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The Dearth of Inventory

1_BTN_Soundings June 2021

An amalgamation of extremely low inventory levels and record demand continues to frustrate dealers nationwide.

The parade of new-boat buyers that began in late spring of last year has not waned. At the same time, myriad challenges in meeting that demand are still being sorted out, leading to the second consecutive month of slower new-boat registrations, according to preliminary June data from Statistical Surveys, a Michigan firm that tracks new-boat registrations.

“We’re facing tough comps [from 2020] and zero inventory,” said Ryan Kloppe, sales director with Statistical Surveys.

The June gloom has arrived. Total industry registrations representing 27 states, or approximately 62 percent of the U.S. boating market, are down 34 percent for the month and 33 percent in the main powerboat categories.

On a year-to-year basis, the numbers are much sunnier: Overall registrations are up 17 percent in the main powerboat segment, with total industry numbers posting a 13 percent jump from 2020, with 158,379 boats sold.

For June, however, every category in the main powerboat segment saw a double-digit drop, except for sales in the 41- to 65-foot segment, which dropped by 3 percent (64 units from 66).

Perennially popular categories — pontoons and outboard fiberglass vessels from 11 to 50 feet — continued to move units but suffered from inventory woes, leading to big drops in registrations for the month. Pontoon sales totaled 5,787 units (down from 8,430), a 31 percent decline. Outboard boats posted a 34 percent loss for the month (4,727 units, down from 7,166).

However, numbers for both categories in 2021 are up: Pontoon sales are at 35,001 units for 2021, up 24 percent; and outboard vessels are showing an increase of 11 percent for the year (to 32,358 from 29,057).

Sailboats continue a torrid streak of sales, up 56 percent from June 2020 at 103 units (from 66). The segment is up 36 percent (to 668 from 491) in a year-over-year comparison.

Is the rise of electric-boat registrations a harbinger of things to come? The category continues to put up solid numbers, posting a 417 percent gain in sales for the month (to 31 from six). With 167 units moved in 2021, sales are up 109 percent in a year-over-year basis.

Seven of the top four boating states posted net losses for the month. Most glaring was No. 1 Florida’s 3,191 registrations (down from 6,459) for a decline of 102 percent.

No. 3 Texas also saw a big drop — 52 percent — with 2,996 registrations for the month (down from 4,561). No. 4 Wisconsin was down 69 percent for the month (to 1,829 from 3,087).

Expect these numbers to continue and inventory levels to remain low, says Ellen Bradley, senior vice president of marketing and communications at the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

“We saw manufacturers’ efforts to replenish inventory provide a bump,” she said, “but we’re still not seeing shipment levels match the sustained demand for boats. Nurturing customers is critical during this period as we work to sustain interest into 2022 and 2023.”

Time will tell how successful marine associations, builders, dealers and industry stakeholders will be in keeping customers engaged, with product pipeline issues expected to remain with us for the foreseeable future. 

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