MIAMI BEACH - There's no question 2009 was a difficult year for the marine industry and, while challenges remain, boating is alive and well. That was the message from Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association, in his annual state of the industry address at the Miami International Boat Show.
"In challenging times like this, it's important to keep things in perspective," he said. "If we look at 2009, boating remains a big business. Even in this environment, it's still nearly a $30 billion business. While sales are down, the industry is still very much alive and well."
Sales were down about 28 percent from 2008, but that's actually higher than had been expected, with between 145,000 and 150,000 units sold at retail. That figure, Dammrich said, is expected to be flat this year, but the good news is that manufacturers will have to ramp up production to meet the demand.
Through 1991, the industry sold about 400,000 new boats annually. That figure dropped to around 300,000 through the mid-2000s and now stands at around 150,000.
"I think most of us believe the industry will rebound, although it's going to take time and it will not happen quickly. But no one knows where the new normal will be," Dammrich said. "Will we get back to 300,000 units a year or will the new normal be something less?"
Challenges facing the industry include:
- New boats will cost more as new emissions requirements take effect, including for the 2011 model year, when the industry must add catalytic converters.
- Floorplanning for dealers is expected to remain difficult to obtain, though the availability of retail credit appears to be easing.
- Unemployment remains high.
- The industry has lost a lot of talent in the labor pool with the layoff of thousands of skilled workers.
"The government continues to take actions and keep our Washington, D.C., staff very busy doing things that certainly aren't intended to make our lives easier or us more successful in the boating industry," Dammrich said.
However, there are some positive indicators for the industry - an uptick in auto and RV sales, for example.
"That seems to indicate to me that in the next couple of months, particularly as we enter the height of the selling season for the boating industry, we should see some increase in the sale of new boats," Dammrich said.
There are 17 million boats in use in the United States and 70 million adult Americans go boating each year.
"That's a tremendous installed base and a clear signal that boating is not going away," he said. "I think we've got a great future ahead. We've got some challenging times still to get through, but we will get through them and this industry will prosper again."
— Beth Rosenberg