The recreational boating industry has welcomed 415,000 first-time boat buyers to the market during the past year, with boat sales and demand trending at an all-time high. With expectations for boating and fishing growth to continue, the outdoor recreation industry — and boating and fishing in particular — have a lot to look forward to.
We’re seeing unprecedented demand as more and more Americans recognize the mental-health benefits of spending time outdoors and on the water. However, strong demand for outdoor activities has correlated with increased wear and tear on the infrastructure that makes recreation possible. For now, domestic recreational boating sales remain strong, but economic cycles mean this strength will not last forever. To prepare for an inevitable slowdown of the U.S. markets, the industry will need critical export markets to lean on.
That’s why the National Marine Manufacturers Association is focusing a large part of our advocacy efforts on two top issues: modern infrastructure for the boating community and international trade with our second-largest export market, the European Union.
Infrastructure Fit for Outdoor Recreation
Congressional investment in recreation infrastructure is imperative to the long-term growth of the $788 billion outdoor recreation sector that is helping the U.S. economy recover from the pandemic. Alongside our industry partners, the NMMA is working across party lines within the halls of Congress to ensure that the infrastructure needs of the boating and fishing community are accounted for in the larger bipartisan infrastructure package.
While the national conversation on infrastructure has
fueled partisan debates, outdoor recreation infrastructure has consistently broken through the noise and generated broad bipartisan support. Take the Great American Outdoors Act — during the thick of 2020, when Congress was at a stalemate on a pandemic relief package, members came together to pass this landmark legislation to secure significant funding for our public lands and waters maintenance backlog. That legislation showed an ability to compromise and rally around America’s shared recreation resources.
Now the outdoor recreation community needs Congress to act again, to further expand programs and funding to ensure long-term support for critical infrastructure needs.
Among these programs are the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund, a user-pay system created by recreational boaters and anglers to pay for critical conservation programs and infrastructure projects. Likewise, Congress must establish direct funding from the Federal Lands Transportation Program for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to begin addressing the agency’s maintenance backlog and to improve transportation assets that provide access to high-use, revenue-generating recreation sites that the Corps manages.
Both of these key programs and funding directives are expected to be included in the U.S. House of Representatives’ surface transportation bill.
Policymakers must also prioritize the inclusion of the recently introduced Providing Resources for Emergency Preparedness and Resilient Enterprises (PREPARE) Act — legislation that would provide assistance for small marine businesses to invest in climate-resilient infrastructure. That type of investment would protect local communities from the increasingly frequent flooding and storm damage that has cost the United States more than $800 billion in the past decade.
Investing in these initiatives to update recreation infrastructure and increase its climate resiliency just makes economic sense. Modernized, strengthened infrastructure will generate additional revenue with increased participation from boaters and anglers, while simultaneously minimizing the need for ongoing costly updates and maintenance.
Fair and Free Trade
As recreational boating continues to attract new and first-time boat buyers, and reliably contributes to our economic recovery, Washington must act quickly to strike a deal that eliminates the 25 percent retaliatory tariff implemented
following the previous administration’s Section 232 tariffs on aluminum and steel.
During the Great Recession, exports helped offset domestic losses in the recreational boating industry. To prepare for future economic cycles, the industry will need critical export markets to lean on — especially E.U. countries.
American manufacturers can’t afford to lose European customers, who will purchase from non-American boatbuilders if the 25 percent tariff remains in place. Furthermore, E.U. manufacturers can send boats to the United States without the same countermeasure, putting our builders at a structural disadvantage.
At a moment when the boating industry has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fulfill unprecedented demand for recreational boating, we cannot stand by and let these ongoing tariffs stymie the growth of our domestic manufacturers. The boating industry will continue to lead the charge on facilitating conversations with our international counterparts and members of Congress to reverse the course of these tariffs.
As members of Congress prepare to head home ahead of the August recess, the marine industry is committed to continuing its work to ensure that the needs of the recreational boating and fishing industry are met. As such, we are calling for a robust infrastructure package, inclusive of climate-resilient and modernized infrastructure updates and investment, as well as for the creation of new trade policies and the permanent removal of retaliatory tariffs to help American companies keep pace with growing global demand for marine goods.
We owe this to the workers and communities across the country that our industry supports.
This article was originally published in the August 2021 issue.