Boat sales took off during the pandemic and now dealers can’t keep up with demand

Steve Arnold, a 57-year-old owner of two Maine marinas and a boat club franchisee, experienced a massive jump in sales last year. He said sales across the board skyrocketed, with average sales of new boats up 40%, used boat sales up 45%, rental boats up 65% and Freedom Boat Club memberships up 28%. He said he has never seen those kinds of numbers during his 18 years in the business.

And while he expects sales to dip 5% to 10% this year, that will still be well ahead of expectations.

He said the effects of the pandemic have left a positive impact on the boating industry that will last for years to come. “I think Covid changed society for the better in terms of looking towards your family and your relationships in your discretionary time,” he said.

As new boaters enter the market, a domino effect is taking place, with their friends and families getting into the activity as well.

Last year, the number of first-time boat buyers rose for the first time in over 10 years, up 10% from 2019. Among these new boat buyers, the average age has also decreased for the first time in 20 years, according to the marine association. The entrance of these new young buyers is bright sign for the future of the industry, said Hugelmeyer.

“You never have a lack of friends who want to go out on a boat. You become very popular and then, family and friend groups begin to expand to become boating families,” Hugelmeyer said.

In addition, Americans are finding that their work-from-home schedule allows for more flexibility to do activities when they want to.

“We have these longer-term outcomes of Covid including flexible working arrangements that I think will allow people to engage in boating more flexibly during that week,” BrunswickCEO David Foulkes said. Brunswick is the parent company of popular boat manufacturing brands like Boston Whaler and Sea Ray. 

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