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Signs of Ebb Tide

Registrations declined in more categories in February, further signaling that the pandemic boating boom is waning
Screen Shot 2022-04-19 at 2.59.54 PM

Registrations dropped 12.8 percent in the main powerboat categories in February, compared with February 2021, as almost all subcategories showed steepening declines after almost two years of surging sales.

While total registrations had been declining slightly during the previous two months, most major subcategories were still seeing year-over-year growth. In February, most subcategories showed double-digit percentage unit declines, according to Statistical Surveys, a Michigan firm that tracks U.S. boat registrations.

Fiberglass outboard, bowrider/deck, cruisers, yachts, electric and jetboats each saw declines of more than 20 percent from February 2021 levels. Only pontoon and sailboat registrations increased in February.

The latest tallies — representing 30 states, or 68.5 percent of the U.S. boat market — provide confirmation of a reversal in the pandemic-driven demand for boats. “We are coming off the zenith,” says David MacGregor, an analyst at Longbow Research. “This should come as no surprise to anyone because it has been such a hot market for so long.”

The easing of pandemic restrictions is one likely reason that new-boat purchases are slowing. Economic concerns, rising interest rates and geopolitical uncertainty also are emerging as factors in consumer decision-making. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine also can affect U.S. consumer sentiment because higher gasoline prices and tighter raw-materials availability are creating financial-outlook concerns.

“Inflation and the price of gas are the catalysts for why you’re seeing a little bit of a blip right now” in boat purchases, MacGregor says.

Declining the most among vessel types, with at least 10 units registered in February 2021, was the electric category. It saw 28.6 percent fewer registrations in February 2022 compared with the year-earlier period. New yacht registrations fell by 26.4 percent.

MacGregor is not expecting a crash in sales. He says a pause in demand may represent an opportunity for boatbuilders to catch up on production and rebuild inventory for dealers. Long wait times have frustrated would-be buyers. More inventory should entice some reluctant buyers who prefer to take delivery faster.

He added that more Americans will remain hooked on boating, creating a positive secular trend that will regain momentum after the current pullback, which he considers relatively short-term.

“It feels to us like it’s a little more of a temporary blip and maybe a little bit of a correction,” MacGregor says. “There is a very real re-engagement in recreational marine in America right now. When demand for new boats “does normalize to its level, it is going to be higher than 2019 levels.” 

This article was originally published in the May 2022 issue.

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