As we swing into month three of the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown, societal easing has started nudging certain sectors of the economy—and that includes boating. Areas across the United States are opening back up as positive coronavirus cases begin to slowly decrease, and not surprisingly, boating has emerged as a safe form of outdoor recreation and an ideal social distancing activity for families.
After months of being cooped up, people are looking for ways to stay in their safe nuclear family unit while engaging in more exciting adventures, and boat dealers and manufacturers are seeing brisk boat sales follow in suit.
In March, things looked bleak. Boat dealer inventories were stagnant and the population was so distracted by the coronavirus that sales were nearly non-existent. State boat registration offices were closed or backed up, so new boat registration statistics were dismal.
However, come late April and May, that changed 180-degrees—for some.
Bryan Seti, general manager for sales and marketing at Yamaha’s Watercraft Group headquartered in Georgia, commented that Yamaha saw record sales in April (up 154 percent over 2019), primarily of boats 19 to 27 feet. Even the colder weather in some northeastern states didn’t slow the momentum and people were less picky about available colors or options on the boats in stock.
“We expect the trend (uptick) to continue throughout the summer,” adds Seti.
Matt Gruhn, president of the Marine Retailers Association of America (MRAA), says the sales funnel is full of leads as people have had time to sit at home and research boats online. Now it’s a matter of serious sales efforts and a strong inventory levels turning prospects into buyers. The product mix may have also changed a bit with smaller, entry level new boats selling well.
“Smaller boats are definitely leading the way,” said Gruhn.
So, why are boat sales spiking across the country?
It may come as a surprise to some that boat sales are up. After months of low to no employment among certain sectors of the population, it may be counterintuitive that activities based on discretionary spending such as boating or even RVing are attracting large audiences.
But a closer look at the underlying driving factors suggests this may be the ideal time to try out a new lifestyle, or to upgrade to a newer or larger boat model.
1. Boating is social distancing at its finest.
Families endured months of lockdown with Zoom calls and 1,000-piece puzzles, and now they’re looking to safely stretch their wings. Social distancing will still be important going forward, and you can hardly be safer than on a boat with your family unit.
Gruhn has two teenage daughters begging him to upgrade their current boat and take them fishing.
“We still value our time together but want to get out and do more,” he says.
2. Outside is safer.
Experts are suggesting there are lower transmission rates in the great outdoors. So rather than sitting in a movie theater where the climate control could be spreading the virus, why not get some fresh air and vitamin D from the sun, both of which have been touted as beneficial.
Not to mention, boating has been scientifically proven to improve one's mental, physical and emotional health, igniting something within us that's been referred to as "blue mind."
3. Families have more time on their hands and open schedules.
Families who had busy schedules with youth athletics are suddenly facing a blank calendar. There may be no softball, soccer, swim team practice, dance classes or summer camps that stress family time and stretch schedules.
“It’s all about what you prioritize,” adds Gruhn. “More people are choosing safe togetherness on the water rather than scheduled and stressed lives.”
4. There are fewer—if any—opportunities for large gatherings or events.
Activities competing for leisure time also include large gatherings such as concerts, professional sporting events, and amusement parks. As fewer of these activities are open or have restricted capacities, they’re not vying for our finite amount of leisure time, so boating comes into sharper focus.
5. Families are looking for vacation opportunities and activities that keep them close to home.
Your summer vacation plans may have included a bucket trip to Italy, a honeymoon cruise on a ship, or maybe even a week at Disney World, but you’ll certainly be distance traveling less—and internationally very little—in the months to come.
6. There's low interest rates.
Arguably, you can hardly ask for a better lending climate. Interest rates are the lowest they’ve ever been whether you’re looking for a home, auto or boat loan. Most lenders can process loans online so there’s zero or limited contact.
And here on Discover Boating, we make it really easy to estimate your potential monthly payment for a new boat—just head over to our Boat Loan Calculator.
Ready to buy a boat for summer 2020?
It’s very likely we’ll see a summer of busy campgrounds and bustling marinas. Old salts may upgrade or enhance their existing vessels while newcomers to boating may dip their proverbial toes in the water—regardless of whether that's through purchasing a boat of their own, or opting for an alternative like renting or joining a boat club.
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