The Red-Hot Market Cools


Sooner or later, the tough comparisons to last year’s boat-buying frenzy were bound to take hold and bring registration numbers back to Earth, even as the customer demand for vessels remains strong.

And the challenges in the global supply chain are showing no signs of abating. U.S. builders continue to add work shifts and look to increase output, but a worldwide shortage of critical supplies — and an obligation to fulfill bustling order books — continues to drive registration numbers down.

Preliminary data from Statistical Surveys, a Michigan firm that tracks new-boat registrations, showed that August’s numbers continued the pattern of limited sales for the fourth consecutive month. Total industry registrations representing 35 states, or about 76 percent of the U.S. boat market, were down 24 percent for the month, with the main powerboat segments deep-sixing 35 percent when compared with August 2020’numbers.

On a year-to-year basis, overall registrations in the most popular boating categories were down 6.7 percent, with total industry registrations clocking in at 227,391 units moved, a 7 percent drop (from 244,559) compared with last year.

The main powerboat segments continue to be hit particularly hard, with the perennial favorites — pontoon boats — showing a 39 percent decline for the month (to 3,618 from 5,931). Outboard boats did not fare much better in August, sinking 28 percent for the month, with sales totaling 4,097 boats (from 5,719).

Total industry registrations in the aforementioned popular categories, which have been up all year, have finally slowed. Pontoon sales decreased 5.3 percent (to 50,629 from 53,472), with outboard-powered boats from 11 to 50 feet declining by 2,418 units, a 5.2 percent drop.

There are a slew of bright spots amid the swan-diving categories, as other segments continue to post solid gains for the year. Sales of boats larger than 66 feet are in the black, up 24 percent for the year and 160 percent for August. And sailboats topped 1,000 units sold, a 27 percent increase from last year (to 1,024 from 807).

Buyers also seem to be embracing the new home office: Houseboat sales outpaced last August’s numbers by 100 percent and, with 52 units moved, are up 37 percent for 2021.

In another positive trend, electric-boat registrations continued to shine. With 231 e-boats sold in 2021, sales are up 52 percent and have already topped numbers for all of 2020, when 169 buyers led the charge.

On a state-by-state basis, all but three of 35 reporting states posted net losses for the month. No. 1 Florida saw an 8 percent decline, with 3,259 registrations (from 3,549), and No. 2 Texas was down 31 percent (to 1,904 from 2,761). Other states posted slight declines, except for No. 4 South Carolina, which had a 42 percent drop in registrations.

Expect this pattern to continue for the remainder of the year, which will more than likely put topping 2020’s gangbuster sales numbers out of reach.


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