Towboats lead industry growth in May

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Ski and wake boats led marine industry growth with a 9.7 percent year-over-year increase in May. There were 1,160 boats registered versus 1,057 in May 2017.

Preliminary data from Statistical Surveys measured boat registrations from 30 early-reporting states, accounting for about 57.8 percent of the U.S. market, as the segment continued its rise in popularity.

Ski and wake boats far outpaced the industry’s 2.1 percent growth in the main powerboat categories and 3.2 percent increase in all categories, according to Statistical Surveys, a Michigan-based company that tracks new-boat registrations.

Not only are the boats selling, their average cost is generally rising. Malibu Boats announced in May that net sales per unit increased 7.4 percent to $78,628, and net sales per unit for Malibu U.S. increased 6.2 percent to $77,260, compared to the third quarter of fiscal 2017. “Because of the move to wakeboarding and wakesurfing, it’s not an inexpensive investment to make,” says Eric Bondy, vice president of sales and marketing at Malibu.

“The 23- to 25-foot [towboat] is a good size that you don’t need a big diesel truck to tow it,” says Brad Riddick, Bryant Boats sales and marketing manager. “It takes the sport and makes it more sociable.”

The industry grew marginally overall because sales in May 2017 saw a large increase, says Ryan Kloppe, sales director at Statistical Surveys. “Last May was a tough comparison because we were up 8.5 percent, so to still be up 2 or 3 percent overall is pretty good,” he says.

Aluminum fishing boats were up 5.8 percent, followed by pontoons, which saw 4.8 percent growth. Other than PWC, pontoons had more unit registrations than any other category, with 6,917 boats sold.

Michigan led new-boat registrations, edging out Florida as the No. 1 state in sales, which is consistent with the growth in pontoons. There were 3,586 boats registered in the state last month. Florida followed with 3,563 boats registered — a dip from 3,344 last year — possibly attributable to the rainy weather there. Texas ranked No. 3 with 3,025 boats registered, consistent with strong sales of aluminum fishing boats and towboats.

There were 7,820 PWC registered in May, a 6.5 percent increase, which contributed to the increase in overall boat sales. Fiberglass outboard sales edged down 1.5 percent, with 5,446 units sold versus 5,528 last year.

Kloppe chalked the sales increase in Michigan up to a break in the weather, which had been unseasonably cool and wet prior to May. Florida, on the other hand, had torrential rains. The Florida Climate Center reported that the state shattered a May rainfall record set in 1895 with 9.23 inches of precipitation, according to the Miami Herald. Miami International Airport — where the city’s rainfall is officially tallied — recorded the fourth wettest May ever with 16.59 inches, David Zierden, a Florida State University climatologist, told the newspaper. Stuart, Fla. topped the list with 24.22 inches.

This article originally appeared in the August 2018 issue.