New figures show US boat sales cooling and consumer hesitancy

sarasota, usa, fl

New powerboat retail sales in the US have been estimated to be down slightly in 2023 – approximately 1 per cent to 3 per cent – to 258,000 units, according to figures from the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA).

For the 2024 calendar year, the association predicts recreational boating is poised to see new unit sales on par with 2023 levels as the industry continues to navigate interest rates and ongoing shifts in consumer confidence.

While most categories of new powerboats saw estimated unit declines in 2023, anywhere from 5 per cent to 25 per cent, the personal watercraft segment saw a significant increase, and is projected to be up between 20 per cent to 25 per cent as final 2023 sales data are calculated.

Personal watercraft, which are small craft for one to three people, and often a gateway to boating given their entry-level pricing and ease of use, are expected to make up approximately 85,000-90,000 of the 258,000 estimated new units sold at retail in 2023.

“With jumps in interest rates and inflation in 2023, we saw more boating consumers being price sensitive and deciding to wait things out before buying their next boat and in the meantime, picking up a personal watercraft to enrich their time spent on the water,” says Frank Hugelmeyer, NMMA president.

“The nearly 1m people who purchased a boat for the first time during the height of the pandemic continued to spend record time on the water in 2023, helping drive an economic impact of $230bn.

“As we enter 2024, we expect Americans’ desire to be near water to continue as more people seek ways to prioritise health and wellness and enhance their quality of life, which has the industry focused on continued innovation and ensuring greater access to our public waters.”

Marina view from above

The NMMA is a trade association representing boat, marine engine and accessory manufacturers in North America.

Recreational boating remains a significant driver to the US economy due to the estimated 85m Americans who go boating yearly. Including spending on everything from food and marine accessories to marinas, storage, and insurance, the sector drives an economic impact of $230bn, up 36 per cent from 2018, while supporting 36,000 US businesses and 812,000 American jobs, according to NMMA’s 2023 Economic Impact Study on Recreational Boating.

Winter is a traditionally strong selling season for the recreational boating industry, with dozens of boat shows taking place around the country in January and February in major markets like New York, Miami and Chicago. Unlike auto shows, boat shows are not only a marketing venue but a major driver of retail sales for the year ahead, with manufacturers and dealers debuting new product innovations and technologies.

“Boating provides transformational experiences that offer relaxation, fun and freedom in our busy lives, which is why we’re committed to innovating and enhancing the boating experience for the generations to come,” says Hugelmeyer. “Supporting new innovations in a marine environment means adopting a technology-neutral decarbonisation approach, as well as accelerating the distribution of sustainable marine fuels, establishing marine electric technology standards, and expanding R&D investments in electric battery density and hydrogen propulsion systems.”

NMMA recently relocated its headquarters from Chicago to Washington D.C, as part of its ongoing expansion.

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This article was written and/or edited by the UK-based MIN team.

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