More evidence that the U.S. economy is climbing out of the recession: Sales of new recreational powerboats are estimated to be up by 10 percent in 2012, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association.
"We are pleased to see the industry growing," NMMA president Thom Dammrich said. "Our projection is the industry will grow in 2013 by another 5 to 10 percent."
Dammrich said the level of growth depends on conditions like consumer confidence and the housing market -- and sustained increases in Americans' participation in outdoor recreation.
The 2012 projections represent the first signs of steady growth across the powerboat market since the economy hit bottom in 2008-09 and new boat production dropped 80 percent. Even now, Dammrich, said production and retail sales are only about half of what they were during the peak in 2007.
Fueling the growth in new boat sales are purchases in the 15- to 26-foot range, which make up 96 percent of the 12.4 million boats registered in the U.S., according to the NMMA. While the numbers are up in almost every segment of the industry, the toppers are pontoon boats.
"Twenty-five percent of all boats sold today are pontoon boats," Dammrich said. "They're a very versatile boat, very stable. They can be large and roomy. You can fish. You can swim. You can get the family out for the day."
Dammrich said the only category that has not turned around is stern-drive inboards over 30 feet. Larger and more expensive than the typical family boat, these models are often purchased through home-equity loans, he said. Another factor is this year's requirement that stern-drive inboard engines have catalytic converters, which increases the cost significantly.
In 2011, boating participation rose 10 percent to 83 million -- the largest proportion of adults who went boating since 1997, according to the NMMA. Those boaters who liked the sport enough to buy their own watercraft found very few late-model, pre-owned boats for sale because of the drop in production during the recession.
"Those people are going to end up buying a new boat," Dammrich said.
One of the key gauges of the industry's recovery will be the Miami International Boat Show scheduled Feb. 14-18, where manufacturers traditionally unveil their latest innovations. More than 2,000 boats are expected to be displayed.
"I think there will be more new product than we've seen in a number of years," Dammrich said.
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