President, American Boat and Yacht Council
I see a 2018 with a huge focus on education and turning the corner on the needs of our industry from a workforce perspective. ABYC has been preparing for this for quite some time, and 2018 is the year of launching a program for high schools and ramping up continuing ed. Opportunities will arise for those who are already in our industry — this is a collaborative effort.
It’s time to pool our resources and connect providers with content and then with eager, trained techs who are ready for you to continue their training in your shop, yard or manufacturing facility. Let’s talk about the aging workforce. We have been writing and discussing this for a very long time; 2018 is the year of planting seeds and starting on the path to turning things around. All of us need to take the opportunity to get a young person excited about our industry.
I had the opportunity to meet with ABYC member Phineas Sprague of Portland Yacht Services in Maine. He states emphatically that “marine jobs are high-end jobs” and says he has never laid off a tech in his career. Can we all adopt this attitude for 2018 and, more important, relay this to the future leaders in our industry?
I spoke to a group from the Center of Applied Technology South here in Anne Arundel County, Md. A group of bright-eyed students had just toured one of our larger facilities and never realized that there are opportunities far beyond painting the bottom of a 26-foot center console on a trailer.
Michael Del Smith, the marine systems instructor at the Portland Arts and Technology High School in Portland, Maine, says he can’t graduate techs fast enough, but once he does the demand for them is very high and the skills are in place to make them successful. There is light at the end of the tunnel, and there are models to look to for future success. Let’s make 2018 the year of the new tech. Go visit the principal of your local tech school, then connect with us at ABYC and we’ll help from there.
While in the pursuit of the new tech, let’s not forget those who are already here. Continuing Education Units are becoming the currency of the realm. The millennial workforce is always searching for educational opportunities, and the rest of us are adopting continuing education as an effective learning tool to keep us in the know.
If you are reading this as a manufacturer, then I see a 2018 with high demand for your product training. If you are an employer, I see your employees looking for some opportunities to learn and grow. The old fear of “train them and they will leave” is something we have to put aside and trust that we have the management who will keep good people and help them grow.
CEO, Groupe Beneteau Americas
As we head into the new year, Groupe Beneteau remains focused on our Transform to Perform plan and continues to see positive momentum focused on five objectives: maintaining worldwide leadership in the sailboat segment and strengthening our positions in the powerboat segments from 16 to 105 feet; innovating in products and services (such as Ship Control); expanding the range of services to boost convenience and simplify use; continuing the digital transformation in both industrial and commercial operations; and increasing the synergy between R&D and the industry to achieve operational excellence.
With a record investment of nearly $55 million in product development in 2017, our group’s 10 brands — Beneteau, Jeanneau, Lagoon, Prestige, Monte Carlo Yachts, CNB, Four Winns, Glastron, Wellcraft and Scarab — continue to introduce new, innovative and diverse models that appeal to today’s marine consumer. As reported in late October, the group’s boat revenues are up 12.6 percent, a positive indicator that our plan is working.
The group’s global vision for 2017-18 anticipates overall growth of 3 to 5 percent. We see opportunities for growth in the popular outboard segment, the sailing segment and the larger-yacht market. We are also seeing more opportunities to partner with boat clubs and supporting the shared-economy lifestyle.
We acknowledge that there are also some risks, including sensitivity to the macroeconomic situation; strong competition from the used-boat market; demographic trends and aging consumers; and the attractiveness of other outdoor recreational activities.
Our teams at Groupe Beneteau Americas, as well as our dealers, continue to demonstrate the winning spirit that drives our group. Together we will meet the challenges of 2018 head-on, support each other as needed and continue to deliver products and services that exceed the expectations of our current clients and future ones.
Chief marketing officer, NMMA; president, Grow Boating
As the average age of a boat owner hovers around 55 and the rapid decline of first-time boat buyers starts to sink in, I am seeing these trends working their way into more industry conversations. It’s critical that we attract new boaters to ensure a future for our industry.
According to Discover Boating’s study on first-time boat buyers, these buyers are doing far more research and asking more questions as they prepare for interactions with dealers. To quote marketing expert Marcus Sheridan, who spoke to our industry at the Grow Boating Marketing Summit and the Marine Dealer Conference and Expo, “70 percent of a boat shopper’s purchase decision is made before they set foot in a dealership. This should motivate us all to make sure our websites are answering the questions consumers are asking.”
Consumers also don’t like to share their personal information until they are ready to buy, making lead generation more challenging. In this age of consumer data breaches, who can blame them? Our industry relies heavily on the lead form; there’s an increasing need to adapt to changing consumer behavior.
First-time boat buyers can be any age, but as millennials get older (the oldest will turn 37 in 2018), they’ll remain an important target for our industry moving forward. As a bonus, millennials are more racially diverse. It’s been widely reported that millennials are putting off big-ticket purchases, but experiences are very important to them. That’s why it’s crucial that the recreational boating industry be there to offer those on-water experiences — even if boat ownership is still a few years away.
I expect we’ll continue to see more companies providing ways for people to get on the water to experience boating. That may be more dealers offering rental options or entrepreneurs developing apps to connect people to charter captains and boats or peer-to-peer companies gaining wider acceptance.
Boat clubs will continue to increase their new-boat purchases and introduce boating to more people — or, equally important, keep them from exiting our industry. These are trends that we should embrace, as they help us introduce more people to life on the water. The more people on the water, the better our future. Let’s welcome them to the water.
President, Brunswick Boat Group
As we enter 2018 there are many reasons to be optimistic about the future of the U.S. marine market — the world’s largest.
We believe that the U.S. boat market will continue its steady recovery. Though final numbers are yet to be reported, it appears that 2017 will mark the seventh consecutive year of growth in new-boat retail sales. The recovery [since the Great Recession of 2007] is evident not only in the number of units produced, but also in the dollars generated.
Since the industry’s 2006 peak, units have recovered at a pace of 65 percent, while dollars have increased by 82 percent. And while it is true that the rate of recovery has varied by segment, with outboard-powered craft outdistancing those with other types of propulsion, all segments are showing progress to some degree.
There are also favorable marine consumer and market trends that are helping to drive this current growth and that we believe will continue to support growth. For example, the core boater is older, affluent, remains committed to boating and has many years of significant boating activity ahead.
At its root, boating also remains a family activity. This is positive, as boating not only continues to bring families and friends together, but also will help to seed future growth as children’s “water gene” is cultivated at a young age.
Last, millennials — despite what some consider the conventional wisdom — are engaged with boating. Their participation often goes beyond conventional ownership through participating in boat clubs or partial ownership. The industry has an opportunity to nurture millennials’ experiences on the water by continuing to develop better products and technologies and easier-to-use solutions.
Finally, fishing: Nearly 46 million Americans fish. It remains the second-most-popular outdoor activity overall and the most popular boating activity. Fishing participation forms a strong and resilient foundation for future boat demand and usage, with participation trending both younger and more diverse.
The product trends that have underpinned this recovery will continue to propel growth in the U.S. and other markets. The popularity of outboard power will drive above-average growth in the pontoon, large saltwater fish and aluminum fishing boat segments, while OEMs who deliver innovation around versatility, comfort and outdoor living space will continue to profit.
We’re confident in the growth outlook for 2018, we’re excited to bring our new product and innovations to market and we’re delighted that the marine consumer will continue to be well served going forward.
Managing partner, Coburn & Associates; director and past president, National Marine Lenders Association; immediate past chairman, Michigan Boating Industries Association
When discussing the recreational boating industry, it is enjoyable to write about continued improvement and optimism. That’s the case when reviewing 2017 performance and economic trends, which point to a generally positive 2018.
The upsides are:
- Continued employment growth and a declining unemployment rate currently at 4.1 percent, with no major economist forecasts for increases throughout 2018;
- A Consumer Confidence Index at 129.5, the highest since December 2000 and performing, on average, over 20 points higher than 2016. Our industry, like so many others, historically performs best when CCI is over 100. This past Black Friday and Cyber Monday are further proof that confidence is strong going into 2018;
- New-boat inventory levels that banks and dealers report as remaining healthy;
- Crude oil prices (per barrel) having increased more than 15 percent during 2017, but being projected to increase at a lesser rate during 2018 by some major U.S. economists. We have found that fuel prices were not a sales determinant during 2017;
- Interest rates remaining favorable in spite of three Federal Reserve rate increases since December 2016. Projections call for moderate increases in rates (such as prime) of 100 to 125 basis points by year-end 2018, and another 50 points by the end of 2019. The market anticipates these (overdue) increases and should be poised to positively deal with them;
- A stock market continuing to make impressive gains since November 2016, benefiting commercial and consumer markets.
We believe recreational boating will continue to produce positive near-term results. According to National Marine Manufacturers Association statistics, recreational boating annual retail expenditures and new-boat unit sales have improved for six straight years (through 2016) to $35.9 billion and 254,300 units. We forecast retail expenditures will approach $38 billion by the end of 2018. We were aggressive with our 7 percent forecast for new unit boat sales last year, and revise our prediction to a 3- to 5-percent increase for both 2017 and 2018. That’s steady growth, plain and simple.
While the economy is in good shape heading toward 2018, there are areas to watch. Tax reform, or the romance of an actual approved tax reform program by our legislators, has been a positive throughout 2017. If it’s not properly implemented in 2018, confidence and markets could shift.
The auto industry is currently reporting higher delinquencies, with some lenders backing away from nonprime retail lending. Auto lenders also reported lower loan margins and some lender exits during 2017. This bears watching in the boat-loan segment. The good news is that boat-loan delinquencies edged up only slightly in 2016, and recent anecdotal surveys tell us there should be no negative surprises as we close out 2017.
A recent 3Q 2017 survey of boat lenders indicated that loan volumes and the near-term outlook for volume were beginning to slow. Some lenders commented that they “believe the market is strong but feel like it’s slowing a bit.” The same survey indicated that boat-loan credit quality has gradually been declining since 2016. This, along with lender margin performance, will be important to monitor throughout 2018.
Last, consumer boat-loan rates remain favorable, and retail and floorplan boat-loan availability should remain solid throughout 2018.
If you like steady growth without making comparisons to the industry’s pre-Great Recession sales stats, 2018 should be just fine.
Senior vice president and general manager, Evinrude
As someone new to the industry, I am still learning, but I quickly realized that as a leisure activity, boating is unique. Those involved are truly passionate. Boaters love boating and will do anything they can for as little as a few perfect hours on the water. As a result, we have a market that is always interested in new products and well informed on the latest and greatest features. It is also a unique market in that a boat is not a sole brand that is considered for purchase, like an automobile, but instead is an integrated offering resulting from a coordinated effort among outboard engine manufacturers, dealers and builders.
I see three key themes facing the industry going forward.
Like many recreational industries, the boating space has seen a significant push to increase market share, and focus on the consumer experience is at the core of this effort. Each stakeholder — whether outboard manufacturer, electronics original equipment manufacturer, boatbuilder or dealer — has the ability to tailor their products to improve ease of use and overall enjoyment for the customer. I am especially impressed with the convergence of technology that links all of these disparate products together, and I believe we are at a tipping point of revolutionary innovation. Technology is touching everything and everyone on the boat, and this will only increase, from engine programming to navigation technology to consumer integration.
Assuming the economy continues to improve, discretionary income in the market will surpass its previous 2007 highs. That means the boating industry has a unique opportunity that only comes around once every seven to 10 years: to re-attract boaters who are not currently active, as well as to reach those who are entirely new to the pursuit. This attraction should be based on the value of the overall boating and ownership experience and will change the way our industry “goes to market.” Said another way, it’s an opportunity to make buying a boat a hassle-free experience.
At Evinrude, we have embraced the concept of ease of use as our primary method for growing our customer base, which includes boatbuilders and dealers, as well as the consumer. Recent innovations include the development of iLink to allow our engine controls to be integrated with mobile devices for the familiarity of our boaters. We also developed iDock to simplify low-speed maneuvering and alleviate stress for new or inexperienced boaters. In addition, our engineering teams integrated iTrim and iSteer into our engine’s lower unit, making for a cleaner transom and minimizing the hydraulic lines required, greatly reducing the installation and setup time for our dealers.
We’ve only just begun. Evinrude’s commitment to innovation is resolute. We are excited about the opportunity to be a dynamic part of the boating industry.
President, National Marine Manufacturers Association
As we close 2017 we’ll see the sixth consecutive year of growth in new-boat sales and recreational boating expenditures in the United States. In an industry characterized by five-year cycles, this might normally be a concern. However, we’re breaking from this trend and are likely to see two to three more years of continued growth.
Dollar sales are at pre-recession levels of 10 years ago, and while unit sales continue to lag behind pre-recession highs by approximately 25 percent, there are a few segments close to their pre-recession levels.
Looking toward 2018, NMMA is projecting unit sales to be up approximately 5 percent and dollar sales to increase by double digits, giving our industry another profitable year. With potentially three more years of growth before we see another recession, we must ask ourselves how we’re going to sustain and accelerate our growth.
I am always surprised by industry surveys where we cry out for more millennial buyers, but show little concern for reaching a more diverse customer base. Millennials are the most diverse generation in our history. If we can’t get comfortable with diversity, we won’t reach millennials — our next generation of boat owners. And with millennials now ages 21 to 37, we need to act fast. What are you doing in 2018 to address this at your company?
Discover Boating is doing a fantastic job of building awareness and interest among first-time boat buyers, but the campaign is just the first stage in getting them to become owners. Of the approximately 5 million visits to DiscoverBoating.com, the campaign referred more than 3 million of them to contributing manufacturer websites in each of the past three years — that’s a lot of visits to manufacturer websites.
What’s more, these aren’t just clicks; they’re highly qualified people exploring boating. Yet today, only 10 percent of manufacturers are doing anything with this web traffic. Yes, sales are important, but building a pipeline of future customers is critical. Discover Boating has made it a priority to help manufacturers understand their role in nurturing these people through marketing so they eventually become a sale.
It’s also in our best interest to be far more transparent about the costs and responsibilities of ownership. NMMA members make incredible products. It’s not the price of the boat that scares people away. It’s the unexpected costs of ownership. Transparency has become table stakes in the Internet era. If we’re to grow, we must be more transparent.
Last but not least, being engaged in advocacy is critical to ensuring our industry’s future. I encourage all NMMA members to reach out to NMMA’s government relations staff to help you invite your local member of Congress or another lawmaker to tour your facility and learn about your business. And everyone with a stake in our industry should attend the American Boating Congress from April 30 to May 2 to create the loud voice our industry needs in Washington, D.C. Your story and your voice have a significant impact.
Most in this industry will experience healthy growth in 2018 (and likely 2019 and 2020). But if you are planning to be in this business beyond that, I encourage you to get serious now about diversity, become fluent in nurture marketing, be more transparent about the costs and responsibilities of boat ownership and get active in advocacy.
Growing our industry is not rocket science. Let’s hope changing the culture isn’t, either.
President, Denison Yachting
I love seeing consumer confidence at a 17-year high. The last time that score was above 125, we were all getting AOL promo CDs in our mailboxes. I think the trend means good things for the boating industry in 2018. It seems that spending money on things you don’t need, but really want, is usually attached to one’s optimism about the economy.
Specific to our industry, I think we’ll see five cool things this year:
- Someone will buy a superyacht with bitcoin;
- Consolidation will be on the rise across all segments of marine and yachting;
- A breakout leader will emerge in peer-to-peer boating (I think it will be Boatsetter);
- Video will finally be taken seriously as a marketing medium in yachting. This will mean larger dealers, brokers and manufacturers hiring video teams in-house;
- Congress will pass a bill making it easier for U.S. citizens to buy foreign-flagged yachts. We’ll finally be able to throw away those annoying “Not for sale to U.S. residents while in U.S. waters” signs.
Publisher and general manager, Active Interest Media Marine Group
I’m excited about the outlook for the recreational marine market for 2018. All signs — from the record stock market to strong consumer confidence — point to a year that should see solid performance across most sectors.
Naturally, the product has to fit the bill. As they have since the recession, builders are continuing to innovate and improve their new boats, making it easier and more enjoyable for both new buyers and longtime boaters to enjoy the water.
Our focus on driving participation in boating through our media and events gives us a close view of consumer interest in our sport. Across the waterfront, virtually all the metrics we track as measures of consumer behavior and intentions are showing encouraging signs.
Attendance at boat shows both large and small has been increasing, attracting qualified buyers ready to buy. The great reinventions in 2017 of both the NMMA’s Miami International Boat Show and the Miami Yacht Show on Collins Avenue in February, along with the phenomenal attendance and exhibitor count this past November at FLIBS, demonstrate strong buyer interest in new product and shows.
Other, less obvious indicators that we follow also show that consumer engagement through print, digital and social media platforms is growing, with our brands attracting a record total audience. Even newsstand sales of our marine magazines are up year over year, which is a radical departure from overall newsstand sales outside the marine category.
A broader measure of interest in boating and boat buying can be seen in Google trends over time. Search volume hit a five-year high as of the latest measurement, which is a good proxy for consumer demand. We all know that sustained consumer confidence is the most important driver of boat buying. The manufacturers are doing a great job of innovating product and technologies that will drive demand as long as world economic or political events do not shake confidence.
Show director, International BoatBuilders’ Exhibition & Conference
Based on the current economic indicators and positive sales reports from the recent fall boat shows, the future looks bright for the boating industry in 2018.
Boatbuilders are rising to the challenge of making boats more comfortable, easier to operate and, most important, more connected. As with everything in our lives, connectivity aboard boats is a necessity.
At IBEX, we showcased the many onboard systems that can now be monitored from a touch screen on the bridge, or even on a smartphone from the comfort of home. If we hope to persuade people to invest in the boating lifestyle, these are necessary features.
The challenges that will face our industry in 2018 are the lack of a skilled workforce for both manufacturing and service, and how we, as an industry, adjust to a circular economy and face the reality that there needs to be a plan on how to deal with the end of life for boats.
This issue will be pushed to the forefront because of the destruction of thousands of boats from Hurricane Irma and the need for a plan to deal properly with all the damaged hulls.
Founder and managing director, Info-Link Technologies Inc.
The consensus last year was we had Newton at the helm and momentum would carry us right through 2017. Thanks to a steadily improving economy, high consumer confidence, a record-level stock market and a little luck, we were correct.
Total new-boat sales, a key indicator of our industry’s health, increased about 5 percent. And, by many accounts, most segments of our industry — be it component manufacturers, marinas or retailers — had a successful 2017. The only major bump in the road was when Hurricanes Harvey and Irma tapped the brakes late in the season.
As we head into 2018, we are again blessed with similar market conditions, and it would seem reasonable to conclude that we will continue riding the same wave through another boating season. While this is our hope, we are more cautiously optimistic this year.
Many factors contribute to the health of our industry: For instance, we know there’s a high correlation among boat sales, home values and consumer confidence. Likewise, there’s the obvious relationship to employment, stock market performance and the weather. But these factors are very difficult to predict, so we must make educated assumptions based on the preponderance of evidence.
Also, at the risk of oversimplifying things, as an industry we serve two distinct market segments for which age tends to be a factor. The first are those people who are already committed to boating and consider it part of their lifestyle. The second are those who have demonstrated interest but are not yet fully committed. While there is no clear delineation, the former tends to be older, repeat boat buyers, while the latter are usually younger, first-time or prospective boat buyers.
Sixty percent of all new boat buyers during 2018 will be older than 50 and, based on the available projections, their home values are likely to increase, their investment and retirement accounts should remain relatively healthy and most will be gainfully employed or retired. This is an ideal environment that has persisted the past few years, and many repeat buyers have already upgraded to a new boat. The question is, how many more will follow suit? We don’t know for sure, but logic would suggest that even in an environment like this, the appetite is eventually satisfied. Consequently, we only anticipate a modest increase in new-boat buyer activity among this audience during 2018.
The other 40 percent of our market — those between the ages of 20 and 50 — are experiencing the same market conditions but they are at a different phase of their lives, so the impact is different. For instance, those buying their first homes are certainly not benefiting from increased home values. Also, younger buyers are more apt to have other responsibilities competing for their time and resources. We continue to struggle with this audience, especially millennials, but we are nonetheless hopeful that our industry’s efforts to attract more first-time buyers will start to bear fruit during 2018.
Executive summary: Growing our market for a seventh year in a row won’t be easy, but given the favorable market conditions and our industry’s tenacity, it is achievable.
Vice president, Westrec Marinas; president emeritus, Association of Marina Industries
Most marina operators are reporting returns to higher occupancies and small increases in rates over the past year. We should expect this to continue into the coming year.
The marina segment of the recreational boating industry has seen a substantial recovery from the recent recession, and many marina operators are reinvesting in marina infrastructure.
In 2017 we observed growth among marina consolidators as Suntex purchased Loggerhead Marinas and Safe Harbor Marinas acquired the Brewer portfolio, each dramatically expanding its holdings. Although independents continue to hold the clear majority of marinas, the shift to an institutional style of ownership at marinas may begin to influence a boater’s marina experience.
As these organizations grow larger and a corporate management style evolves, it is important that marinas retain their appeal as relaxed, family-friendly, service-oriented environments.
Many boaters choose a marina based on the personality and hospitality of the marina manager, staff and amenities. Consolidators should be cautioned to prioritize this part of a marina manager’s job while they expand his responsibilities in financial and operational reporting.
It’s possible, in the near term at least, that an advantage goes to independent operators focused on customer service and the personal interaction that boaters are looking for in choosing a marina.
The trend toward increasing professionalism among the emerging marina chains will create opportunities for qualified marina managers. As marinas are acquired and transitioned, often there is a need for a trained, professional marina manager.
As many marinas are purchased from an entrepreneur owner-operator, the business acumen and leadership depart with the seller, and growing marina companies are in search of qualified marina managers.
A growing sophistication in marina accounting, bookkeeping and software required by institutional investors necessitates a marina manager with more financial management experience. Marina managers should be seeking more professional business training.
In the coming year, we’ll see a trend toward more marinas hosting boat clubs and shared-boat-ownership models. As the industry works hard to attract new boaters, these new styles are on the increase. Freedom Boat Club franchises now number more than 150, and marina operators are realizing the value of inviting this kind of boater to their customer base.
Shared use and ownership models like Boatsetter are also being embraced by marina owners who understand the importance of reducing the cost of boat ownership and increasing access to boating in these value-added models.
In the coming year, the best marinas will not be storing boats; they will be hosting the boating experience, putting the customer and his family on par with attention to the bottom line.
Public policy manager, Marine Retailers Association of the Americas
It probably comes as no surprise that 2017 in Washington, D.C., was a year punctuated by political volatility, with top Republican goals like health care and tax reform dominating the legislative agenda. However, the recreational boating industry did make some strides in advancing our legislative priorities.
Those of us who work for the boating industry here in D.C. have been encouraged by moments like the introduction of the Modern Fish Act, success in defeating a damaging change to the Renewable Fuel Standard and work on other key issues, such as infrastructure.
The MRAA, along with its colleagues at the National Marine Manufacturers Association, BoatUS and the American Sportfishing Association, also played an active role in the Outdoor Recreation Industry Roundtable, a coalition of America’s leading outdoor recreation trade associations.
The ORIR has helped to raise the profile of the recreation economy in Washington through engagement with Cabinet-level officials and Congress. Secretary Ryan Zinke of the Department of the Interior announced a new recreation advisory committee dedicated to expanding access and infrastructure on public lands. Looking forward to 2018, the ORIR will continue to be an integral part of our plan to promote the policy and legislative reforms needed to grow our industry.
Insiders expect 2018 will continue to be relatively unpredictable, with midterm elections that may drastically alter D.C.’s political landscape. Incumbents and their challengers will be on the campaign trail for a significant portion of the year, but it is likely that more legislation will get passed than in 2017 as the clock ticks down to the end of the two-year congressional session. The recreational boating community will continue to work to ensure that our priorities remain top of mind.
Aside from government, our industry faces another pressing issue. In our minds here at the MRAA, there is no clearer challenge to our industry than that which the workforce crisis presents. We have worked diligently on this issue over the last few years with such efforts as our workforce assessment and our retail compensation study, and we will ramp up our efforts in 2018 to find more solutions.
We have heard from dealers large and small that not only are they having a hard time filling open positions, but also that those people they do hire are often underqualified. For the recreational boating industry to continue to grow and, indeed, for our industry to deliver customer service on a level that our consumers expect, this must change.
Our work here in Washington and across North America will seek to identify opportunities for our industry’s employers to overcome this challenge. We’ve partnered with the NMMA to begin creating an industrywide plan to address this topic, and we hope to have a plan in place that we can begin executing in early 2018.
In the meantime, there’s much that can be done by employers themselves.
As older skilled workers leave, employers must take an active role in cultivating the next generation of talent. Every employer in the marine industry should be thinking about how to develop a pipeline of skilled workers to our industry, whether it is partnerships with local schools, state or regional programs, or national organizations taking on large-scale projects. We must work to develop the image of our industry to attract millennials and Generation Z (post-millennials) and perhaps even change our work environments to suit them.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to this issue, but unless we work together to fix it, the consequences of a shrinking workforce will only worsen.
President and CEO, Volvo Penta of the Americas
Society needs the fundamentals of life, such as water and transportation, but you may agree that people aren’t content to achieve just the basic level of needs. They seek much more than that.
Fortunately for us, we work in an industry that is driven by wants — by a desire to be on the water and around those we care about most. We are at the center of where many people want to be, and as a lifelong boater, I know firsthand how boating creates meaningful moments and memories.
As our industry looks to the future, we’re faced with the challenge of vigorously developing new solutions that will bring the joys of boating to an even greater number of people. We’ll do this through innovations and by leveraging what we’ve learned in other industries, such as transportation.
Improving the boating experience leads to growth in boating, and this is something we see continuing in years to come. We’ve delivered on the challenge of providing a more seamless boating experience for decades, but still see many opportunities to improve.
Our Easy Boating mission means we provide our builders, dealers and customers with a fully integrated propulsion system. In the past, the truck-purchase process involved the customer selecting an engine, transmission, axle, etc. Today a truck comes as an integrated system that optimizes efficiency, reliability, safety and comfort. In the boating industry, we are adapting the same principle of integration with features such as navigation and stabilization, and trim and joystick systems, to make boating easier and more enjoyable.
Looking forward, we’ll see accelerated integration and the benefits that come along with it: improved efficiency, reliability, ease of installation for builders and a more carlike experience for boaters. We’re looking forward to integrating our portfolio of proven solutions with our partners. This integrated offering will provide customers with an incomparable experience going forward.
Our team is energized to continue improving customer satisfaction with our partners. A key piece of this will be to further enhance our deep-rooted focus on service. As we look ahead, Volvo Penta will continue to invest heavily in our dealer network through training and dedicated support.
We know that in the pursuit of happiness, boating has solidified its position as the best activity for family and friends to enjoy together. The value of boating is more than the sum of the parts. Collaboration in this industry is key; working together, we can continue expanding the market to new horizons and helping people achieve their wants and dreams.
Vice president, global marketing, Torqeedo
We are entering a period of explosive growth in electric mobility in the marine industry, being driven largely by the land transportation sector, which provides enormous economy of scale and automotive-level R&D budgets.
Electric cars are no longer a novelty, but are moving rapidly into the mainstream. Some of the world’s largest car manufacturers have announced plans to convert their entire production from combustion to electric or hybrid. Industry statistics predict that electric vehicle sales worldwide will overtake combustion cars in less than 20 years. The widespread acceptance of electric and hybrid vehicles is helping to overcome the perceived barriers for electric mobility in boating.
In addition, there is a demographic shift taking place. The new generation of consumers takes “green” very seriously. Many of them will choose electric and hybrid cars, and they will be more likely to favor electric propulsion in their new boats, as well. Electric boating is safe, clean and quiet, consumes no fossil fuels and produces no emissions.
The primary limiting factor when it comes to electric boating is energy storage capacity and endurance. Here again, the automotive industry is pushing the limits when it comes to battery technology. Battery energy density is projected to improve by over 70 percent during the next two years.
The recent completion of a 7,200-mile Great Loop voyage by a 100 percent solar-electric boat — with no backup genset or shorepower connections — provides a compelling validation of the feasibility of electric boating.
Recent announcements from major boatbuilders like Hinckley and Zodiac Avon show that mainstream OEMs are now taking electric propulsion seriously, and we can expect to see more boatbuilders designing new classes of boats specifically around electric propulsion.
Director of sales, Statistical Surveys
The year 2017 is almost a wrap, and it’s time again to look in the rearview mirror and see what happened before we see what 2018 will bring us. This year’s growth, around 4 percent in the United States and 2 percent in Canada, will mark the sixth straight year for growth in the marine industry. Aluminum fishing boats and personal watercraft will each surpass 60,000 units, while pontoons will pass 50,000 units in 2017.
Fiberglass outboards will be around 50,000 units, with more than half of those being the saltwater outboard segment. Ski/wake is trending up, while fiberglass sterndrives remain off pace from last year (they have gained a little momentum in boats over 25 feet).
I believe that 2018 will mirror 2017 for the boating industry, posting 3 percent to 6 percent growth. Pontoons, aluminum boats and fiberglass outboards will continue to flourish. In 2017, we saw the RV industry, which SSI also tracks, post another double-digit gain. This is a good sign for the marine industry, as the trends tend to mimic each other. The economy continues to show strong signs, which should help the marine industry make it seven years in row for growth.
Once again, the industry did a great job with inventory and turn rates. The same challenges remain for 2018, with a focus on industry employment and demographics. The industry must attract new buyers to the water and continue to develop new, innovative products that help promote the boating lifestyle.
President, Regulator Marine
As I once read, “Without data, it’s just another opinion.” So here goes mine: As I read news reports of the highest Consumer Confidence Index since 2000, look at industry retail registrations and look at Regulator’s retail build schedule, 2018 looks like a great year to be in the boating industry.
In 2017, based on demand and limited production capacity, Regulator began a three-phase plant expansion that will continue through 2018. With the cost of this expansion, we definitely wanted to understand where the overall economy was in the economic cycle and what the forecasts are for the future of both the economy and, more specifically, the boating industry.
The National Marine Manufacturers Association is a great source of statistical data. One of the reports available on the NMMA’s site is the Boat Building Production Index (available on a quarterly basis) prepared by ITR Economics in New Hampshire. The NMMA summary report is free to members, and the full report is fee-based with ITR.
ITR analyzes many industries and boasts 94.7 percent accuracy 12 months out in its overall predictability. Its experts say: “U.S. boat building annual production will generally rise through 2018, with an annual growth of 6.4 percent.”
Coupling this prediction with consumer confidence, low interest rates and unprecedented stock market highs, indications are that there will be more boats available for retail sale and more consumers willing to invest in enjoying them in 2018.
President and CEO, Marquis-Larson Boat Group
2017 proved productive for the industry. Select category segments and markets drove growth. It is from these same market segments — tow boats, pontoons and outboard fish, both freshwater and saltwater-driven markets — that we forecast 2018’s growth to come.
It is hard to believe, even fathom, that for countless years this industry’s foundation was laid by a small family of sterndrive runabouts — a segment that has all but dried up. I cannot remember in my 35-plus years in boating when 17- to 22-foot runabouts retailed only a few thousand units. They have been the lifeblood of the industry.
This segment of the market will continue to decline as people choose pontoons or even outboard fishing boats as their family “runabout.” A new trend is the utility, or versatility, of what was traditionally viewed as a full-fledged fishboat to now being the everyday any-use boat. People love the ease of use and ease of access, the wash-and-go aspect that comes from center consoles or dual console-style boats.
Although many manufacturers have shifted their focus from sterndrive runabouts to outboard runabouts, our feeling is the volume will never make up or fill the void from the defection from I/O runabouts to pontoons, and traditionally characterized offshore fishboats.
As a result, our Larson Escape pontoon brand continues to gain momentum and growth, due to the fact that it is not your ordinary pontoon reflecting cues from runabouts — profile sheer lines, planes versus plows and fiberglass accent pieces — to accommodate the shift in segment purchases.
Furthermore, we are making a tremendous investment in Striper boats for the future to capture not only the growth in the saltwater offshore fishing segment, but that, too, of buyers who will not use these boats to fish, but rather as a runabout, dayboat or cruiser that happens to have fish features if the owners were ever to decide one day that they wanted to put the boat through its paces to land a fish.
As it relates to the cruiser segment, the market continues to show life in the products being brought to market, but not reflected in the retail activity reported by Statistical Surveys. The Carver brand has been able to buck this trend by delivering on one of the most widely desired consumer needs in the cruiser category: space.
Space, space utilization and the cost-space trade-off will continue to be the driving concerns of a cruiser buyer. And as space is a priority, so, too, is ease of use. Critical features include no canvas, limited steps, size of steps or transitions from inside to outside — small details required to make boating easier and less of a hassle for our buyers and owners.
Finally, we feel that we will begin to see an uptick in international purchases from Europe. Latin America, Asia and Canada will continue to lag behind at least through the third quarter of 2018.
As 2017 showed growth, it was slow and grew from a select group of segments. My crystal ball for 2018 really does not show anything much different from what we experienced in 2017.
President and CEO, Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation
Last year, I said boating and fishing were poised for growth, and I’m pleased to say my prediction held true. U.S. participation in recreational boating and fishing was up this past year, but it’s not necessarily time to celebrate.
Multiple new studies, including the 2017 Special Report on Fishing and 2016 Recreational Boating Participation Study, revealed demographic and cultural shifts that present unique opportunities to engage new markets in boating and fishing in 2018. And with fishing remaining the No. 1 activity done from a boat, fishing and boating remain intrinsically linked.
- Women play an important role. Forty-five percent of new fishing participants are female. And they’re more likely to skew younger (42 percent are ages 6 to 12). But only 19 percent of women thought a fisherman looked like them versus 34 percent for men. In other words, they don’t identify themselves as anglers.
- Moms can help increase participation. Eighty-five percent of sons fished with their mothers versus 71 percent with their fathers, and 70 percent of daughters fished with their mothers versus 45 percent with their fathers. This was surprising to us and will be carefully considered in our planning for 2018.
- Youth participation is critical. Almost 83 percent of current adult participants were introduced to the sport of fishing during childhood. After the age of 12, it is much less likely that a person will try fishing. First fishing experiences are rare after age 18 and nonexistent after age 35. All while reports are showing more and more children are spending less time outdoors and more time on screens.
- Family continues to be a top reason for participation, but families have changed. Sixty percent of parents with kids younger than 18 are millennials. And 54 percent of these families are nontraditional. Without any prior introduction to boating or fishing, they may lack the skills to teach their kids.
- Hispanics can’t be ignored. At 59 million (40 percent of which are millennials), the U.S. Hispanic population is large and rapidly growing. With $1.5 trillion in purchasing power, Hispanics are more likely to live in a multigenerational home and more likely to have children younger than 18 living in their household versus non-Hispanics.
- Despite their love for nature, people today have less time to enjoy it. Americans work more than anyone in the industrialized world. People are busier today than ever, especially when it comes to media consumption. I recently read that the average person now fits 22 hours of media into a 24-hour day by using multiple devices. Boating and fishing offer the perfect antidote to modern life. We just need to get our message in front of the right people.
I think 2018 will be another strong year for fishing and boating participation. In order to continue growth, however, we all need to take into account these societal and demographic changes and adjust our marketing outreach accordingly.
President, Mercury Marine
Economic conditions are continuing to correlate well with a healthy and growing marine industry. GDP growth (near 3 percent), healthy employment statistics, single-family housing starts and healthy consumer confidence are all favorable or trending favorably, and that correlates well with a growing marine industry.
And it’s not just in the USA. We’re seeing healthy conditions in most global regions. Therefore, we expect to see continuous growth in marine markets throughout 2018.
We continue to see demand for high-horsepower outboard engines grow at a higher rate than the overall market. For example, during the 2017 Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, there were more triple- and quad-outboard packages on boats than we’ve ever seen before at that show. That speaks to a growing trend in our industry.
I remember just a few years ago when there were only a handful of triple and quad packages on display. What we’re seeing now is a sign not only that 4-stroke outboard power is a major driver of growth in our industry, but also that consumers are looking to repower and power up their boats. Increasing horsepower is something we’re seeing not just at the high end, but throughout the midrange, as well. We’re seeing consumers continue to increase horsepower on pontoons and other boats.
People want to go from a pontoon with a 50-hp engine to a pontoon with a 115-hp engine to provide more versatility. Now they have the option to pull a skier or tube, for example. Newer, quieter and more fuel-efficient 4-stroke engines are certainly helping to facilitate this trend.
The trend from 2-stroke to 4-stroke engines will also continue globally. The weight of 4-stroke engines has come down, and a 4-stroke is smoother and quieter. Now it also offers great acceleration and top speed. Consumers don’t want to smell smoke nor hear the engine, and 4-stroke propulsion is giving them that freedom.
We are also seeing nice recovery in areas that hurricanes Harvey and Irma hit hard. Specifically, we are seeing growth in Texas and are starting to see growth in the area affected by Irma; we expect this trend to continue into 2018.
I believe we’ll also see alternative-participation channels such as boat clubs and boat-sharing options flourish. This is good for the industry. It’s great to get people out on the water, and these channels offer consumers that opportunity. Eventually, many of these participants will be boat buyers themselves.
We look forward to supporting the overall growth of boating. We’ll continue to work hard on our mission of making boats more intuitive — easy to use, easy to understand, easy to service and extremely reliable. That will help get people out on the water and keep people boating.
It’s an exciting time for our industry. Consumer confidence is strong, boats and engines are selling and there’s nothing better than being out on the water.
President and CEO, Marine Industries Association of South Florida
While it’s generally helpful to look ahead and prognosticate on the potential successes or economic or political challenges a coming year may bring, nothing helps guide you to where you’re going better than understanding where you’ve been.
Having completed the 58th annual Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show with our partners at Informa Exhibitions, the new owners of Show Management, we are witnessing the evolution of boat shows as the season continues. What started 58 years ago as a local community boating exhibit over the years has become the largest in-water boat show in the world, with more than 105,000 visitors contributing to a 7 percent attendance increase over last year.
The long-standing Thursday-through-Monday format of the show was adapted to Wednesday through Sunday, as the business of finance no longer needs to wait for a weekday to be accomplished. Throughout the show, exhibitors said, “Never has a Monday felt as good as Wednesday,” with an unprecedented number of vessel introductions recorded on that opening day.
In a world where technology advances at an extraordinary pace, we embraced ways to make the experience of purchasing tickets and visiting the show easier than ever, with online purchasing of individual, multiday and VIP packages, along with links to accommodations during the show that included hotel rooms, as well as Airbnb and VRBO options. Tickets and credentials were quickly scanned upon entry, allowing for the timely capture of critical information that benefited exhibitors and attendees.
Security concerns continue to mount for events worldwide. Threats require constant transformations in safety and security measures, which include magnetometers, individual bag checks, security cameras, drones, increased numbers of security personnel, local police agencies and plainclothes agents. Infrastructure upgrades that might otherwise go unnoticed included new composite docks, raised flooring for the exhibit tents, upgraded electricity, enhanced Wi-Fi capabilities and improved signage.
Throughout the year, we collaborate with the Convention and Visitors Bureau, the local economic development agencies and federal, state and municipal elected officials so that everyone is engaged and understands that they are not only an integral part of the show, but are also our partners in the success of the $11.5 billion South Florida marine industry and its future.
Developing and maintaining these important community relationships are what allowed us to legislatively establish a sales tax cap on refits and repairs throughout the state, and, with the help of U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Foreign Trade Zone Board, create the first-ever recreational boating foreign trade zone at 13 sites within the city of Fort Lauderdale. Those two efforts help to sustain the area as the yachting and refit capital, and free up financial resources for dealers and manufacturers who import vessels.
Nothing changes if nothing changes. As the third-largest state in the nation, Florida has a current population of 19 million that can be expected to grow to 25 million residents in the next two decades. The industry must be prepared to keep pace with what the marketplace dictates, embrace new technology and establish a national broadcast recreational boating program that connects to the future boater.
President and CEO, S2 Yachts
The past few years have given us an optimistic outlook about marine manufacturing and retail sales. We have a unique perspective with the three brands we manufacture: Pursuit Boats, the new Tiara Sport and Tiara Yachts.
We also are one of a few manufacturers that are privately owned and operated, with more than 70 years of boatbuilding experience.
During the fall show season, we had strong results. Despite a busy hurricane season and one hurricane that affected the entire state of Florida, the damage was far less reaching than many had thought. Clearly, we were blessed. The Fort Lauderdale show is always a good bellwether event. Our results were the best we’ve seen in over a decade — a terrific exclamation point on the 2017 boat show season.
Our company had 25 boats on display among all three brands, and 18 of those models did not even exist on the design board five years ago. Our commitment to delivering new products to the marketplace supports our anticipated growth and demand for luxury goods. And there’s more on the way. We have an aggressive new product development plan at least five years out that will continue to drive our luxury brands.
A common trend we’ve continued to see is the focus of consumers on day boating. It can come in many different forms, and we’re trying to capitalize on that theme in a way that supports the premium products we’ve long been known for.
We’re projecting a strong 2018 as we continue to experience the tailwinds of 2017. We feel that success could be further enhanced with the continued climate of economic growth. And with that, I’d like to applaud the National Marine Manufacturers Association and its efforts. The NMMA has been working hard on our behalf. It has been a strong voice, and special thanks to Thom Dammrich. But it also needs the support of our industry.
Yes, your contributions to BoatPAC are important, but equally important is your presence and participation at the annual American Boating Congress (April 30 to May 2, 2018). Plan to attend. Make your voice heard. Add your voice to those of your peers, and let’s ensure our industry gets the support we need to remain a viable part of what it means to be “Made in America.”
President, Yamaha Marine Group
No one could have predicted 2017, or 2016. With the new administration came the sense that we might be able to find stability in future regulations. In spite of the discord that the media reports daily, consumer confidence improved, reaching its highest level in 17 years last October.
The U.S. economy expanded at a rate of 3 percent in the third quarter, beating expectations of 2.5 percent. That news followed a rate of 3.1 percent reported in the second quarter. Looking back, the economy expanded less than 1 percent, on average, from 2008 to 2013. I believe that means there are many years of pent-up demand for new boats. We began to see the effect of that demand in the latter part of 2017. Quite a year.
Will these positive economic and consumer trends continue? Any number of events could reverse them, but Yamaha will take steps to try to meet the increasing demand while remaining focused on our core plan for our dealers, boatbuilders and boating consumers.
We will continue to introduce the next generations of lightweight, powerful 4-stroke outboards. The expanded 2017 Yamaha product line includes the new F25, the lightest 25 in the industry. Dealer and consumer reaction to the F25 and the new F90 beat our expectations. For 2018, we will roll out even more new models and platforms. Please visit the Yamaha booth during upcoming boat shows, and we will tell you more about those products.
At Yamaha Marine, we also strive for a superior level of service. That’s why we continue to roll out new dealer-service initiatives, all designed to improve customer satisfaction and dealer profitability. You will hear more about these initiatives beginning in the first quarter of 2018. We will continue on that path with increased training and improved recruitment for our industry. Our aim is to deliver a pleasurable ownership experience for customers and increase profitability for dealers that do business with Yamaha.
While we are pleased with the regulatory victories of 2017, such as the 2017 relief on the red snapper season in the Gulf of Mexico, we continue to be vigilant and active in the area of government affairs. We must continue to work for reform of recreational fisheries management at the federal level, and pass the Modern Fish Act in 2018. The opportunity is upon all of us, but time is short. Please advocate on Bass Anglers for Saltwater Conservation (bassforsalt.com), visit your member of Congress or contribute to the campaign of your choice. Exercise your constitutional rights.
We will continue to support and work closely with industry associations, including the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation, National Marine Manufacturers Association, American Sportfishing Association, Recreational Fishing Alliance and the Center for Sportfishing Policy. We must all join forces with these organizations and speak with one voice, facilitate growth for our industry, protect our livelihoods and conserve the environment for future generations.
CEO, Malibu Boats
The year 2017 saw the marine industry continue a solid growth pace, yet we are still well below historical peaks. At Malibu Inc., which consists of the brands Malibu, Axis and Cobalt, we participate in several segments: inboard, sterndrive and outboard boats.
In 2018, we expect continued strong growth of about 5 percent for the marine industry, with some segments performing better than that. Existing factors support our forecast. Unemployment is well under 5 percent, which is great for disposable income and increasing the pool of buyers.
Consumer confidence is at a 17-year high. Interest rates are low and should continue to be low. GDP, which has languished for a decade, is showing increasingly consistent strength. It is also slowly looking as if tax reform could occur, which will be a benefit to individuals and companies.
Another area that we observe is how other luxury categories are performing. Recreational vehicles, luxury cars, second homes and real estate are all very strong, and these categories are reflective of what should occur in marine.
Always on people’s minds is the question, “When is the next recession or downturn?” One factor, which is not spoken about a lot, is that this economic recovery is the slowest recovery in the past 50 to 100 years, easily. As a result, barring something unforeseen, I believe the recovery will continue and we are several years away from the next downturn.
Customers have an almost insatiable desire for more features, innovation and larger boats. We have seen this trend for the past few years, and we believe it will continue. Manufacturers will continue to come to market with compelling new features and innovations, which will increase prices, but the customer seems to be willing to pay for those features. Consumers will also want larger boats, as they have in recent years. We have seen it consistently and believe it will continue.
Headwinds should always be considered. A couple of negative variables exist that can dampen, though not derail, our growth and optimism. Although the low unemployment rate is great for consumers, the downside is the lack of a strong employee base. Every marine manufacturer is experiencing it, and many cannot manufacture all of the orders they have received.
Acquiring available, competent employees is a concern for almost every manufacturer, dealer, supplier and marina. The second nagging concern is our continued poisonous, noncooperative political climate. I think it has become very tiresome to almost everyone, yet it continues. The silver lining is that it is not new, and we have continued to grow in spite of it.
President and CEO, Correct Craft
Buckle your seat belts: 2018 will see continued change that is only going to speed up. In the next 10 years, we will likely see more change than at any point in history.
Increasing computational power will drive exponential technological developments that all industries will find disruptive. Dramatic advances in robotics, 3-D printing, biotech, nanotechnology, the Internet of Things, virtual reality and energy-related technology are going to converge and impact our world in a big way. Overall, these changes will be positive, but I suspect the disruption to our industry will be significant.
Globalization and the wealth it is creating around the world will be both an opportunity and a challenge for our industry. New wealth will create potential new customers for our industry’s products, and that is obviously good. However, the recreational boating industry will eventually have more global competition, which will be challenging.
China is doing an excellent job, partly through its “One Belt One Road” initiative, of establishing important relationships around the world and tying up key resources. The country is a likely future competitor. More than ever, we need to view our businesses as global enterprises.
Regarding the economy, many in our industry are holding on to the positive signs, including strong consumer confidence, which has historically been the key indicator for our industry. There does not appear to be any sign of an imminent downturn of the economy or the boating market.
However, the business cycle has not gone away, and we will eventually have a downturn. Related, I am slightly concerned that current market PE ratios are above the historical range, which often has been a leading indicator of a stock market adjustment.
Finally, I suspect we will continue to see consolidation in our industry as more business owners conclude that now is an appropriate time to sell. This consolidation, combined with the aging leadership of our industry, will soon bring new people into important industry roles.
This is an exciting time: Change can be fun if we are looking ahead and embracing the inevitable. However, change will also be very disruptive as we go though it, an experience that will provide both significant opportunities and challenges.
This article originally appeared in the January 2018 issue.