Boating and the Economy
I’ve noticed an upward trend in my business as a marine surveyor in the state of Florida over the past couple of years, and it sparked my curiosity as to the overall health of the boating industry. I’ve done a bit of research, and the thought occurred to me that it may be of interest to some of you as well.
Fifteen or twenty years ago, while living in Illinois I made an observation that younger folks in that area seemed to have interests other than boating. If they had any boating interest at all, it seemed to be in a jet ski (personal watercraft / PWC), or bass boats. The days of the younger generations buying ski boats and eventually moving into family cruisers seemed to be dwindling. This could be seen through simple observations of boater-age demographics. As owner of a propeller and canvas products business, at that time, this was a concern. The cost of new boats was soaring, and so was the cost of fuel to operate them. Then came the housing crunch and recession, which imposed even more woe onto the boating industry.
I wasn’t the only one watching the health of recreational boating however. NMMA (National Marine Manufacturers Association), USCG (United States Coast Guard, and a few private statistical companies all offer some insight into boat sales, trends, number of registered boats, and what they are being used for.
I’ve come to the conclusion that the industry is once again enjoying a growth period. But, the data (like all data) can be adapted to support your individual point of view or goal. If you’re wanting to report a nice healthy growth in the boating industry, then quoting the total dollar value of “boats-sold” over a time period (usually a calendar year) will make your point a little more dramatic, than the actual number of “units-sold”.
The industry enjoyed peak periods of sales in the early years of the 21st century (2001-2006), reaching a peak number of new recreational boats sold* in 2006 at a bit over 912,000. Then a downward trend developed, which found a “bottom” on our graphical representations in 2010, of around 518,000 units. The “units” refers to the actual number of boats that were being sold each year. This annual “unit” number has fluctuated only slightly, showing a general upward trend through 2013 of the 530k –to- 546k range. Good news ! It’s going the right direction, no matter how you look at it.
• This number includes power, sail and paddle boats
If you quote the growth, using dollars instead of units, it looks even better. Why? Because boats are getting more expensive; according to NMMA: the retail price of new boats (power boats in the $40k price range) rose 9% from 2012 to 2013. Used boats went up as well, at about 5% year over year. But, more good news: The ratio of new boats sold versus used boats sold each year is beginning to change as more buyers are opting for new instead of used, and the dollar values of each (new/used) is on the rise.
Americans spend an estimated $37 billion dollars on boating products each year. It’s an American industry of about 35,000 companies, employing nearly 340,000 people that will over all create $40 billion in annual labor income.
According to the US Coast Guard, Americans took 300 million boating trips in 2012, spending 3 billion hours on the water. Nearly 88 million people in 2012 and 88.5 million in 2013 participated in recreational boating at least once during the year; that’s over 35% of the adult population. Slightly over 70% of boat owners have a household income of less than $100k. The largest sector of boaters are fishermen, who accounted for nearly 60% of the market in 2013.
So, you ask: Where are these boats?
Most of them are in Florida (surprise…..surprise) and Florida boat dealers are enjoying the greatest market share of boat sales, at nearly $2 billion in 2013, up 16% from 2012. Florida was followed by Texas, Michigan, Delaware, and Minnesota in 2013 new boat and accessory sales. 93% of the boats sold in the USA are made in the USA, and 95% of them are less than 26 feet in length.
But, I opened this article with a statement that boating statistics can be reported differently, depending on how you approach the subject. According to the US Coast Guard, the number of registered boats is declining, from a peak of around 13 million in 2005, to a 2013 number of around 12 million. Then, how are the above statistics possible? The short answer is: Boats are becoming more expensive each year. While all of the data is true, with annual industry growth and increase in the number of boaters each year, the story is still a good one. There seems to be a renewed interest in boating, and folks appear to be feeling a bit more comfortable with spending.

Captain Ron Smith
Tri-State Marine Services, Inc.

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