The recreational boating industry is expected to remain flat this year, but 2008-2010 should be "strong, up years," National Marine Manufacturer Association president Thom Dammrich said last Thursday. Dammrich gave his forecast at the annual media breakfast that opened the 66th Miami International Boat Show.
Boat registrations and participation rates are expected to show slight increases when final figures come in for 2006, but retail sales were down for the year, Dammrich said. The only segments of the industry to show growth last year were ski and wakeboard craft.
With boating sales generally following five-year cycles, Dammrich said these figures were not much of a surprise, adding that dealers are still selling more than 300,000 new boats a year.
Looking forward to this year, the "signals are kind of mixed," Dammrich said, noting consumer confidence is up, but with interest rates more than 5 percent, that could take a toll on sales. If the interest rate is cut this year, that could improve the outlook.
Other positive signs he pointed to include: gross domestic product growth running over 3 percent, RV shipments up and disposable income up 3.2 percent from a year ago. Also, the upcoming presidential election and lower gas prices could have a positive impact on the industry, Dammrich said.
Dammrich also used the breakfast to talk about the NMMA's involvement in a campaign to encourage the use of life jackets through the development of promotions, educational programs, collaboration with other stakeholders and lobbying for the passage of a tax credit for manufacturers that include safety equipment with their boats.
The National Transportation Safety Board has set a goal of increasing the adult life jacket wear rate in open motor boats under 21 feet by 3 percent a year for the next five years.
Bill Gossard, national program coordinator for recreational boating for the NTSB, told attendees at the breakfast that boating has gotten safer in the last several years. For example, most states now require that children wear life jackets and 35 states have a boater education mandate.
The NTSB, he said, would like to see the development of some sort of national education certificate. Such a program, he said, could increase safety on the water.
"If we can change the boating culture.we're going to have a safer industry," he said.