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Sales momentum continues into spring

Led by double-digit increases in aluminum fishing and pontoon boats, the recreational boating industry continued in March to build on a strong February start to the spring selling season.

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Sales in the industry’s main powerboat segments rose 7.6 percent for the month, to 8,345 boats, from March 2011, according to figures compiled by Aarn Rosen, national sales manager at Statistical Surveys Inc.

The main segments comprise the two aluminum categories, plus five groups of fiberglass boats that range from 11 to 99 feet. Sales across the industry rose 6.8 percent, to 12,367 boats.

The gains weren’t nearly as eye-popping as they were in February, when sales rose 29 percent in the main segments and 28 percent industrywide, but Rosen said he considers the gains in March to be “more in line with a realistic growth rate.”

For the first quarter, sales were up 14.7 percent in the main segments, to 15,813 boats, and 13.2 percent in the industry as a whole, to 23,022 boats. March sales represent 11.4 to 12.6 percent of the year’s retail activity.

Smaller boats sold well in March, “certainly a good sign going into the primary boating season,” Rosen said. April through July are the industry’s highest-volume months.

“We could have a pretty good boating season, compared with what we’ve been struggling with for the past three or four years,” he said.

Sales of aluminum fishing boats rose 11.4 percent in March, to 2,599, and were up 17.8 percent for the quarter, to 4,975. Sales of aluminum pontoon boats rose 16.3 percent in March, to 1,379, and are up 21.4 percent for the year, at 2,227. Both categories consist of boats 16 feet and larger. Sales of aluminum boats smaller than 16 feet rose 14.2 percent, to 1,384, and are up 16.3 percent for the year, at 2,589.

Sales in the high-volume 11- to 40-foot fiberglass segment were up 7.7 percent, to 2,797 boats, and sales in the 14- to 30-foot fiberglass category were essentially flat — down two boats, at 1,419. Through March, sales were up 3.2 percent in that category, to 2,482. Sales for the quarter in the 11- to 40-foot category were up 16.9 percent, to 5,644.

The sales data for March are based on information from 30 early reporting states that represent about 60 percent of the U.S. boat market. Reports of sales of documented vessels were complete only through the end of February because of data entry delays at the Coast Guard, Rosen said, which means sales totals for boats 30 feet and larger are significantly understated in the data.

He said that helps to explain why sales of larger fiberglass boats in three low-volume categories appeared to slump sharply in March. Sales of 31- to 40-foot cruisers dropped by 25 boats, to 86; sales of 41- to 62-foot yachts fell by 39, to 58. Sales of 63- to 99-foot semicustom and custom yachts fell from 11 to seven. Through March, sales in that category were up by 11 boats, at 35, a gain of 46 percent.

Sales of personal watercraft fell 7.5 percent in March, to 1,414 units, but are up 1.4 percent for the year, at 2,477. Sales of jet boats rose 10.6 percent, to 272, and are up 16.6 percent for the year, at 443. Sales of ski boats rose 15.1 percent, to 312, and are up 9.7 percent for the year, at 532.

Sailboat sales fell by 32 boats, or 20.4 percent, to 125 in March, but they are only 3.6 percent lower for the year, at 317.

This article originally appeared in the June 2012 issue.

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