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Trends Shaping the Boating Industry Outlook in 2021

As with any industry, the boating industry is fiercely competitive. It is also facing challenges due to environmental changes as well as changes in the way people spend their recreation time. Fuel, specifically ethanol, is also an ongoing concern. Consequently, boats are becoming more powerful, more luxurious, and more energy efficient as the industry attempts to meet these challenges and allow water lovers worldwide to enjoy it in the only way it was meant to be enjoyed–at near-zero speed. That is correct; while they are on the water, most boats are used for fishing and relaxing, which means that most of the time, boats are sitting still. That said, there are a lot of economic and dynamic things happening on a boat floating peacefully on the water.

Top 10 Trends in the Boating Industry

Fishing

Although recreational boating is popular, the most popular use for boating is fishing. Whereas the increase in fishing just a few years ago was up two to four percent, it dropped in 2019. For 2021, fishing boat sales are projected to regain ground up to two percent over last year’s losses, making for a profitable, fun season for water lovers.
Moreover, fishing related accessories, such as motors and depth finders are projected to be popular, so boats that come fully equipped are projected to capture people’s attention.

Ethanol and motor repairs

Ethanol-based fuel is standard for the automotive industry at a rate of 15 percent of total volume. However, for traditional boat motors, nothing above 10 percent is recommended. That said, E15 fuel, which is fuel with 15-percent ethanol, is less expensive than E10 and other lower-ethanol mixtures. Because of this, it is tempting to fuel up at local gas stations. However, until recently, E15 sales have been restricted through summer months, which means boaters cannot use it. Recent legislation will now allow E15 to be sold throughout the year. Ethanol rots O rings in boat motors. Consequently, motor repairs are projected to increase as budget-minded boaters purposefully or mistakenly fill up at the gas station instead of at the marina.

Diesel engines

Although some boaters will have to be wary of E15 fuel, the need for worry is on a gradual and steady decline as the usage of diesel engines throughout the boating industry becomes more popular. The growth rate is projected to maintain a steady increase in diesel engines.

An increasing number of safety devices

Kill switches are an increasingly popular device for boat owners. When pressed, they perform as advertised, killing the engine quickly in the event of an emergency or pending disaster. Kill switches are also being combined with what are known as “man-overboard” alarms, which are able to detect when someone falls out of the boat. These devices will work much like kill switches attached to treadmills in that the kill switch will attach to the body of someone, and the cord will attach to a kill-switch trigger. If someone falls out of the boat, the cord will pull the kill switch, disconnecting the connection and stopping the engine.

Rental opportunity

From fishing boats to yachts, the boat-rental industry is enjoying steady growth for business-to-consumer boat rentals. This growth is so strong that rentals are projected to continue growing through 2026. In terms of boat popularity, smaller boats at a length of up to 28 feet rank second while boats ranging in length of 28 to 45 feet represent the strongest category in terms of popularity and revenue. Although boat rental for larger boats exceeding 45 feet remains strong, the market for this boat size is much smaller. In terms of usage, touring and charter rentals are popular, but direct-to-customer rentals represent the strongest area of growth. Falling in at a respectable fourth place are boats rented for day cruises.

Access challenges

Many lakes worldwide are experiencing dropping levels as water supply diminishes due to global warming. Additionally, the surrounding areas of many managed lakes are owned by private citizens. Consequently, access to water is being regulated, and many new owners of lakefront property must wait in line for new boat-slip permits. Similarly, as demand grows, many lakes are regulating the number of boats that can be on the water at any given time in an attempt to fight congested waters and lower the number of boat collisions.

Aging boaters

Perhaps because boats are expensive, the average age of boating customers has always been in the middle-age range. However, the median age is increasing as younger people opt for other activities. Currently, the median age range is just over 50 years. Unless boat manufacturers are able to target a non-white market, this trend of aging boat buyers will gradually increase.

Diversity of users

The best performers in the boating industry will recognize and capitalize on the fact that the boating market is becoming more diverse. Hispanics represent a growing part of the boating market, and those boat companies that focus on family-oriented services will do very well serving this market segment. Asians represent another growth market for boat manufacturers and boat-related accessories.

Affordability

Although boats still represent a relatively expensive option for recreation, their affordability is continuing to drive sales for personal watercraft as well as boat rental. This affordability has resulted from more efficient manufacturing techniques and better engine technology. In terms of engine technology, fuel efficiency has been one of the factors that has contributed to the affordability of boats.

Focus on family

While fishing is the top activity done upon a boat, family activities represent the largest category of growth for boat sales and rentals across the fishing, touring, and day-cruising markets. Because of the family-oriented boat market, pontoons are a very popular boat because they are able to serve as a fishing vessel as well as a water-based cabana.

Because the pontoon is so versatile, it represents a huge revenue opportunity for those involved with manufacturing and sales. For instance, a pontoon can be–and often is–decked out with high-performance motors along with marine-sized refrigerators and appliances. Consequently, they are a revenue mainstay for boat sellers capable of customizing to customer needs.

Top 10 Must-know Statistics

  1. Fishing by the minute – Fishing boats mark an enormous slice of the pie when it comes to sales. In fact, 2021 will beat 2019 boat sales by a hefty two percent. This brings the number of projected boat sales to approximately 285,900 boats. That amounts to 782 boats sold per day. This total amounts to approximately one boat sold every other minute.
  2. Fuel – Marine fuel will become safer throughout 2021 and beyond in that sulfur emissions, for the first time in history, will be capped at just .5 percent of total exhaust volume.
  3. 100 percent – Renewable diesel fuel will continue to dominate the marine-fuel market, and the surprising thing about this type of diesel fuel is that it is 100-percent renewable. It achieves this lofty height of environmental consciousness in that it is made from vegetable oils.
  4. Safety – 2021 is projected to be two to three percent safer than preceding years. In fact, death rates are expected to peak at a mere 600 deaths annually.
  5. Safe boating by the numbers – Although boating is becoming safer, drownings are projected to make up the majority of boating-related deaths due to boaters not wearing life preservers or flotation devices. This lack of precaution stems from drinking and underestimating the possibility of going overboard. Additionally, both swimming fatigue and swimming while alone contribute to the statistic that 71 percent of all boat-related accidents in 2021 will be due to drowning as a result of not wearing a flotation device. Although the number of deaths in general is projected to cap at approximately 600, this number could be lowered to approximately 150 to 180 people if boaters ensured everyone wore a life preserver.
  6. Affordability is relative – The average boat sale is a whopping $146,904. This number is derived from the boating industry revenue of $42,000,000,000 divided by the projected number of boats sold, which tops out at 285,900. Note: this number might be somewhat skewed because expensive boats, such as yachts, can tilt the data upward with only a few sales.
  7. Setting sail – Aukland, New Zealand is known as the city of sails as it boasts more boats per person than anywhere else. In fact, the number of actual boats owned projected for 2021 tops at 960,000 boats, which represents nearly one boat for every three people.
  8. Safe swimming – Unfortunately, because of alcohol and the nature of boats not staying in one place as they float around the surface of the water, over 170 deaths are projected to result from head injuries due to propeller strikes. It is not clear whether the boat drifts into swimmers or whether swimmers surface into or dive beneath the boat where the accident occurs.
  9. A boat is not a car – The observation that a boat is not a car is obvious, but knowing something is true is not the same as having the experience and the muscle memory necessary to successfully steer a boat safely. Consequently, the primary cause of accidents in the boating industry is collision between two boats. These collisions result in a 60-percent chance of being injured but only .47-percent chance of dying.
  10. Timing is everything – In terms of being injured, Saturday represents the most dangerous day of the week. In 2021, on this day of the week, there will be a projected 800 to 900 injuries and between 150 and 175 deaths. You might think that night-time boating will result in the most accidents, but the most dangerous time to be on the water is between 2:30 pm and 4:30 pm when over 800 to 900 accidents are expected.