35 Staggering Boating Industry Trends

The boating industry has gotten to enjoy a few strong years of sales. It has led to high levels of confidence that are expected to develop trends that inspire calculated risks that will continue to grow sales and attract new customers.

Up to 60% of prospects that the boating industry develops into an eventual sale starts from an initial website visit from a mobile device.

This means the boating industry much reach out to these mobile device users to continue the strong sales growth that has been seen. According to BoatingIndustry.com, one way to do this is to use apps like Pandora. OneWater Marine Holdings places the bulk of its ads on Pandora because 85% of their traffic comes from mobile, giving them the direct response categories they need. When added to their other strengths, the forecast looks bright indeed for the boating industry.

The State of the Boating Industry Today

  • The boating industry had an estimated 2014 value of $35.4 billion. This included expenditures on boats, boat engines, miscellaneous accessories, and the related costs of boat ownership.
  • Just over 171,000 new powerboats were sold in 2014, which was an increase of 6.4% over figures from the year before.
  • 35% of US adults reported to the National Marine Manufacturers Association [NMMA] that they participated in recreational boating activities at least once in the last 12 months.
  • The strongest demand for boats is still within the 55-64 age demographic, though younger boaters are becoming more attracted to the industry.
  • Almost 95% of the powerboats that are sold in the United States are manufactured domestically.
  • Final registration figures for boats in the US put the total number of owned boats at around 12 million in total.
  • 95% of the registered boats that are on US waters are less than 26 feet in length, which allows them to be trailered to a local waterway for use. This helps boat owners avoid marina storage costs.
  • 71.5% of American boat owners have a household income less than $100,000.
  • 75% of the global recreational boating market exists within the United States.
  • There were an estimated 940,500 pre-owned boats, including pontoons, powerboats, personal watercraft, and sailboats sold in 2014.
  • The recreational boating industry is expected to take one-third of the total sales seen in the future, with more than $10 billion and an annualized increase of 8%.
  • Despite this strength, it is important to note that the current boating industry is still only about 65% of what it was in 2006.
  • 32% of the total manufacturing of the US boating industry consists of exports.

There is no doubt about the strength of the current boating industry. The trends look to maintain the high single-digit percentages of growth in the categories that are particularly strong. Powerboats continue to be popular, but it is the pontoon boat that is driving the industry forward – particularly in the last decade. As Millennials establish themselves in a solid career, 3 out of 4 of them may consider purchasing a new or used boat so they can head out on local waters for recreational opportunities. This really is an exciting time to be part of the boating industry.

Never Underestimate the Power of Pontoons

  • Since the recession years of 2007-2009, pontoon boats have helped the boating industry recover. At one point, these boats accounted for 33% of total sales. This unprecedented growth shows no signs of slowing down within the next 18-24 months.
  • Consensus seems to be that the pontoon category will continue to exhibit high single-digit growth for at least the next 18 to 24 months.
  • The most recent NMMA year-over-year retail sales data shows the pontoon segment in the boating industry was growing by 8% in 2015.
  • September 2015 data from Statistical Surveys Inc. shows U.S. retail sales of all pontoons at 39,857 units on a 12-month rolling basis, up from 36,920 units for the previous 12-month period.
  • The most popular pontoon boats are in the 20-23 foot range, making up more than 20,000 of the total boats sold.
  • Peter Barrett, Senior VP of marketing for Smoker Craft Inc., says that they are seeing far more demand for 3-tube high performance boat models than ever before, even setting up a new production line to accommodate demand.
  • Pocket cruisers under 30 feet were once strong sellers, they have almost disappeared with the rise of the pontoon category.
  • Brunswick Corporation surveyed owners of small cruisers, small being defined as less than 30 feet in overall length, and found less than 10% of them actually used the overnight accommodation in their boat for gear only.

As long as pontoons are able to maintain their strength, the boating industry trends will continue to keep growing. This is especially true if the industry can develop the power options that people want to have with their boats today. Not every boat is staying strong in sales and some have even been virtually removed from production, but expansion within the pontoon category is helping to make up for these losses. Unless there is another strong recession year like we saw in 2008, the growth of this industry is expected to remain stable in virtually every forecast published.

Technology Trends That Shape the Boating Industry

  • Consumers spend over 85% of their time on smartphones using native applications.
  • More people searched for the boating industry through mobile devices in 2015 for the first time compared to desktop only platforms.
  • Google has even published their policies that they will penalize site rankings for sites that do not have a mobile-friendly design.
  • As it becomes easier to build apps on a budget, more within the boating industry will embrace this technology to reach out to their mobile customers.
  • Expect the boating industry to follow Ford’s lead and use beacons located in boat models to inform customers about buying opportunities, pricing, and other specific information that can lead to a potential sale.
  • Interactive videos have also shown the potential to play a direct role in the purchasing process within the boating industry. Look for more dealers and manufacturers to utilize the “Visit Website” functions that are available on video platforms like YouTube.
  • From the Afterguard heads up display for sailboat racing, to Garmin’s Quatix marine GPS watch that features NMEA2000 data display, autopilot remote control or downloadable routes from your desktop trip planning software, more wearable tech opportunities may also lead to strong sales growth within the boating industry.

Many within the boating industry have been stubbornly resistant to the evolution of online technologies. Sites that were built in 2000 are still sometimes active. This makes them far from being mobile-friendly and that could affect sales at a local level. There needs to be a push within the boating industry to embrace the technology trends that their consumers are enjoying in order to engage with them on a meaningful level. Those who have already made these adjustments are seeing successes from it. If a majority of the industry ignores the mobile trend, however, it could erode the strength this industry as seen for so long.

How Value Improves Purchasing Opportunities

  • Basic boats which offer WiFi connectivity or support aftermarket WiFi installations help to solidify demand levels for the industry.
  • Customers are increasingly looking for boats that offer charging ports for their phones and computers.
  • Demand levels are strong for cellular boosters that can help maintain communication for general use or for water-to-shore communication.
  • Electric supply systems add to the complexity of the boat manufacturing process, but also provide increased demand levels for boats when navigation systems or fuel trackers are available as feature options.
  • Even if oil prices continue to stay low as they have in late 2015 and early 2016, fuel efficiencies are still going to be in high demand for the boating industry. Millennials especially prefer to look at boats that offer environmental benefits, energy efficiency, and other green technologies.
  • Outside of the pontoon, one of the most powerful sectors within the boating industry is the “basic boat.” More boats with zero additional features are helping to get new customers out on the water, joining this industry.

Value isn’t always about how much a boat costs. Sometimes a no-frills option is the best option and the boating industry is discovering that right now. Pontoons might be strong, but so are these basic boats. There aren’t intimidating features or functions that new boat owners must learn to control, allowing them to get out on the water without fear. When there is extra money involved, customers are looking for the most bang for their buck today. By offering connectivity, the boating industry is offering a chance to stay connected with their preferred devices while enjoying all of the aspects of boating. That’s why the boating industry trends point toward a strong future.

Boating Sports and Industry

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