Of the 231.5 million adults living in the United States in 2010, 32.4 percent - or 75 million - participated in recreational boating, according to findings from the National Marine Manufacturers Association's annual Recreational Boating Statistical Abstract.
This is the highest proportion of participation in recreational boating since 1999, when 33.4 percent of adults were boating participants, according to the NMMA. These 75 million boaters represent an increase of 14 percent from the recessionary year of 2009, which saw 65.9 million boaters.
There were 1,118,130 total power- and sailboats sold in 2010 (not including canoes and kayaks) a 4 percent decrease, compared with 2009.
New power- and sailboat unit sales totaled 188,230 in 2010, a decrease of 10 percent, compared with 2009's decrease in unit sales of 35 percent, signaling that the rate of decline in new-boat sales is slowing.
There were 929,900 used boats sold in 2010, a decrease of 2.4 percent, compared with 2009, a likely result of continuing pent-up demand for boats and consumers looking for lower price points in the used market.
In the new-boat market, sales of outboard boats, often small fishing or water sports boats, fared best, declining 4 percent, compared with 2009. There were 112, 800 new outboard boats sold in 2010. In the used market, sales of sterndrive boats, typically boats of less than 26 feet, remained steady, increasing .03 percent, compared with 2009. There were 175,800 used sterndrive boats sold in 2010.
Overall, recreational boating retail expenditures for boats, engines, trailers, accessories and services totaled $30.4 billion in 2010, a 1 percent decline from the previous year.
The NMMA also reported that aftermarket accessory sales increased 6 percent, to $2.4 billion (from $2.3 billion in 2009), and spending per boat averaged $147 for 2010, also up 6 percent from 2009.
The NMMA notes that there are an estimated 17 million boats in use in the United States.
"Despite decreases in new-boat sales last year, the industry remains alive and well, as existing boaters took to the water in record numbers and had a willingness to spend on their boats and boating outings," NMMA president Thom Dammrich said in a statement. "Increases in participation and spending on the aftermarket equal good news for the industry, as it tells us boating remains a recreational activity Americans aren't willing to forgo in times of economic recession."
Dammrich also said boaters expect to get in the water this year, despite rising gas prices.
In August 2008, at the start of the recession, when gas prices were last above $4 a gallon, the NMMA and Michigan State University's Recreational Marine Research Center conducted a survey of 2,211 powerboat owners who went boating between January and July of 2008. The survey found that 99 percent continued to go boating in 2008 despite rising fuel prices. In fact, boating participation increased 6 percent in 2008, to 70 million (from 66 million in 2007).
"We expect boaters to continue boating this summer, as economic indicators which impact boating habits, such as consumer confidence and consumer spending, are faring much better than they were three years ago, when we last saw $4-per-gallon fuel prices," Dammrich said.