Boat show season will be moving along by the time this issue finds its way into mailboxes and onto magazine racks, but what we’ve seen so far at the shows has been positive. Manufacturers and dealers seem to be as optimistic as they’ve been in about eight years, and consumers appear to be buying again, everything from fishing equipment to water toys to boats.
According to the National Marine Manufacturers Association, an estimated 250,000 new powerboats were sold in 2016, which is a 6 to 7 percent increase over 2015. A lot of those sales are in the trailerable boat market, obviously, which is where the bulk of the consumers are, but that six to seven percent growth in units resulted in a 10 or 11 percent jump in dollars, to $8.4 billion, which is fueling a lot of jobs, because 95 percent of the boats sold in the U.S. are made in America.
NMMA data indicate that it’s not just the smaller boat market that’s fueling the growth. More big boats are finding homes with buyers, as high-net-worth individuals move from holding their money in liquid assets toward buying items such as homes and yachts, in NMMA’s estimation. For 2016, growth in the new yachts and cruisers segment was between 1 and 3 percent, a trend that’s expected to continue in 2017. That gibes with what we’ve heard from yacht dealers in casual conversation, and it’s likely a contributing reason dollar sales increased about 4 percent more than unit sales.
Two other trends NMMA sees that match up with what we’ve been seeing and writing about are intuitive technology and versatility. Both of those traits expand boating’s appeal to a wider audience that includes first time boaters. Joystick technology gets better and more applicable every year, moving from being solely a docking system to being a steering-at-speed system, and from being attached solely to pod drives to being attached to straight-shaft drives and even outboards. And anyone who’s familiar with a smartphone’s operation will feel at home controlling a boat’s systems. Electronic displays mimic smartphone capabilities, and Bluetooth interaction allows a phone to become the controller for the boat’s systems — even when the boat owner isn’t on the boat.
The types of boats being sold are as varied as the people buying them, which is reflected in our pages this month. One of our sea trials is the Leopard 43, a stepped-hull catamaran design with a flybridge, which can reach about 24 knots. The other is the Riva 63 Virtus, a big, sleek, stylish, open model with dayboat sensibilities, which can crack 40 knots.
Both of them are bound to make someone say, “Yep, that’s the one.” More importantly, they both have technology that will allow practically anyone to drive them.