Heading to the Duluth boat show next weekend looking to buy a new boat? You aren’t alone.
The National Marine Manufacturers Association estimates that boat shows across the U.S. generate about half of all boat sales annually. And those sales are expected to be brisk in 2020, up 2% from 2019 and among the best of the last decade, topping $42 billion in sales nationwide.
The NMMA says retail unit sales of new powerboats in 2019 — final numbers aren’t yet in — are estimated to have held steady with 2018 at approximately 280,000 units, the second highest total since 2007.
“Sales in 2019 were nearly on par with the 11-year high we saw in 2018, even with some softening particularly in the freshwater fishing category, which we attribute to unseasonably cold and rainy weather in spring and early summer,” said Frank Hugelmeyer, NMMA president. “Looking at 2020, with the economy on solid footing and key economic indicators like consumer spending remaining strong, we expect another healthy year for new boat sales.”
Tyler Beste, a salesman at MAC Sport and Marine in Superior, said he’s not sure that half of his sales start at the boat show. But the show, where buyers have a chance to climb into new models and ogle the latest bells and whistles, does spur business. MAC, as will several other boat dealers, will have a big display at the Duluth show with some 15 boats on hand with special boat show promotions.
“We get some people writing the check right there. But others, I end up talking to them for another three months before they buy. But the show is good for us, for sure,’’ Beste said.
Beste said sales for aluminum fishing boats locally bucked the national trend and were “at least as strong as the last few years,’’ and that pontoon boats remain a huge part of overall sales as more people buy them not just to keep at the cabin but to trailer from lake to lake. Pontoons also are getting bigger, with more amenities and bigger motors.
“Pontoons are probably half our boat sales,’’ Beste noted.
Nationally, among the hottest sellers in 2019 were new personal watercraft sales, estimated to be up 6% to 73,000. With a lower entry-level price, personal watercraft are often considered a gateway to boat ownership. Sales of new wake sport boats, popular for wake surfing and wakeboarding and attractive to new and younger boaters, are estimated to be up 6% to 11,000 units in 2019. New cruiser sales — boats between 22 and 32 feet, popular for relaxing, entertaining and fishing the Great Lakes — are estimated to be up 3% to 9,000 units in 2019.
New freshwater fishing boat sales, the typical boat purchased and used in the Northland, were estimated to be down 7% to 69,000 units in 2019.
It’s not just new boats Americans are buying; about 975,000 pre-owned boats are estimated to have been sold in 2019, down slightly from 2018.
California, Florida and Michigan have the most boats registered per state, in that order, followed by Minnesota and Wisconsin. But Minnesota has the highest per-capita boat ownership in the nation — nearly 15% of us own boats. Wisconsin is second highest per-capita at nearly 11% boat ownership.
Here are the top 10 states for new boat sales in dollars for 2018 (final 2019 numbers not yet available) according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association:
1. Florida: $3.2 billion, up 8% from 2017
2. Texas: $1.8 billion, up 9% from 2017
3. Michigan: $1.1 billion, up 10% from 2017
4. North Carolina: $914 million, up 9% from 2017
5. Minnesota: $861 million, up 6% from 2017
6. Wisconsin: $781 million, up 9% from 2017
7. New York: $775 million, up 5% from 2017
8. California: $765 million, up 6% from 2017
9. Georgia: $680 million, up 8% from 2017
10. South Carolina: $661 million, up 4% from 2017