Boat sales topped 250,000 in 2016

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Marking another milestone in its recovery, the US recreational boat industry sold more than 250,000 boats in 2016 for the first time in eight years.

With all 50 states reporting, statistical surveys indicated that 258,879 boats were sold last year, an increase of 5.4% over 2015. The company said the last time sales of the industry had surpassed a quarter million, that was in 2008, when 279,139 were sold at the start of the Great Recession.

A preliminary report of the statistical surveys released in January indicated that 246,891 boats were sold in 2016 in 27 early reporting states. The remaining states added about 12,000 to the final total.

Statistical Surveys Sales Director Ryan Kloppe agreed that topping the 250,000 sales figure was a psychologically significant achievement for the industry. He said his company expected sales growth of 4% to 6% last year, “and it was right in that range.”

The 50-state figures included sales of 169,121 boats in the major powerboat segments, an increase of 5.7% over 2015. Major segment sales were dominated by three top-selling categories of the group since the end of the recession.

Fiberglass outboard boats from 11 to 50 feet were the top-selling category across major segments with 50,087, up 5.8% from 47,351 the previous year. Not far behind were aluminum pontoon boats at 48,564, up 9.4% from 44,406 in 2015.

Sales of aluminum fishing boats totaled 47,461, up 3.7% from the previous year, when 45,751 were sold.

“It’s a lot of volume,” Klopp said. “Some segments have had really strong years.”

Ski and wake boat sales, a rising category, rose 11.7% to 8,787 from 7,868 a year earlier, posting the highest percentage gain among the major segments.

Kloppe expects fiberglass outboard boats, aluminum pontoon and fishing boats, and ski and wake boats to continue to drive the industry this year.

“We expect a few more years, at least, of moderate growth [industrywide] sales growth,” he said.

Kloppe said builders and dealers he spoke to at recent Miami shows were optimistic about 2017.

“They don’t expect any setbacks, barring an economic disaster,” he said.

The top-selling category across the industry was personal watercraft, which falls outside the major segments. A total of 59,419 personal watercraft were sold last year, an increase of 7.6% over the 55,221 the previous year.

Motorboat sales rose 5.8% to 4,721 from 4,463 the previous year.

Sales of inboard and sterndrive boats, which have not done well in recent years, fell 4.1% to 11,538 from 12,027 in 2015.

The Coast Guard was up-to-date in its reports of documented vessels, providing full numbers for the full year in the larger boat categories. Sales of 31-40ft cruisers rose 5.6% to 1,504 from 1,424 a year earlier. Sales of 41-65ft yachts rose 3.4% to 1,035 from 1,001; and sales of 66ft and larger semi-custom and custom yachts fell 7.1% to 145 from 156.

Sailboat sales rose 3.9% to 2,080 from 2,002.

Industry sales in the fourth quarter were nearly flat. Sales rose 0.4% in major powerboat segments to 16,733 and they rose 1.3% in the industry as a whole to 22,842.

This article originally appeared in the May 2017 issue.

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