The start of a new year brings the beginning of boat show season for the $170 billion U.S. recreational boating industry and the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA), which represents 85 percent of the country’s recreational boat, marine engine and accessory manufacturers. The recreational boating industry is preparing to welcome an estimated two million Americans to dozens of boat shows between January and March to shop the latest boats as they continue prioritizing outdoor recreation. Boat retailers and manufacturers have historically generated between 30%-to-50% of their annual sales at boat shows.
Coming off a record year of extraordinary demand in 2021 led to the second highest ranked year in nearly two decades for recreational marine expenditures at $56.7 billion. New powerboat retail unit sales normalized in 2022, down an estimated 15-18%, to pre-pandemic growth years (2015-2019) with an estimated 250,000 new units sold, 25% above previous averages (2008-2014). Looking ahead to 2023, early indications point to continued healthy demand with new retail unit sales expected to remain on par with 2022.
This momentum comes as Americans demonstrate an ongoing prioritization of a life well-lived, spent enjoying outdoor experiences with family and friends and marine manufacturers continue strategically managing production and inventory pipelines following two years of supply chain bottlenecks. Segments driving growth in 2022 included entry-level boats such as personal watercraft, freshwater aluminum and fiberglass fishing boats, as well as pontoon boats that are less than 26 feet.
“Last year was a healthy year for recreational boating with momentum coming off of record sales in 2021 due to continued demand and the fact that supply chain shortages prevented our industry from overproducing like we saw happen in other sectors over the past two years,” said Frank Hugelmeyer, NMMA president. “With boat shows fully returning following two years of limited events due to COVID, we’ve already seen encouraging sales reports within certain categories, coupled with consumers continuing to invest in the unique experiences that come from being on the water.”
New data from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), released in November, shows the outdoor recreation economy has seen record-breaking years, sustaining remarkable growth despite navigating a post-pandemic environment. In 2021, outdoor recreation generated $862 billion in economic output, accounting for 1.9% of U.S. GDP, making it a larger contributor than agriculture, extraction of oil and gas, and mining. Outdoor recreation also supported 4.5 million American jobs. What’s more, recreational boating and fishing are the number one contributor to the near-billion dollar outdoor recreation economy, surpassing RVing, hunting, and other outdoor activities.
With dozens of boat shows being held around the U.S., including Discover Boating’s 10-show line-up this winter, manufacturers and dealers will unveil the latest product innovations and technologies, offer exclusive promotions and provide immersive boating activities to engage potential first-time boat buyers as well as millions of boaters look to come together during the off season.
“We’ve done extensive research to better understand boaters of today and tomorrow and local boat shows are a consistent favorite given the sense of community they create by bringing together boaters of all interests, access to all local dealers and new boat models in one place, the ability to board and buy boats, shop the newest gear, and be immersed in education and experiences—they take pop-up retail and social meet-ups to the next level,” said Ellen Bradley, senior vice president of marketing and communications for NMMA.
U.S. Recreational Boating by the Numbers
Unless otherwise noted, the following additional data are from the NMMA’s 2021 Recreational Boating Statistical Abstract.
- Annual U.S. sales of boats, marine products and services totaled $56.7 billion in 2021, up 12.7% from 2020.
- It’s not just new boats seeing strong sales; an estimated 1.15 million pre-owned boats were sold in 2021, up 9.2% over 2020.
- The recreational boating industry is an economic driver supporting more than 690,000 American jobs and 35,000 American businesses.
- Outdoor recreation accounts for 1.9% of U.S. GDP, generating $862 billion in gross economic output, of which recreational boating and fishing is the single largest segment with an attributed $50.4 billion, supporting 4.5 million American jobs. (Source: U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis).
- Recreational boating is a uniquely American-made industry: Ninety-five percent of boats sold in the U.S. are made in America.
- An estimated 100 million Americans go boating each year.
- Recreational boating isn’t just for the one percent. Sixty-one percent of boat owners have an annual household income of $100,000 or less.
- Ninety-five percent of boats on the water in the U.S. are less than 26 feet—boats that can be trailered by a vehicle to local waterways.
Leading the nation in sales of new powerboat, engine, trailer and accessories in 2021 were the following states:
- 1. Florida: $5.4 billion, up 3.7% from 2020
- 2. Texas: $2.4 billion, up 2.6% from 2020
- 3. Michigan: $1.5 billion, up 16.3% from 2020
- 4. North Carolina: $1.24 billion, up 2.8% from 2020
- 5. Minnesota: $1.2 billion, up 13.8% from 2020
- 6. New York: $1.16 billion, up 10.5% from 2020
- 7. California: $1.1 billion, up 17% from 2020
- 8. Wisconsin: $1 billion, up 17% from 2020
- 9. Georgia: $924 million, up 1.9% from 2020
- 10. Alabama: $898 million, up 7.4% from 2020