Boat Sales to Surge

The National Marine Manufacturers Association, representing the nation’s recreational boat, engine and marine accessory manufacturers, announced it expects sales of new powerboats to increase between six and seven percent this year. They expect new boat sales to be around 250,000 units. This projection is based on consumer confidence index numbers soaring and manufacturers introducing products attracting younger boaters. In addition to new boat sales increases, overall recreational boating industry dollar sales are expected to increase between 10-11 percent from the $8.4 billion spent in 2016.

Boats are one of the few all-American industries left. Ninety-five percent of boats sold in the U.S. are made in the U.S. If these numbers are correct, recreational boating will see some of its healthiest gains in nearly a decade, a trajectory the NMMA expects to continue through 2018.

Economic indicators are working in the industry’s favor. A continuously improving housing market, strong consumer confidence, growing disposable income and consumer spending, and low interest rates all contribute to a healthy recreational boating market.

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Heading into 2017, U.S. manufacturers have geared up for a busy winter and spring boat show season to further attract the growing number of boating enthusiasts. Boat shows provide a platform for the boating industry to unveil its latest innovations around the country, and generate as much as 50 percent of annual sales for some manufacturers and dealers.

They’re also the best time for consumers to shop. Dealers and manufacturers offer some of their most attractive incentives and deals, while giving shoppers the chance to compare different boats and different dealers, all in one location. The shows also provide a glimpse of buyer trends and sales for the year ahead:


  • Big boats are back. One of the more standout areas of growth in 2016 was among yachts and large cruising boats, a category that has been slower to rebound as high net worth individuals chose to remain more liquid during the Obama years. Sales of new yachts and cruisers advanced nearly three percent in 2016 and that trend is likely to continue into 2017 as consumer confidence and spending remain strong.
  • Affordable, versatile boats are helping a new generation become boaters. Manufacturers are making smaller boats (watersports boats, pontoons, day boats, etc.) to be more affordable and attract new, younger boaters and even more sales. What’s more, boats are also becoming more versatile, providing an all-in-one experience from fishing to cruising to watersports, making them more appealing to a wider audience.
  • Intuitive marine technology: The boating industry has embraced new technology such as steering and docking a boat with a joystick reminiscent of video games. As consumers turn to their smartphones to manage numerous aspects of their lives, manufacturers are responding and will unveil boats at 2017 boat shows that provide a more intuitive experience; one that makes certain aspects of operating a boat as simple as pushing a button.
  • Shared experiences: The “sharing economy” isn’t lost on the boating industry. They are welcoming the opportunity to expose a new demographic to life on the water with everything from boat rental apps to shared boat ownership. Companies like Boatsetter, Boatbound, Sailo and GetMyBoat are some of the options listed on the industry’s, which helps beginners find ways to get on the water.

It’s not just new boats Americans are buying; there were an estimated 958,000 pre-owned boats (powerboats, personal watercraft, and sailboats) sold last year. There were an estimated 12.1 million registered boats in the U.S. Ninety-five percent of boats on the water (powerboats, personal watercraft, and sailboats) in the U.S. are small in size at less than 26 feet in length – boats that can be trailered by a vehicle to local waterways.

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Boating is predominantly “middle-class” with 72 percent of boat owners having a household income of less than $100,000. Ninety-five percent of all Americans live within an hour’s drive of a navigable body of water.

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Mike Schoonveld
Mike Schoonveld grew up hunting and fishing in rural Northwest Indiana. In 1986 he piggy-backed a career as an outdoor writer onto his already long tenure as a wildlife biologist with the Indiana DNR. Now retired from his DNR position, Schoonveld is a U.S. Coast Guard licensed boat captain, operates Brother Nature Charters on Lake Michigan and spends much of his time trailering his boat to fishing hotspots around Indiana and the Midwest. Mike can be reached through his website or visit Mike's Outdoor World Blog at


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