Record-setting boat sales continue; what’s selling and why

MBIA estimates nearly 50 percent of all people in Michigan participate in boating each year, and many of these enthusiasts attended the recently-held winter boat shows to purchase new boats. Dealers exhibiting at these shows reported strong sales activity, and the National Marine Manufacturers Association reported new boat sales up again in 2018, making it the ninth consecutive year of growth for Michigan and the rest of the country.

Boaters know, if they want to customize their new boat it is important to purchase early, but if you did not make it to one of the winter boat shows and are still interested in a boat purchase, it’s not too late. However, the sooner you get to a boat dealer the better to see what is available in inventory and to assure you start the season boating, not shopping.

What’s selling?

Boat registration data from all 50 states shows that ski and wake boats led the growth in the powerboat category in 2018, reporting 10.5 percent growth and 10,612 registered units, according to Statistical Surveys Inc., a Michigan firm that tracks boat registrations. Personal watercraft also had an impressive year with 9.2 percent growth and nearly 70,000 units registered in 2018. The ever-popular pontoon boat segment saw 6 percent growth, with nearly 60,000 units registered in 2018. Aluminum fishing boats were up 5.6 percent, jet boats 3.4 percent, and outboard fiberglass 11 – 50 feet were up 3.8 percent.

What is driving sales?

Innovation continues to be a primary driver, not only related to boat performance, but also to engines, electronics, and supporting products and services. New model boats include features which dramatically enhance comfort and functionality, improve performance and efficiencies, and facilitate enjoyment with family and friends.

Another driver is the availability of more entry level and crossover boats, and the fact that boats can be financed much longer than cars. This entices first-time and younger boaters to the water. Low fuel prices and interest rates are also helping, as is the strong housing market and the availability of retail loans. Finally, more buyers are aware that Michigan has a Sales Tax on the Difference law that allows boat buyers to pay sales tax only on the difference between the value of the trade in boat and the new boat being purchased, and that larger boats may qualify for second home interest deduction.

Boating brings a $7.8 billion economic impact to the state’s economy each year, and Michigan remains the third largest marine market and third in the country for boat registrations. This is quite impressive considering we are a four-season state. If you are one of these boating enthusiasts, you understand the joy. If you are not yet, we welcome you to discover boating at one of our MBIA member dealer locations listed at or at

See you on the water!

Nicki Polan is the executive director of the Michigan Boating Industries Association and a Michigan State Waterways Commissioner.

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