No end-market served by the composites industry was harder hit by the recession than marine. Since 2008, demand for boats of all types has dropped dramatically. U.S.-based BoatingIndustry.com hosted a webinar in August in which three speakers agreed that the marine segment could take a while to return to the peaks seen in 2005-2006. Jim Petru, director of industry statistics and research at the National Marine Manufacturers Assn. (NMMA, Chicago, Ill.); Peter Houseworth, director of client services at Info-Link (Miami, Fla.); and Jon Burnham, editorial director at Dominion Marine Media (Norfolk, Va.) noted a number of positives: Boating participation has been up 32 percent in the past five years, 81 percent of boat owners have annual incomes of less than $100,000, powerboat sales were up 10 percent and sailboat sales were up 29 percent in 2012. Further, the total U.S. recreational marine craft sales were $35.6 billion in 2012, up from $32.4 billion in 2011, but still shy of the 2006 peak of $39.5 billion.
That said, they spied troubling trends as well: Each year, the average age of boat owners increases by six months. Tradtional powerboat sales are in decline, with 157,000 units sold in 2012, compared to more than 500,000 units sold in 1988. The average powerboat age today is 21 years, compared to 15 years in 1997, and 74 percent of sailboats are more than 20 years old. The total number of marine vessels registered in the U.S. hasn’t changed in 15 years, despite a 25 percent population increase, and 7 out of 10 first-time boat buyers sell their boat and leave the sport. Lastly, aging baby boomers, a long-time major consumer of boats, are less active in the sport.
Analysts suggest that the aging fleet might signal that consumers are on the verge of upgrading to new boats, propelling the market into high-growth. Petru noted during the webinar that overall boat sales correlate to consumer confidence. Because that confidence is coming back slowly and the market is awash with quality used boats for sale, the marine industry’s growth will likely continue to be slow.