The aging baby-boomer population, affordability and fewer entry-level boaters are causing the shift from runabouts and cruisers to pontoons, not an exodus from one segment to the other.
That’s according to Jack Ellis, managing director at Info-Link Technologies, a Miami-based market research and analytics firm, who told Soundings Trade Only that the company looked at the migration from one segment to the other, speculating that such a shift was occurring.
“We don’t see people necessarily exiting runabout and cruiser markets to pontoon,” Ellis told Trade Only. “Or, they do but it’s not any more prevalent today than it was in the past. So it’s not like people are defecting in significant numbers.”
Instead, there are just more people buying pontoons, Ellis said.
The fact that boaters are aging and few young families and new boaters are joining the recreation is more cause for concern for the overall industry, Ellis said.
“We know for a fact that over the past 15 years the average boat owner has gotten eight years older,” Ellis said. “There is nothing we see that is going to make that demographic change. Now fast-forward that 10 years. My average buyer is going to be 58. Is that going to be a problem?”
Fifteen years ago the average boat owner was in his early 40s; today relatively few people in their early 40s are buying boats, Ellis said.
“For the most part the market is just chewing through its current customer base,” Ellis told Trade Only. “We’re adding new entrants and obviously we’re doing everything we can to keep them, but the majority are people who are already boating.”
“We know that 70 percent of first-time buyers, they sell their boat and never come back,” Ellis added, “but we don’t know why.”
The company found when it studied pontoon buyers last year that about half are first-time buyers, a proportion that hasn’t grown since 2006.
The decline in fiberglass runabout sales would appear to support a defection to pontoons, but the percentage of pontoon boat buyers who previously owned a fiberglass boat, which has always been about 50 percent, has not moved, Info-ink found.
The company also found that the percentage of people who previously purchased used boats and were buying new pontoons hadn’t budged.
“Instead we just see more people buying more pontoons,” Ellis said.
It’s an affordable way to stay comfortable, get plenty of people on board and do so for considerably less money than can be done on a fiberglass cruiser.
Ellis speculates that the decline in runabout purchases is attributable to fewer entry-level boaters, those who traditionally bought in that segment.
“Pontoons is an older purchase. I think that’s why it’s seeing so much popularity these days,” Ellis said.
— Reagan Haynes