Recreational marine: The rebound continues

The National Marine Manufacturers Assn. reports that 2016 was the best in 10 years for the sales of new personal watercraft, while the market for used boats approached an all-time high.


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Fishing boat image provided by Scott Bader

The recreational marine industry has recovered nicely from its 2009 nadir during the Great Recession. (Photo source: Scott Bader.)

No composites end market was hit harder by the Great Recession than recreational marine, but memories of those dark days are rapidly fading. Indeed, in the US, the National Marine Manufacturers Assn. (NMMA, Chicago, IL, US) reports that 2016 was the best in 10 years for the sales of new personal watercraft, while the market for used boats approached an all-time high.

NMMA’s 2016 Recreational Boating Statistical Abstract reports that US sales of all boats, marine products and services totaled $36 billion, which was a 3.2% increase over 2015. Overall sales of new powerboats in 2016 increased 6%, for a total of 247,800 boats sold, with similar growth expected in 2017 and 2018. Outboard boat sales, which represent 85% of new powerboat sales, were up 6.1% in 2016 to 160,900 units.

This is a far cry from the nadir of the US recreational marine market, in 2009, when just 153,500 new powerboats were sold — less than new outboard boat sales alone in 2016. Indeed, 2016 sales figures are approaching those not seen since 2007, when 267,300 new powerboats were sold.

“Economic factors, including an improving housing market, higher employment, strong consumer confidence, and growing disposable income, are creating a golden age for the country’s recreational boating industry,” says Thom Dammrich, president of NMMA. “Summer is a busy selling season for our industry, and we expect steady growth to continue across most boat categories through 2017—and into 2018—to keep up with the acceleration in demand for new boats.”

And if you’re worried that unit sales, although better, still lag the go-go days of the early 2000s when the industry was selling close to 300,000 craft year, Dammrich says not to fret. He notes that watercraft today, on average, are larger and more expensive than they were 15 years ago. As a result, although the unit total might be relatively low, the overall value of the market ($36 billion in 2016) is relatively high, and is expected to remain so, minus another recession or other shock to the system.

Perhaps most surprising in the NMMA report was the number of pre-owned boats sold in 2016: 981,600. This is among the most pre-owned boat sales for any year dating back to prior to 2000.

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