Many manufacturers say they've recovered from early-pandemic losses, and then some. NMMA handout photo.

Boat Boom: New Powerboat Sales Hit 13-Year High in 2020

Among the surprising positive impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chesapeake region has seen a surge in boating and boat-buying.

The National Marine Manufacturers Association’s (NMMA) reports that America saw historic new powerboat retail sales in 2020.

New powerboat sales were up 12 percent from 2019, with 310,000 boats sold. That’s a high not seen since before the Great Recession in 2008. October was a particularly big month in 2020, with sales up 30 percent compared to the same month in 2019.

The biggest gains were in sales of new runabouts, cruisers, jet boats and personal watercraft—smaller, accessibly-priced vessels that are often considered a gateway to boat ownership, NMMA says.

First-time boat ownership increased last year as well, which hasn’t happened in more than a decade, says NMMA President Frank Hugelmeyer. Those new boaters, Hugelmeyer explains, “helped spur growth of versatile, smaller boats—less than 26 feet—that are often towed to local waterways and provide a variety of boating experiences, from fishing to watersports.”

While boat manufacturers and dealers suffered at the onset of the pandemic due to supply chain issues, many manufacturers reported their businesses had made up for pandemic-related losses by the third quarter of 2020.

And NMMA believes boat sales will remain at historic levels in 2021 as manufacturers continue to fill a backlog of orders from 2020, and social distancing measures continue into the new year, drawing people to the outdoors.

Chesapeake Bay Magazine is tracking boat availability and boat-buying opportunities in the special Boat Boom section of our website and our forthcoming January/February issue, out later this month.

-Meg Walburn Viviano