Record-setting boat sales – What’s selling?

–  Nicki Polan, Executive Director, Michigan Boating Industries Association 

Michigan remains the 3rd largest marine market in the country based on new boat, motor, trailer and accessory sales.  This is quite impressive considering we are a 4-season state.

In 2017, more than $948 million was spent on these new items but just as much again was spent on used and brokerage boats according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association. The data shows that 2017 boat sales beat expectations, and the final tally was just a few thousand units off from prerecession 2008 totals.

So, the curious boater might wonder – “What’s selling.” 

A recent article in “Soundings Trade Only” tells us, “Nationally, outboard-powered fiberglass boats, pontoons and personal watercraft accounted for more than 60 percent of the more than 270,000 new registrations in 2017. Outboard-powered fiberglass boats saw the highest sales in the main powerboat category, with 4.2 percent growth and 53,992 units sold.  Pontoons followed close behind, growing 7.8 percent year-over-year to 53,273 units. Ski and wake boats had the largest percentage growth with 7.1 percent gains for 9,522 units sold. Sterndrive and inboard bowrider and deck boats between 14 and 30 feet continued their post-recession decline of 5.5 percent and 11, 114 units sold.  Cruisers 31 to 40 feet with offset big gains with 1,397 sold and an 8.6 percent drop in year-over-year sales. Boats with electric propulsion continued to post gains, with 25.7 percent growth for the year moving from 226 units to 284 units in 2017.”

Michigan’s 2017 new boat sales were up more than 5 percent from 2016. The category numbers are not yet available, although they will likely to be similar to the national trends. Michigan has experienced 8 consecutive years of growth for new boat sales and is predicted to continue in that direction for at least the next two years.

What is driving sales? – innovation.  Not only related to boats, but also to engines, electronics, and supporting products and services.  New model boats include features which continue to enhance comfort and functionality, improve performance, and facilitate enjoyment while boating.

Low fuel prices and interest rates are also helping as is the strong housing market and the availability of retail loans.  Another positive is the availability of more entry level boats, and the fact that boats can be financed much longer than cars. This is bringing first-time and younger boaters to the water. Finally, depending on the boat purchased, it may qualify for 2nd home mortgage interest deductions, and for everyone – Michigan still has a Sales Tax on the Difference law that allows boat buyers to pay sales tax only on the difference between the value of the trade in boat and the new boat being purchased.

See you on the water,

Nicki Polan