Boating 101: Buying in a Boom Market

By Jim Hendricks.

“Good luck.”

That was the response from a Massachusetts boat dealer this past summer when I asked for tips on finding a new boat in today’s market. And he’s not alone. That kind of response is typical from many dealers these days. From California to the Carolinas and Michigan to Mississippi, new-boat inventories range from limited to nonexistent, and demand is at an all-time high.

Blame COVID-19 for it all. The pandemic ignited a boat-buying frenzy, fueled by an influx of new American boaters. Restricted from travel, vacations, dining out, kids summer camps and more, COVID-19-weary throngs of families have sought new ways to recreate, have fun and stay safe. For many, buying a boat has proven to be the best way to achieve all of those goals.

According to the Chicago-based National Marine Manufacturers Association, traditional powerboat sales reached a 13-year high in 2020. More than 310,000 new powerboats were sold, levels the recreational boat market has not seen since before the Great Recession in 2008.

Data from Lending Tree reinforces the NMMA’s findings. “Interest in boat purchases doubled between 2019 and 2020,” says the internet-based lending firm. “The number of consumers completing boat-purchase query forms rose 104 percent year over year.”