Towboat Registrations Surpassed Sterndrives in 2019

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Boat registrations picked up during the fourth quarter of 2019, according to preliminary data from Statistical Surveys, helping offset slow sales from the summer season.

Registrations in the main categories were down 3.5 percent for 2019 — a significant improvement over the 6.3 percent year-to-date decline at the end of June, according to SSI data from 32 states representing almost 64 percent of the U.S. boat market.

Overall, the industry dropped 2.5 percent, and total units are expected to be about 282,000 for the year, says SSI sales director Ryan Kloppe.

Only two categories finished the year in positive territory — towboats, which were up 4 percent for the year, and personal watercraft, up 4.2 percent over 2018 with 72,752 units versus 69,804 in 2018.

The ski and wake segment surpassed the sterndrive category in 2019 for the first time in recent history, with towboats finishing out the year at 10,947 units. December was also strong for the segment, growing 9.3 percent compared with December 2018.

Sterndrive-boat registrations, on the other hand, fell 11.2 percent in 2019, dipping beneath the 10,000 mark, with 9,441 registered. In 2006, around 67,000 sterndrives were sold.

The category has declined steadily after a dramatic drop during the recession years of 2008 and 2009. Unlike other categories, the sterndrive market never fully returned, declining around 4 percent each year in recent years, with a larger percentage decline in 2019.

“All those 18- to 20-foot Sea Rays and Bayliners are now offering outboards,” Kloppe says. “Now companies that never had them — Chaparral, Cobalt, Regal —have them in their lines.”

Florida, which has struggled throughout 2019 to compile data in time to be counted in preliminary numbers, was complete and counted in December’s data, Kloppe says. The state dropped from 1,964 to 1,732 new-boat registrations for the month but maintained its top spot in the nation.

Aluminum fishing boats had a robust December, rising 16.8 percent after a slow 2019. The category was down 7.6 percent for the year.

The fiberglass outboard category was down 0.6 percent for the year, with 55,668 units registered versus 56,961 in 2018. It also dropped 2.1 percent for the month.

Cruisers and yachts all dropped double-digits from the year prior.

Sailboats finished the year strong with 10.7 percent growth in December — from 56 to 62 units — but the category was down 7.3 percent for the year with fewer than 1,500 units. 

This article originally appeared in the March 2020 issue.

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