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US boat sales remain at high levels, forecast strong: NMMA

Jan. 7, 2020
What’s good news for boat manufacturers is good news for marine trailer builders as well.

What’s good news for boat manufacturers is good news for marine trailer builders as well. The National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) reports that as it finalizes 2019 sales numbers, retail unit sales of new powerboats are estimated to have held steady in 2019 at approximately 280,000 units, the second highest total since 2007. The busy winter boat show season kicks off this week across the country with new powerboat sales expected to be up as much as 2% in 2020.

“Sales in 2019 were nearly on par with the 11-year high we saw in 2018, even with some softening particularly in the freshwater fishing category, which we attribute to unseasonably cold and rainy weather in spring and early summer,” said Frank Hugelmeyer, NMMA president. “Looking at 2020, with the economy on solid footing and key economic indicators like consumer spending remaining strong, we expect another healthy year for new boat sales, which could be up as much as 2%.”

The following new powerboat categories drove retail unit sales momentum in 2019:

  • New personal watercraft sales are estimated to be up 6 percent to 73,000 units in 2019; with accessible entry-level price points, personal watercraft are often considered a gateway to boat ownership.
  • Sales of new wake sport boats—popular for wakesurfing and wakeboarding and attractive to new and younger boaters—are estimated to be up 6 percent to 11,000 units in 2019.
  • New cruiser sales—boats between 22 and 32 feet, popular for relaxing, entertaining and ‘cruising’—are estimated to be up 3 percent to 9,000 units in 2019.

However, new freshwater fishing boat sales—a high-volume category—are estimated to be down 7% to 69,000 units in 2019.

U.S. boat manufacturers and dealers are gearing up for the winter boat show season around the country, an important marketing venue where manufacturers introduce their latest products and consumers come to buy. Based on association estimates, boat shows can generate 50% or more of annual sales for exhibiting dealers and manufacturers.

U.S. Recreational Boating by the Numbers

Additional statistics on the industry’s size, makeup and demographics include:

  • Annual U.S. sales of boats, marine products and services are estimated to total $42 billion in 2019, up slightly from 2018.
  • Retail unit sales of new boats are estimated to have reached approximately 280,000 units in 2019, the second highest level since 2007 and flat with 2018 totals.
  • Leading the nation in sales of new powerboat, engine, trailer and accessories in 2018 were the following 10 states (2019 estimates available in the spring):

1. Florida: $3.2 billion, up 8 percent from 2017 2. Texas: $1.8 billion, up 9 percent from 2017 3. Michigan: $1.1 billion, up 10 percent from 2017 4. North Carolina: $914 million, up 9 percent from 2017 5. Minnesota: $861 million, up 6 percent from 2017 6. Wisconsin: $781 million, up 9 percent from 2017 7. New York: $775 million, up 5 percent from 2017 8. California: $765 million, up 6 percent from 2017 9. Georgia: $680 million, up 8 percent from 2017 10. South Carolina: $661 million, up 4 percent from 2017

  • It’s not just new boats Americans are buying; about 975,000 pre-owned boats are estimated to have been sold in 2019, down slightly from 2018.
  • There were an estimated 11.9 million boats registered and documented in the U.S. in 2019, relatively unchanged from 2018.
  • 95% 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.
  • 62% of boat owners have a household income less than $100,000, making boating a solidly middle-class recreational pursuit.
  • Outdoor recreation accounts for 2.2% of U.S. GDP, generating $778 billion in gross economic output—on par with the telecommunications industry (2.3%)—of which recreational boating and fishing is the single largest segment, contributing nearly $40 billion in gross output. (Source: U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis)