People see yachts during the Miami International Boat Show in Miami, Florida.
Marco Bello | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
Boat sales soared last year during the coronavirus pandemic, as more Americans turned to living in more flexible work environments that allowed people to spend more. time to enjoy the outdoors.
Sales of boats, marine products and services across the country peaked in 13 years in 2020 at $ 47 billion, up 9% from the previous year, according to the National Association of Boat Manufacturers.
The trend, which shows few signs of slowing down in 2021, shocked industry players who were certain they were having a tough time as the pandemic shut down the economy. Now dealers are struggling to maintain inventory and manufacturers are increasing production capacity to meet demand. Waiting times for buyers have gone from a few weeks to several months. In addition, first-time buyers are arriving in greater numbers, a sign that growth is continuing.
Eric Wold, analyst at B. Riley, notes that uncertainty persists with the emergence of new variants of Covid even as vaccine rollout accelerates, concerns that could keep consumers interested in boating in 2021.
“There is still not much certainty as to when the economy will reopen with the vaccine rollout, so the demand we saw last year will continue at least this year, and that will continue to boost. production for the manufacturer for at least a few years, ”he said.
Owning a boat can be an expensive business. With average prices of $ 13,000 for personal watercraft, boating is generally considered a pastime for the wealthy. But according to the president of the maritime association Frank Hugelmeyer, 61% of boaters have an annual family income of $ 75,000 or less.
The first buyers
Steve Arnold, 57, owner of two marinas in Maine and franchisee of a yacht club, saw a massive increase in sales last year. He said sales in all areas have skyrocketed, with average new boat sales up 40%, used boat sales up 45%, rental boats up 65% and Freedom Boat Club memberships up 28%. He said he had never seen such numbers in his 18 years with the business.
And if he expects sales to drop 5-10% this year, that will still be way ahead of expectations.
He said the effects of the pandemic have left a positive impact on the boating industry that will last for years to come. “I think Covid has changed society for the better in terms of looking at your family and relationships in your discretionary time,” he said.
As new boaters enter the market, a domino effect occurs, with their friends and families also getting into the business.
Last year, the number of first-time boat buyers increased for the first time in more than 10 years, up 10% from 2019. Among these new boat buyers, the average age has also fallen for the first time in 20 years, according to the shipping association. The entry of these new young buyers is a bright sign for the future of the industry, said Hugelmeyer.
“You never run out of friends who want to go out on a boat. You get very popular and then the groups of families and friends start to grow into families of boaters,” said Hugelmeyer.
Additionally, Americans find that their work-from-home schedule allows for more flexibility to do activities when they want.
“We have these longer term results from Covid, including flexible working arrangements which I believe will allow people to engage in boating more flexibly during this week,” Brunswick CEO David Foulkes said. Brunswick is the parent company of popular boat manufacturing brands like Boston Whaler and Sea Ray.
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Rick Davis, Director of Sales and Finance at Palmetto boat auction, a South Carolina dealership, saw first-hand the extent of growth in consumer demand for boats during the pandemic.
“We thought we were done for [last] year, as far as business goes and 30 days later, it’s actually quite the opposite. It was the best year of my 24-25 years, that’s for sure, ”said Davis.
Sales of new powerboats in the United States rose about 12% last year to more than 310,000 from 2019, the shipping association said. Among the boat categories purchased by consumers, freshwater fishing boats and pontoon boats were extremely popular, accounting for half of motor boat sales last year. Sales of new wake boats, used for wakeboarding and wake surfing, increased 20% to 13,000 units in 2020, the association said.
Membership-based Liberty nautical club, which appeals to those who do not want to fully engage in buying a boat, has also seen a resurgence of consumer interest. The Brunswick Corp. saw a 61% increase in membership since May 2019 in 31 states, Canada and Europe.
Brunswick’s most profitable categories during the pandemic were largely its parts and accessories business, most notably the Mercury Marine brand.
“As more people embrace the nautical lifestyle and use boats, the overall use of boats is driving the need for more parts and accessories,” said Craig Kennison, senior analyst at Baird.
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Many boat retailers are still fill their backlog of orders for this year. Social distancing measures are expected to remain in place for the near future in many parts of the country, so people still buy boats to enjoy the outdoors safely, especially in the more temperate months.
Arnold said before the pandemic, the average wait time to get a boat was four to six weeks. Now he says it can take up to eight months for customers to receive their boat.
Brunswick announced last year that it increased its boat production capacity in three of its manufacturing plants to meet growing consumer demand. Still, Foulkes said it will take at least two or three years before they can fully restock their boat dealers.
“The dealers are looking for boats from us and we are ramping up production as fast as possible, not only to meet retail demand, but all kinds of demand to fill the pipeline, which has become very depleted in stock in the field,” said Foulkes.
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