Dealers around the country are saying business is clearly up, and they expect that 2015 is on track to beat 2014 results.
“From the dealers I’ve spoken with, I hear May was pretty soft, but dealer sales were up strongly in June, so there was a nice rebound,” says NMMA president Thom Dammrich. “At my presentation at the Miami International Boat Show in February, I predicted we will be up 5 to 7 percent this year in unit sales, and I stand by that prediction. In fact, it may be a little better than that.”
Lake Union Sea Ray in Seattle is ahead of that trajectory.“We had a nice lift in Q1. May wasn’t great, but it was above last year, and for Q2 we’re well ahead of last year,” says owner Kevin Roggenbuck.
Specifically, he says, sales in dollars are up almost 22 percent from the same period in 2014. “We were budgeting for a 9 percent increase over last year,” he says. “Now I expect we’ll shake out to about 20 percent over last year, nearly double what we budgeted for. In terms of unit sales, we expect them to be in the 12 to 14 percent range of increase.”
Statistical Surveys reports that unit sales industrywide and in the main powerboat segments fell together in May for the first time in 15 months, but they rebounded nicely in June. Among the 28 states providing preliminary data for June (about 68 percent of the U.S. boat market), sales climbed 4.9 percent in the main segments, to 16,202 boats, from 15,442 in the previous June, and by 4.1 percent, to 27,200 boats, from 26,127 industrywide.
The dealers we spoke with considered May sales to be a glitch rather than a trend, and they say June results bore that theory out. The industry has been achieving steady, moderate gains for the past three years as it recovers from the Great Recession.
Fiberglass outboards from 11 to 40 feet continue to be a steady segment. Sales in June in the early- reporting states rose by 10.8 percent, to 4,572 boats. Year-over-year June sales among cruisers from 31 to 40 feet rose from 127 to 143; sales of yachts in the 41- to 62-foot segment climbed from 80 to 117.
“We’re seeing a few more big-boat buyers, 50 feet and larger, coming through the doors than in the last five or six years,” Roggenbuck says. “I think part of that is new product. Both Sea Ray and Boston Whaler have come out with a lot of great new product.”
As further evidence of improving markets, the National Marine Manufacturers Association reports that new powerboat and personal watercraft registrations were up 6.5 percent year over year in the first quarter and were up 9.5 percent overall on a rolling 12-month basis — April 2014 through March 2015 versus April 2013 through March 2014.
PWC, jetboats, ski boats and outboards are leading the growth, but sterndrive boats and inboard cruiser sales continue to decline.
In the Midwest, Chris Stevens is general manager of Grand Pointe Marina, a family-owned Regal, NauticStar, Four Winns, Manitou and Tracker dealer in Lansing, Mich.
“New boats are doing pretty well — up over last year anywhere from 10 to 20 percent in most categories,” Stevens says. Like the other dealers, Stevens is referring to sales gains in dollars, but he says unit sales are “very close” to that percentage.
Pontoons, up nearly 20 percent, and outboard fiberglass center consoles, led by NauticStar, are up about 37 percent, he says. In general, boats 25 feet and larger are selling better than smaller fiberglass sportboats.
Aluminum fishing boat sales are up about 13 percent, which Stevens says is impressive because Grand Pointe sells about 200 a year.
Stevens says his buyers tend to be well qualified, unlike four or five years ago, when he estimates that half could not get financing approved. Today he sets that mark at less than 10 percent. He estimates that between 35 and 40 percent of his sales are cash deals.
“I think it’s going to be a good year, and we’ll flush through the majority of our inventory,” Stevens says. He cautions, however, that there is “an initial sticker shock for people who haven’t been boat shopping in the last few years.”
In the Northeast, Michael Myers, owner of Boston Yacht, says new-boat sales in dollars are “up by double digits from a great 2014,” and he expects that 2015 will go down as a banner year.
Boston Yacht carries a wider-than- typical range of lines, from runabouts to megayachts. Brands include Vanquish, Hatteras, Sabre, Back Cove and Princess.
“I am surprised by the resilience of the consumer,” Myers says. “Regardless of headlines, our clients want to enjoy their time on the water.”
In Connecticut, Bob Petzold, president of Petzold’s Marine Center, which carries the Sabre, Regal, Edge- Water, Back Cove, Mainship and Ocean lines in Portland, has a more tempered report. “We’re just going to see a modest increase this year,” Petzold says. “Nothing earth-shattering, maybe a 5 percent increase, like we’ve had to this point. I’m still not ready to say we’re done with the recession because we don’t see any consistency. We have a good month, then a not-so-good month.”
Petzold says sales have been consistently positive across his brands, but “it’s that midrange, the 28- to 36-foot range, that’s been kind of nonexistent for us.”
In Florida, Darren Plymale, vice president and general manager of Galati Yacht Sales, did not offer specifics, but says “our sales results are benchmarking well against last year.”
Plymale says buyers are coming from across the demographic spectrum, and most are previous customers.
This article originally appeared in the August 2015 issue.