For the last two months or so, bundling up indoors has been the best way to fight back against record-breaking cold temperatures and ice storms. However, with spring on the horizon, so are warm weather and the promise of spending sunny summer days out on the water relaxing on a boat. According to estimates from the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA), more people are expected to do exactly that this summer than in the previous years. The organization says that the $35 billion recreational boating industry will grow another 5% to 7% in 2014.
As of 2009, according to statistics from the Coast Guard, there were roughly 12.7 million boats registered in the U.S., and about 82 million Americans participated in recreational boating, according to the U.S. Forest Service. The latest estimates suggest that 88 million people will take to the water this year, but the number of registered boats is down to just 12.1 million. A number of factors, including the struggling economy and even natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy have contributed to that trend, but boating numbers should increase this year.
The boats at the heart of the industry’s resurgence are not (perhaps unfortunately) mega yachts, but smaller boats. Last year, sales of outboard boats 26-feet long or less improved 6.7% while ski and wakeboarding boats spike 11.7 percent, according to the NMMA.
At the 42nd annual Mid-Atlantic Boat Show in Charlotte, boat dealers and yacht club managers expressed optimism and steadily-improving sales in the current economy.
Les Gray, Vice President of Southeast Productions Inc., which hosted the event, said, “We’re not getting back to pre-recession numbers, but boat dealers are getting pretty close to that.”
Improved sales in 2014 would mark the third year in a row that the industry has gotten stronger. In 2012, the industry showed signs of recovery with a 10% sales increase and early estimates say that there was an increase of 5% last year.
“In 2013 we saw an increased breakthrough in new boat sales and expect that to continue in 2014,” said general manager of HMY Yachts Tom Sanders. “We’ve already had some success this year in sales of new boats and expect more sales at the [Miami International Boat Show].”
Up to 93% of the boats sold in the U.S. are American-built, and the industry employs more than 338,000 people. So though recreational boating might sound like a luxury pastime, many American workers depend on its health for their well-being. Though there are some questions about the future, most agree that sales will continue to grow.
Ed Pfleger of Schrader Yacht Sales notes, “It’ll probably never go back to what it was, but we see hopeful signs.” Recreational boating is largely pegged to the success of the economy, so it is hard to completely know what the future holds.
But Thom Dammrich, NMMA President, has a positive outlook. He said, “If economic growth persists and the recreational boating industry continues gaining participants, we anticipate sustained growth in 2014 and into 2015 and 2016.”
Hopefully, that proves to be true and more Americans will be able to enjoy the summer sun out on an awesome new boat.