The pandemic had people turning to boats as a form of escape in droves over the summer, and the trend lasted through the first full month of autumn. Preliminary data from 32 states — accounting for nearly 60 percent of the industry — showed that boat sales’ trajectory continued.
New-boat registrations in October were up 9.5 percent in the main categories year to date, building on summer’s buying frenzy, and were up 28.1 percent year over year, according to preliminary data from Statistical Surveys, a Michigan firm that tracks new-boat registrations. “They’re still selling,” says SSI sales director Ryan Kloppe. “Every boat that’s coming off [a builder’s] line is basically sold already. They can’t really build up the pipeline with the dealer network yet because every boat coming off the pipeline is sold. So they’re still filling demand. They are getting some inventory back in there, so we’re still seeing retail sales grow.”
Florida, the No. 1 state, posted nearly a 21 percent gain over October 2019, from 2,352 boats to 2,842, and No. 2 Texas leapt more than 47 percent, registering 1,710 for the month, versus 1,161 last year. “Every single segment is positive,” says Kloppe, commenting on how unusual that is in the industry. “Even sailboats were positive, and houseboats.”
Six houseboats were registered in October versus in 1 in same period in 2019, and sailboats saw 71 sales, up from 69 when compared to last October. Sailboat sales are still off 22.5 percent for the year.
PWC, which are among the total industry segments, were up 14.5 percent (to 1,443 from 1,260) after a brief dip, a sign that production had been able to ramp up inventory as demand continues. The pontoon segment had a strong month, rising 48 percent year over year; the segment is up 15 percent year-to-date. Popularity in the ski and wakeboats also continued — that sector was up almost 31 percent year-over-year and is positioned to end the year more than 17 percent stronger.
The aluminum fishing boat category also had a strong showing, up 25 percent versus October 2019 and up 6 percent for the year, versus 2019 through October. Even sterndrive and inboard bowriders are poised to see nearly an 8 percent increase over 2019.
“As consumers have sought out entertainment options that are closer to home and provide for social distancing during the Covid-19 pandemic, we believe the recreational marine space remains positioned to benefit,” says B. Riley analyst Eric Wold in a report discussing the numbers.
Even though the marine industry has outperformed the S&P 500 since March lows with a gain of 185 percent (versus an overall S&P decline of 55 percent), Wold believes that the 3 percent decline since June (versus an overall 10 percent decline) indicates investors are concerned about the sustainability around demand. “With dealer inventories at multiyear, if not multidecade, lows, we see an attractive setup for the group over the next 12 to 18 months, as full production levels will be necessary just to return dealer inventories to appropriate levels to satisfy normal demand,” he says.
“I still think there’s still pent-up demand there, so think we’re going to see the numbers keep going,” Kloppe says.
This article was originally published in the January 2021 issue.