and likely delayed sales helped the month, July was up against an extremely difficult comparison.”

Swartz says growth will likely be higher than 2 percent after Florida and the Coast Guard send in registration data.

“With apparently solid demand carrying over into August, per our industry conversations, and much easier comps around the corner, we continue to believe industry volume will be down closer to low single digits for 2019,” he says. 

This article originally appeared in the October 2019 issue.