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Word on the Street: Trends in the boating sector, from production to sales

July 23, 2021 Bethany Meys

What are we hearing here at Camoin?

According to our engagement professionals who talk to business leaders day in and day out, executives from the boating and outdoor water recreation industries are navigating a surge in demand and disruption in production due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically:

  • By limiting recreation options, the COVID-19 pandemic caused a surge in use of and demand for boats and other leisure products.
  • This unexpected surge in demand made it difficult for boating dealerships to keep inventory up.
  • Boat manufacturers are facing supply chain disruptions and, therefore, challenged to keep up with surging demand.

What is the data telling us?

The data is telling one story from two angles – the COVID-19 pandemic caused a surge in sales and, at the same time, a decline in jobs in the boating and outdoor water recreation industries.

According to the National Marine Manufacturers Association, boat and marine products and services sales increased by 9% from 2019 to 2020, totaling $47 billion in 2020.1  In addition to the surge in boat sales for new and used vessels, the boat rental industry experienced growth.  The bulk of the demand is for vessels between 28 to 45 feet long. Boating membership options also increased with the Freedom Boat Club, one of the largest boat clubs in the U.S., experiencing a 61% increase in membership since May 2019.2

While boating sales were high, industry data for employment and establishments paints a different picture. Mandated closures and health and safety protocols led to the closure of commercial activities in 2020. According to Emsi, the Boat Dealers in the United States industry shed over 1,100 jobs between 2019 and 2020 for a decline of 3%. The Boat Dealers industry can expect to reach pre-pandemic job levels by 2023. The number of Boat Dealers business locations declined as well. Similarly, the Boat Building industry shed nearly 4,000 jobs nationally from 2019 to 2020 for a decline of 9%. Prior to COVID, the Boat Building industry had steadily been adding jobs in the United States since 2010. Projections indicate that Boat Building is not anticipated to reach pre-pandemic employment levels even by 2031 despite pent-up demand for products.

Several factors have hindered employment growth in the boating sector including COVID-19 related closures and layoffs as well as supply chain challenges. As we begin to open up and remediate supply chain challenges through finding different suppliers, materials, etc. the boating industry can expect to experience employment growth to keep up with product demand. Looking forward, integration of 3D printing and further automation in the boat building industry will require new skills from its workforce.

Similarly, boating-adjacent sporting goods and outdoor recreation equipment experienced strong demand during the COVID-19 pandemic as people explored the outdoors through staycations or daily activities. This surge in demand led to shortages in paddleboards, kayaks, and camping gear, some of which are anticipated to remain in short supply into 2021. Overall, this transition to water-based outdoor recreation activities bodes well for the industry, and regions with water-recreation amenities, as people are forming habits and likely to continue these activities post pandemic. 3

If you are interested in understanding industry trends, Camoin 310 can provide data analytics and business outreach. Contact us to learn more.

Want to know more about these trends?

Here are some additional resources:

Image Source: Adobe Spark and Camoin 310

1. https://www.nmma.org/

2.  https://www.brunswick.com/investors/news-events/press-releases/detail/54…

3. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/04/style/outdoor-camping-gear-pools-back…