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Boat sales see small gains in March

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If you were selling outboard fiberglass boats — or vessels ranging from personal watercraft to small fishing boats and jon boats — the spring selling season probably started to look brighter in March.

It particularly helped if you were a dealer in Florida, Texas or North Carolina, three warm-weather states that reported the best sales among 28 early-reporting states that represent about 64 percent of the U.S. recreational boating industry.

Outside the Sun Belt, the late-departing winter kept much of the country in a deep freeze that appeared to discourage buyers and limited the industry’s ability to take advantage of one of the most important seasons of the year.

Sales in the industry’s main powerboat segments were perfectly flat at 7,570 in the early-reporting states and industrywide sales inched up 2.5 percent, or 275 boats, to 11,346, from March 2013, Statistical Surveys reported today.

The best-performing category among the main segments was fiberglass outboards, where sales rose 5.2 percent, or 143 boats, to 2,909.

“It has been one of the fastest-growing segments in the past year,” Statistical Surveys national marine sales manager Ryan Kloppe said.

The only other high-volume category in the main segments that showed a gain was aluminum fishing boats, where there was a modest sales increase of 1.1 percent, or 25, to 2,369.

The aluminum pontoon boat category — like fiberglass outboards, a strong performer during the industry’s recovery from the Great Recession — appeared to slump for the second month in a row. Sales dropped 4.3 percent, or 66, to 1,475, although Kloppe said strong pontoon sales states such as Minnesota and Wisconsin were not among those reporting early.

Sales of 14-to 30-foot sterndrive and inboard boats continued to struggle, falling 9.9 percent, or 73, to 661.

Kloppe said the March results are “on par with what we anticipated” because of the difficult winter and the slow start to spring.

“As soon as the weather starts to improve, we’ll climb back up again,” he said.

Kloppe said builders are telling him they have done well at shows and that wholesale orders are up.

“It’s just a matter of selling the boats now,” he said.

Nine of the top 10-selling states in March were in the South, the Southwest or the West. Florida was the leader with 2,351, followed by Texas with 1,640, North Carolina with 784, Georgia with 653 and Michigan with 636.

Rounding out the top 10 were Tennessee with 511, Arizona with 505, Mississippi with 394, California with 360 and South Carolina with 357.

Sales in six of the 10 states were higher than in March 2013.

For the year through March in the early-reporting states, sales in the main segments were virtually flat — down 87 boats at 16,209. Industrywide, sales were up 1.2 percent, or 289, at 24,109.

Outside the main segments, sales of PWC, jetboats and ski boats showed strength, as did a catch-all category of aluminum boats smaller than 16 feet.

PWC sales rose 16.2 percent, or 230 units, to 1,648, jetboat sales gained 19.3 percent, or 36, to 223, and ski-boat sales climbed 2.4 percent, or seven, to 301. Kloppe said the affordability and versatility of boats in these categories have helped to boost sales.

Sales of small aluminum boats, a miscellaneous category that includes small fishing boats and jonboats, rose 10.9 percent, or 104, to 1,058.

The Coast Guard was up to date in its reports of documented vessels, providing a complete picture of sales in the cruiser and yacht segments. Sales of 31- to 40-foot cruisers fell by 19 to 84, and sales of 41- to 62-foot yachts dropped by 18 to 56, but sales of 63- to 99-foot custom and semicustom yachts rose by eight, to 16.

Sailboat sales fell by 17 to 133.

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