The National Marine Manufacturers Association recently reported key findings from its annual Recreational Boating Statistical Abstract. The report states that of the 231.5 million adults living in the United States in 2010, 32.4 percent, or 75 million people, participated in recreational boating. That is the highest proportion of participation in recreational boating since 1999, when 33.4 percent of adults were boating participants. These 75 million boaters represent an increase of 14 percent compared to 2009, which saw 65.9 million boaters.
NMMA also reports that the 75 million Americans who took to the water in 2010 helped keep the industry afloat. Aftermarket accessory sales increased six percent to $2.4 billion (from $2.3 billion in 2009) and spending per boat averaged $147 for 2010, also up six percent from 2009. NMMA notes there are an estimated 17 million boats in use in the United States.
"Despite decreases in new boat sales last year, the industry remains alive and well as existing boaters took to the water in record numbers and had a willingness to spend on their boats and boating outings," Thom Dammrich, president of NMMA, said in a statement. "Increases in participation and spending on the aftermarket equal good news for the industry as it tells us boating remains a recreational activity Americans aren't willing to forego in times of economic recession."
Boaters also increased their spending on operating costs (insurance, docking, fuel, maintenance and boating outings) by 3.6 percent from $8.4 million in 2009 to $8.7 million in 2010 and on new boat trailers by 15 percent, from $88 million in 2009 to $102 million in 2010.
In August 2008, at the start of the recession, when gas prices were above $4 per gallon, NMMA and Michigan State University's Recreational Marine Research Center conducted a survey of 2,211 powerboat owners who went boating between January and July 2008. The survey found that 99 percent continued to go boating in 2008 despite rising fuel prices. In fact, boating participation increased six percent in 2008 to 70 million (from 66 million in 2007).
"We expect boaters to continue boating this summer as economic indicators which impact boating habits, such as consumer confidence and consumer spending, are faring much better than they were three years ago when we last saw $4 per gallon fuel prices," Dammrich said. "Boaters are passionate about being on the water and historically have found ways to adjust to fuel price increases by operating their boats at lower speeds, reducing cruising distances, and reducing idling time so they can still enjoy spending quality time on their boat with family and friends. For most boaters, good weather and favorable boating conditions typically overshadow fuel prices when it comes to determining whether to get out on the water."
The Great Lakes region remained one of the strongest for new boat, engine, trailer, accessory and services sales in 2010 with six out of the eight Great Lakes states seeing growth and the remaining two seeing just single digit declines. In order of sales growth:
Pennsylvania increased 11.9 percent from $202 million in 2009 to $226 million in 2010.
Michigan increased 10.6 percent from $317 million in 2009 to $351 million in 2010.
Ohio increased 5.5 percent from $222 million in 2009 to $235 million in 2010.
New York increased 5.3 percent from $381 million in 2009 to $401 million in 2010.
Illinois increased 5.2 percent from $234 million in 2009 to $246 million in 2010.
Indiana increased 0.5 percent from $144 million in 2009 to $145 million in 2010.
The remaining two Great Lakes states: Minnesota decreased 5.5 percent from $305 million in 2009 to $289 million in 2010 and Wisconsin decreased two percent from $298 million in 2009 to $292 million in 2010.
NMMA's Recreational Boating Statistical Abstract also shows two out of 10 boaters live in the Great Lakes region, which translates into nearly 17 million boaters residing in these states alone, making the Great Lakes region the top region for recreational boating in the U.S.