Far from slipping into a “lull,” as it did in 2016 after strong March sales, the U.S. recreational boating industry achieved moderate gains in April this year that included double-digit growth in the pontoon category.
Sales in the main powerboat segments rose 3.5 percent to 11,277 and they rose 5 percent industrywide to 17,104 from the same month last year in 23 states that represent about 51 percent of the U.S. market, Statistical Surveys reported today.
Last year, sales in 29 states that represented 62 percent of the market were nearly flat with results in April 2015, rising by just 33 boats, or 0.3 percent, in the main segments to 12,530 and falling by 181, or 1 percent, to 18,310 industrywide.
Statistical Surveys sales director Ryan Kloppe said the April figures this year reflect the kind of growth the industry has seen in recent years, led by “the usual suspects” — categories such as fiberglass outboards, pontoons and personal watercraft that have led the industry’s multiyear recovery from the Great Recession.
“Last year we got off to a stronger start, but I think what you’re seeing now is an uptick for the spring selling season,” he said.
This year through April sales are up 2.9 percent at 38,697 in the main segments and 3.4 percent at 55,075 industrywide in the early-reporting states, growth that is somewhat below industry forecasts of 4 to 6 percent.
Kloppe said that although the year-to-date results appear to be “a little light,” they should improve when more states report their April sales and full national first-quarter figures are released next month.
Pontoon boats had a particularly strong April, as sales rose 11.2 percent to 3,236. Outboard fiberglass boat sales rose 4.5 percent for the month to 3,866, but aluminum fishing boat sales were virtually flat, falling by five, or 0.2 percent, to 2,795.
The personal watercraft category led the industry with sales of 3,898 units, 12.9 percent more than a year earlier. It was the second month in row that PWC sales have risen by double digits. For the year through April, 9,507 PWC have been sold in the early-reporting states and sales are up 10.3 percent.
“With this growth rate, they’re going to be well over 60,000 units this year,” Kloppe said, noting that the majority of PWC buyers tend to be first-time watercraft owners. Dealers have told him that one trend is grandparents buying PWC for their grandchildren.
“These are people who are getting onto the water and experiencing the boating lifestyle,” he said.
Sales of ski and wake boats rose 8.8 percent, or 49, to 606, and sales of jetboats rose 13.7 percent, or 48, to 398.
Seven of the top 10 states for sales reported higher numbers than they did in April last year. Florida led the nation in April sales with 3,190 (up from 2,998). Texas was second at 2,460 (up from 2,185); Michigan was third at 2,076 (up from 2,032); North Carolina was fourth at 1,385 (up from 1,163); and New York was fifth at 1,202 (down from 1,309).
The rest of the top 10 were Alabama at 1,130 (up from 1,090); Ohio at 1,022 (up from 730); New Jersey at 743 (up from 636); California at 702 (down from 716); and Arkansas at 507 (down from 547).
The Coast Guard was up to date in its reports on documented vessels, providing a complete report in the bigger-boat categories. Sales of 31- to 40-foot cruisers fell by 22 to 82; sales of 41- to 65-foot yachts dropped by 31 to 38; and sales of 66-foot and larger custom and semicustom yachts declined by two to seven.
Sailboat sales fell by 51 to 92 and are lower by 33.3 percent for the year through April at 375 in the early-reporting states.