2018: Seventh Year of Industry Growth

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Some 280,000 new boats were sold last year.

Some 280,000 new boats were sold last year.

The National Marine Manufacturers Association reported in early January that the recreational boating industry experienced a 4 percent increase in sales over the previous year in 2018. The total of approximately 280,000 new boats sold was the highest since 2007. NMMA expects 3 to 4 percent gains in new powerboat sales for this year.

The NMMA estimates that the recreational boating industry contributes an estimated $170.3 billion in economic activity to the U.S. economy, an increase of approximately $49 billion since the association reported an economic impact in 2012.

“The recreational boating industry has been on a seven-year climb that’s expected to continue into 2019, bringing even more people to the water,” Thom Dammrich, NMMA president, says in a statement. “Driving these sales is a combination of the economic growth we’ve seen over the past decade and consumers seeking out boating as a way to spend quality time with family and friends. Marine manufacturers have also put a concerted effort into offering new products that attract consumers with different interests and budgets.”

Dammrich says that has brought out new buyers in the water sports, fishing and pontoon categories. “These three categories have seen unprecedented sales growth,” he says.

In 2018, sales of freshwater fishing boats were up 2 to 4 percent, to 75,000 units. Unit sales of personal watercraft increased 6 to 8 percent, to 68,000 units. Pontoon sales also grew 4 to 6 percent, to 58,000 units. Wake-sports boats had the highest percentage increase of 9 to 11 points, with 10,000 units sold last year. New cruisers between 22 and 32 feet were also up 2 to 4 percent, with 9,000 units sold.

The top 10 states for dollars spent on boating are: Florida ($23.3 billion); California ($13 billion); New York ($8.4 billion); Texas ($7.7 billion); Michigan ($7.4 billion); Washington ($6.9 billion); New Jersey ($6.6 billion); Tennessee ($6 billion); North Carolina ($5.5 billion); Missouri ($4.5 billion).

Florida governor earmarks $2.5 billion for water quality

Two days after taking office in January, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis released a proposal to clean up Florida’s waters. The action items include more aggressive policies to address green algae in Lake Okeechobee and toxic spills into coastal waterways. DeSantis plans to spend $2.5 billion to address water-quality issues.

“The people of Florida wanted to see action, and this was the action that was requested regardless of your party,” DeSantis says. “This is something that can unite all Floridians.”

The environment was a central issue in Florida’s gubernatorial elections after algae blooms covered most of Lake Okeechobee and red tide killed sea life along Florida’s Gulf Coast. The executive order would increase water monitoring around the state, while establishing a task force to address green algae, ban fracking and clean up septic tanks. DeSantis also ordered accelerated construction of a 17,000-acre reservoir in the Everglades south of Lake Okeechobee. He also says he would work with the federal government to limit toxic discharges from the lake.

DeSantis has demanded that the governing board of the South Florida Water Management District resign. The board oversees Everglades restoration for the state and water management in some of its most troubled areas. In defiance of public opinion, the board had agreed to extend a lease to sugar farmers on land slated for the Everglades reservoir two days after the election.

Getting Recreation on the Secretary’s Radar

Leaders of the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable recently met with Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, Under Secretary for Natural Resources and the Environment Jim Hubbard and key officials of the national forest service.

ORR members included NMMA president Thom Dammrich, MRAA chairman Joe Hoffmaster, Winnebago CEO Mike Happe, which owns Chris-Craft, and Polaris CEO Scott Wine. Polaris acquired Boat Holdings in May, 2018.

“We had an excellent conversation with Secretary Perdue,” says Dammrich, who serves as ORR chairman. “He’s an outdoorsman, so I think we elevated Recreation on his radar. Recreation is the number one economic driver of the forests. We championed access, public/private partnerships to upgrade facilities and visitor experiences, and the importance of the recreation economy.”

Perdue wants the group to “grow partnerships” with the federal government on public lands and waters inside the national forest system. The national forest system has 400,000 acres of lakes and 4,300 campgrounds. “He invited our help in identifying specific steps forward and ORR will provide those,” Dammrich says.

Perdue spoke about his initiatives for recreation during his tenure as governor of Georgia, which included boosting boat ramps and fishing programs, and upgrading state parks.ORR members, in turn, described areas that could have immediate progress. The group requested secretarial support for USFS recreation efforts that capitalize on private investments to expand and enhance recreation infrastructure. ORR also called for overcoming recreation permitting problems by using simplified applications that allow timely processing.  The group also wants to see more outreach to young Americans and expanded use of conservation corps to enhance recreation.

“Let’s capitalize on the fact that recreation is agnostic, relative to politics, and let’s help more Americans enjoy the great outdoors,” Perdue told the group.

This article originally appeared in the February 2019 issue.

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