Slow Retail Start for Fishing and Pontoon Boats

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Aluminum fishing boat and pontoon registrations continued their declines in May, dropping 6.2 and 2.2 percent in the month versus May 2018.

Meanwhile, pontoon registrations year-to-date were slightly up over last year, and aluminum fishing boats dropped 10.8 percent year-to-date versus last year, according to preliminary data from Statistical Surveys, a Michigan firm that tracks new-boat registrations.

Overall, May registrations dipped 0.6 percent year-over-year in the main powerboat categories but rose 1.1 percent overall versus May 2018, according to preliminary data from 26 states, accounting for roughly 55 percent of the overall market. And Florida registrations bounced back in May after a slow start to the year, says SSI sales director Ryan Kloppe. “It’s the first month of the largest three retail months of the year, and it’s off to a positive start,” Kloppe says.

Year-to-date, the industry was down 3.9 percent in the main powerboat categories and 2.1 percent overall. Some analysts expressed disappointment, while others said they expected delayed purchases because May had the highest year-to-date precipitation on record.

“Near-term pent-up U.S. demand appears satisfied, all collectively compounded by unfavorable year-to-date Midwest, Northern tier and Canadian weather,” Wells Fargo analyst Timothy Conder stated in a report. “Positively, we believe Memorial Day weekend and the first week in June saw better trends, but we are still waiting on inflection point in the value segment.”

The slow start to the retail season gave Conder reason to believe the industry was around 10 percent overinventoried. However, fiberglass outboard boats and yachts had a strong month, and ski and wake boats continued to make gains.

Ski and wake boat registrations had 9.1 percent growth over May 2018, and 6.2 percent growth on a rolling 12-month basis. Fiberglass outboard-powered boat registrations also grew 4.6 percent versus last year, after a few months of declines; the category is down 1.8 percent on a rolling 12-month basis, the data showed.

Yachts 41 to 65 feet grew 45.5 percent, with 80 registered this May compared to 55 last year during the month. Semi­custom and custom yachts larger than 65 feet saw 15.4 percent growth, with 15 sold versus 13 last May. It’s the third positive reading for fiberglass models larger than 30 feet in the past 12 months, says SunTrust analyst Michael Swartz. It was also the seventh consecutive year of at least high-single-digit growth in ski and wake boats despite a difficult comparison to May 2018, when the category was up around 10 percent.

The improvement was welcome after a difficult first quarter, Swartz says. “While May numbers didn’t inflect positive as hoped, we believe they were decent in light of particularly adverse weather [and] flooding experienced in several key regions earlier in the month,” Swartz says. 

This article originally appeared in the August 2019 issue.