The enduring luster of tin

Sales of versatile aluminum boats are on a five-year growth track, thanks in part to their affordability
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G3 Sportsman aluminum bass boat photo

An aluminum bass boat such as this G3 Sportsman 17 PFX offers a combination of versatility and durability.

Although pontoon boats continue to lead marine industry sales, their aluminum-clad, outboard-powered siblings designed primarily for fishing also have made steady annual gains for the past five years.

Aluminum bass and multi-species models remain popular for their versatility and affordability.

“I think that as our economic recovery continues to progress, there’s no question that we’ve seen some growth from our aluminum segment,” says Ryan Patterson, sales manager at Ranger Boats.

“There’s been a resurgence lately,” says Roger Bills, director of marketing at Yamaha-owned G3 Boats. “The whole market is back after the recession, and I think there’s quite a bit of pent-up demand in that market.”

Patterson and Bills say the split between types of boats at their respective companies has been pretty even. With their taller hull sides, deeper cockpits and full windshields, multi-species boats are more popular in the Northeast, Great Lakes and Pacific Northwest, and bass boats make up the majority of sales in the Southeast. Ranger also has aluminum center-console models that are gaining traction in Florida and along the Gulf Coast.

White River Marine Group owns Tracker boats, and the company reports that the bass segment is its most popular and that the Pro Team 175 TXW is Tracker’s best seller.  

National Aluminum Outboards Chart

18-footers lead the way

From 2012 through 2016, national sales of outboard-powered aluminum boats increased steadily every year, Statistical Surveys Inc. says. From 2012 to 2013, sales jumped from 87,705 to 93,188 units. In 2014 the figure rose to 99,435, and there was another significant increase to 105,757 the following year. By 2016, 111,843 outboard-powered aluminum boats were being sold.

Looking at the popularity by length, 18 feet topped the charts, followed by 16 feet and 17 feet. In fact, you don’t even see 20 feet until No. 6 on the list. The reasons that 18 feet is such a popular length for bass or multi-species boats are numerous.

Tracker Targa V18 photo

Multi-species models such as the Tracker Targa V-18 are characterized by their taller hull sides and windshield.

First, the boats can handle myriad conditions. If the water bumps up unexpectedly, there’s enough hull under you that you can still get home. Second, an 18-foot boat is small enough that it doesn’t need a ton of horsepower, which helps keep prices down. Most 18-foot multi-species models have a 150-hp outboard. Third, with the boat on a trailer that has a swing-away tongue, the whole unit can fit into half of a two-car garage.

The durability factor

It’s also hard to argue with their durability. Beach an aluminum hull on a sandy or even gravelly bottom, and the most you’ll do is scratch the finish. Bump a stump or a rock with a fiberglass-bottom boat and you’re more than likely going to need professional repairs.

Do the same with an aluminum hull, and it might get a small dent that you can pound out with a hammer if you’re careful. Most aluminum-hulled boats have a keel that’s reinforced to help it take punishment and the keel improves the tracking. Construction-wise, the boats are welded or riveted, and most have bottoms formed from a single sheet of aluminum.

Photo of Ranger Z185 Boat motor and trailer

A boat, motor and trailer package such as this Ranger Z185 has everything an angler needs in a turnkey combination.

Many manufacturers say that although money is always a consideration when buying a boat, consumers aren’t just looking for the cheapest boat. Instead they want a well-equipped package for the price.

For example, for $18,995, the G3 Sportsman 17 measures 17 feet, 10 inches, so it’s close to the national average of 18 feet, and it comes with a 70-hp Yamaha 4-stroke outboard, a trolling motor and a matched trailer.

Customers willingly add fishfinding/navigational electronics and other accessories to suit their needs. “Not only does it make getting out on the water easier, it makes it easier to find fish,” says G3’s Bills.

‘A world of difference’

Ski Tow pylon motor photo

Options such as this ski tow pylon make aluminum boats more attractive to families.

Like any boat, a modern outboard-powered aluminum model is expected to do a variety of things. With its deep-vee design, taller hull sides and full walk-through windshield, a multi-species boat might be designed with a focus on fishing, but it needs to be capable of towing a tube on a Sunday afternoon.

“The aluminum multi-species boat of today, compared to 20 years ago, there’s a world of difference,” says Jason Eckman, global product manager for BRP, which makes Evinrude outboards.

Regardless of the bass or multi-species category, manufacturers are paying closer attention to seat comfort, on-board auxiliary ports, and even cellphone holders. Popular options on many aluminum boats include a ski tow pylon and a bimini top and cushions to cover the forward casting deck.

Answering the need for do-it-all boats, Tracker is going to have two new Targa models for 2018 — a walk-through and a fish-and-ski combo. The manufacturer also is introducing a Pro Guide walk-through model and two Tracker Mod Vs, the Panfish 16 and Pro 16, which will have the company’s Diamond Coat finish.

A fashion makeover

In addition to creature comforts, aluminum boats have come a long way in their appearance. Ranger has a Custom Finish Shop where buyers can personalize their boats. On the Ranger 198T you can get the Mossy Oak Breakup graphic. Evinrude will match the colors on its outboard engine’s side panels to the boat. In the interior, G3 has stepped up things by offering a choice of vinyl or carpeted decks.

Photo of 150 HP outboard evinrude motor

A 150-hp outboard such as this Evinrude E-TEC G2 H.O is a popular size for aluminum boats.

Although matching the colors with an outboard is a nice enhancement, all of the aluminum-boat manufacturers we talked to say the improved reliability and user-friendliness of the outboards has contributed to the popularity of these boats.

Features such as digital throttle and shift have added ease of operation and made it simpler to rig the boats. Evinrude’s E-TEC G2 models have hydraulic steering integrated into the engine’s midsection, and Ranger Boats’ Patterson says the company saw an uptick in sales when Evinrude launched its 10-year warranty this spring.

And whether it’s Mercury’s VesselView, Yamaha’s Helm Master, Evinrude’s Icon Touch or Suzuki’s multifunction instrument, having all of the information about your outboard available on one screen also makes life easier.

Versatility, ease of operation and affordability are all reasons for the popularity of outboard-powered aluminum boats, and it’s a trend that does not appear to be slowing down anytime soon.

This article originally appeared in the September 2017 issue.

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