Weather Delays Boat Registrations

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After what one marine financial analyst called a “horrendous June,” August showed some signs of growth. Registrations in the main powerboat categories grew 0.8 percent versus August 2018 but were still down 5.1 percent year-to-date in those high-volume segments.

However, data from Statistical Surveys, which accounted for 26 early-reporting states and approximately 48 percent of the U.S. market, did not include Florida. That state continues to face challenges gathering registration data, a problem that could have skewed results, according to SSI director Ryan Kloppe. “If Florida has a good month, obviously that can steer an upward trend,” Kloppe says. “As far as making predictions goes, I would wait to see.”

Overall registrations for the month were down 0.7 percent versus August 2018, and down 3.6 percent year-to-date, but there was segment growth month-over-month, Kloppe says. Pontoon registrations grew 7.4 percent compared with last August but were still down 3.5 percent year-to-date. The data signals that some boaters delayed purchases after a cold and wet spring — particularly in big pontoon states such as Michigan — but didn’t cover the ground lost in the historically highest-volume selling months.

Fiberglass outboard boats grew 4.1 percent compared with August 2018, but were off 1.9 percent year-over-year. That data could change when Florida’s numbers are included.

“After a horrendous June, when poor weather across the country adversely impacted sales and the ability of recreational boaters to get on the water in certain states — for example, Texas — we are definitely encouraged to see two consecutive months of registration gains,” B. Riley FBR analyst Eric Wold wrote.

While the gains of 1 percent in July and 1.7 percent in August in the main powerboat categories (excluding sterndrive) don’t make up for the decline of 13.2 percent reported for June, the numbers support the argument that weather played a “major role in disrupting recreational boat sales this season, as opposed to fears around the economic outlook,” Wold wrote.

For the main powerboat segments, ski and wake boats were the only category that saw year-to-date growth, at 2.9 percent; the category was up 3.3 percent during the month versus last August. Personal watercraft was the only other category to experience year-to-date growth, up 3.6 percent, and it edged up 0.3 percent year-over-year.

Aluminum fishing boats dropped 8.7 percent year-over-year and were down 10.4 percent year-to-date. Sterndrive and inboard boats between 14 and 30 feet — down 11.1 percent year-over-year and 10.6 percent for the month versus August 2018 — also dragged registration numbers.

A slight softening of the market might be occurring, but industries including RV have seen the same trend, Kloppe says.

Wold says recreational marine’s “significant sell-off” last fall was an overreaction to the monthly registration data and a slower-than-expected start to this year’s boat-buying season. He adds that there has been some reported impact on year-to-date financial results and some elevated inventory levels, but says that pricing boats as if there was a full-blown recession is not consistent with available data. “We do not believe [this] has been manifesting itself consistently in the reported registration and sales data,” he says.

This article originally appeared in the November 2019 issue.