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Entering Memorial Day Weekend, U.S. Boat Sales Highest in a Decade

Entering Memorial Day Weekend, U.S. Boat Sales Highest in a Decade According to National Marine Manufacturer's Association data, there was a 5-percent increase in boat sales last year. (Lynn Burkhead photo)

As the economy booms, the National Marine Manufacturer's Association reports there is good news on the boating front with U.S. boat sales figures at the highest level they have been at in a decade

As Memorial Day weekend arrives – and with it the unofficial kickoff to the 2018 summer boating season – there's good news on the U.S. boating front. 

According to information released this week by the National Marine Manufacturer's Association (NMMA), there was a 5-percent uptick in 2017 boat sales as compared to 2016 figures.

What's more, according to NMMA, that's the highest level seen in the U.S. recreational boating industry during the past 10 years.

Even more encouraging is total marine expenditures hit the $39-billion mark in 2017, an all-time high for that category, which includes spending on new boats, engines, trailers, accessories and boating services.

With that good news, NMMA says manufacturers are expanding capacity to meet demand with the building of new plants and increased production.

To that end, recent data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis supports all of this, noting U.S. manufacturing gross output increased to $6.228 trillion in the fourth quarter of 2017.

“As the strong economy continues to bolster new boat sales and boating expenditures, capital spending and manufacturer optimism are at record highs, creating one of the strongest periods on record for the U.S. boating industry, and a buyers' paradise with more boats and more options on the market,” said NMMA president Thom Dammrich, in a news release. 

Entering Memorial Day Weekend, U.S. Boat Sales Highest in a Decade Outboard boat sales represent 85 percent of new traditional powerboats sold in the U.S. (Lynn Burkhead photo)

“Economic factors such as an increase in GDP, improving housing market, strong consumer confidence, and growing disposable income are spurring demand for new boats,” he added.

“The growth trajectory recreational boating is continuing to see is healthy and steady as the industry works to bring new buyers to the market across all segments, from small aluminum fishing boats to large cruising yachts.”

According to NMMA, demand is growing for nearly all powerboat segments in the U.S., including small sterndrive (boats with engines partially in and out of the boat) cruisers (22 to 32 feet). In previous years, that segment has lagged since the recession.

What's more, small sterndrive cruisers rebounded to a three-year high, according to NMMA, up 5 percent from 2016, figures that account for 52 percent of all sterndrive boat sales.

Entering Memorial Day Weekend, U.S. Boat Sales Highest in a Decade Annual U.S. sales of boats, marine products and services totaled $39 billion in 2017, (Lynn Burkhead photo)

Outboard boat sales, which represent some 85 percent of new traditional powerboats sold in the U.S. — which includes pontoons, aluminum and fiberglass fishing boats, as well as small fiberglass cruising boats — were up 5 percent in 2017, according to NMMA figures.

NMMA officials also noted that sales of new ski and wakeboard boats, popular for watersports, were up 8 percent in 2017, while sales of new personal watercraft, often considered as a gateway to boat ownership, rose 5 percent.

And jet boats, smaller fiberglass boats that use jet-engine technology for propulsion, saw a sales increase of 8 percent, according to NMMA.

With all of that good news in mind, here is a closer, more detailed look at U.S. Recreational Boating by the Numbers, as reported by NMMA's 2017 Recreational Boating Statistical Abstract:

Annual U.S. sales of boats, marine products, and services totaled $39 billion in 2017, an increase of 7 percent from 2016.

There were approximately 262,000 new power boats sold in 2017, an increase of 5-percent from 2016.

Leading the nation in sales of new powerboat, engine, trailer, and accessories in 2017 are the following 10 states (nine of which saw double-digit growth):

  • Florida: $2.9 billion, up 10-percent from 2016

  • Texas: $1.7 billion, up 12-percent from 2016

  • Michigan: $982 million, up 12-percent from 2016

  • North Carolina: $838 million, up 16-percent from 2016

  • Minnesota: $807 million, up 12-percent from 2016

  • New York: $735 million, up 4-percent from 2016

  • California: $718 million, up 14-percent from 2016

  • Wisconsin: $713 million, up 12-percent from 2016

  • South Carolina: $637 million, up 12-percent from 2016

  • Georgia: $632 million, up 11-percent from 2016

It's not just new boats that Americans are buying; there were an estimated 988,200 pre-owned boats (powerboats, personal watercraft, and sailboats) sold in 2017. That's the highest pre-owned boat unit sales figure since 2006, totaling $9.3 billion in sales, an increase of 2-percent from 2016.

There are nearly 12 million registered/documented boats in the U.S. in 2016 (2017 data will be available in July 2018).

95-percent of boats on the water (powerboats, personal watercraft, and sailboats) in the U.S. are small in size, measuring less than 26 feet in length, boats that can be trailered by a vehicle to local waterways.

Boating is predominantly “middle-class” with 62 percent of boat owners having a household income of less than $100,000.


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