Boat sales and activity skyrocket due to pandemic


The Michigan Boating Industries Association (MBIA) is grateful that boating and fishing provided stress-relief, togetherness, and outdoor fun for Michiganders as an antidote to COVID-19, and at the same time buoyed Michigan marine businesses across the state.

Near year-end data from the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) shows September boat sales were up 22% compared to August and up 9% year to date (YTD) compared to 2019 on a seasonally-adjusted basis. Furthermore, September 2020 ranks as the second highest single-month total of new powerboats sold in more than a decade. This indicates that the incredible demand for boats we have experienced since March is not letting up, and 2020 is likely to set new records.

“Boat sales went through the roof this past summer as people found themselves with discretionary dollars and the desire to recreate in a safe, fun, and social distancing manner,” said Nicki Polan, Executive Director for the MBIA. “All outdoor activities have fared well, but with 11,000 inland lakes, more shoreline than all states except Alaska, and 3,600 miles of navigable rivers, Michiganders took to the water in droves.”

This boat buying surge was nationwide with more than 300,000 new boats expected to be sold in 2020, and more than 44,000 new boaters coming into the market in the U.S. (United States) according to the NMMA.

“New powerboat retail sales are strong across the board, from the high-volume small fishing boat and pontoon segments that account for nearly half of all new boat sales, to the wake sport and offshore fishing segments,” said Vicky Yu, NMMA director of business intelligence. “We expect to close out 2020 with more than 300,000 new boats sold – levels the industry hasn’t seen since before the Great Recession in 2008-2009.”

The sales growth spreads across all segments and sizes, however many including freshwater fishing boats, pontoons boats, and saltwater fishing boats will see double-digit increases. Boats 27’ and above are expected to lead sales growth by size category, up an expected 16 percent or more over 2019.

“Michigan remains the third largest marine market in the country with more than $1 billion in new boats, motors, trailers, and accessories sold in 2019. That is incredibly impressive considering Michigan is a four-season state. Boating has a $7.8 billion impact on the state’s economy each year and almost fifty percent of Michigan’s population actively boat each year,” said Polan.

New boat sales are not the only segment that is benefiting from the surge in outdoor recreation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Used boats, boat clubs, and boat rentals are also outpacing previous years and setting new records.

A recent study released by the U.S. Coast Guard Boating Safety Division suggests, “that the shared economy is influencing whether and how persons secure access to boats, including boat rentals, group/flotilla chartering, cooperatives, and shared ownership. Numerous liveries and resorts throughout the country rent canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards. This includes a growing number of community sailing and paddling clubs that rent boats. An increasing number of marinas are now offering short- and longer-term rental of pontoon boats. The number of boat-sharing clubs is also growing.”

“Overall boating activity was up by all boaters this summer – current and new owners,” said Polan. “With people being off work, and others working from home, there was a lot more time to get out on the water and you could see it was busier at the launch sites and on the lakes. We are mindful of the losses incurred by this pandemic, but forever grateful that our industry has been able to provide safe and enjoyable family time to help mitigate the stresses of our current situation.”

Workforce development continues to be a priority for the MBIA as there are many exciting career opportunities which remain unfilled in Michigan. Because of the industry’s growth in 2020 there will be even more opportunities to fill. If you are interested in a career in Michigan’s boating industry, please visit  http://boatmichigan.org/careers for more information.