By Ryan Kloppe
From raising a boat’s sails on the wide-open ocean to spending a day cruising the lake, recreational boating has been more popular than ever over the last few years. Recreational boating saw record sales in 2020, with more Americans spending time on the water to escape from the hustle and bustle on land.
According to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), recreational boating/fishing was the leading contributor to the country’s $689 billion outdoor recreation economy in 2020. Consumer interest and demand for recreational boating is still high, especially in the pontoon boat market.
Pontoons Setting the Pace
The pontoon market has demonstrated remarkable growth since 2008, when the financial crisis resulted in declines across the boating industry. According to data from Statistical Surveys Inc. (SSI), a Trader Interactive brand, pontoon boats, second to personal watercraft, have been a leading segment in the recreational boating industry over the last decade.
In 2021, pontoon boats made up 22% of total marine units registered that year, outperforming others in the main powerboat segment. For example, aluminum fishing and runabout boat registrations each declined 14%, from 2020 to 2021, whereas pontoon boats only saw a 5% dip over the same period of time.
SSI data also reveals that 2021 pontoon registrations were some of the highest we’ve seen over the past 10 years. This includes a 16% increase from 2019 (57,287) to 2021 (66,280) when other recreational boat segments saw declines.
The Popularity of Pontoons
Pontoon growth can be attributed to the manufacturers continuing to add features which make pontoons a very versatile boat.
Pontoon boats have seen great advancements to transform from the simple aluminum platforms they once were. Today, these all-purpose boats are the ultimate vessels for on-the-water relaxation and recreation, with manufacturers adding innovative features and dynamic designs to appeal to every type of water lover.
The success of pontoon boats compared to other powerboat segments could also indicate boaters converting to a more versatile watercraft that also has outboard power. Pontoons are now being manufactured with high horsepower engines, including three-tube models, for increased performance. The idea of how to utilize a pontoon boat has expanded from simply a vessel for lounging or partying to a boat that’s also powerful enough for water sports as well.
Emerging Pontoon Markets
Pontoons have always been popular in specific lake markets. According to SSI data, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin are consistently the top states for national pontoon registrations, which isn’t surprising given the states’ proximity to the Great Lakes and abundance of in-land lakes. However, pontoon boats are also gaining popularity in new markets.
We’re seeing growth in Florida and North Carolina the past couple of years. Both states have shown double-digit growth year over year. As of October 2022, SSI’s 12-month rolling stats for national registrations show Florida (4,615) edging out Wisconsin (4,533), while just under Minnesota (4,767). Texas has also seen steady growth, on a 12-month rolling basis, from 2018 to 2021.
It’s no coincidence that these six states also led the nation in new powerboat, engine, trailer, and accessories sales in 2020. According to data from the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA), Florida generated $4.3 billion in sales, followed by Texas ($2.4), Michigan ($1.3), North Carolina ($1.2), Minnesota ($1.1), and Wisconsin ($967 million). Pontoons are quickly gaining traction and increasing popularity in these leading boat markets.
As we approach the end of 2022, industry experts are anticipating another strong year for recreational boat sales, particularly pontoons. While the overall year over year growth will be down compared to record numbers in 2020 and 2021, the pontoon market will remain strong for 2022 and beyond. It appears to be full speed ahead for the pontoon market.
Ryan Kloppe has been with Statistical Surveys Inc. (SSI), a Trader Interactive brand, since 2012. He has 25 years of sales experience in the marine, banking, and medical industries. While at SSI, Ryan has consistently increased sales year over year, while developing and maintaining successful business relationships. Ryan’s work can be seen in multiple trade publications that are released on a monthly and quarterly basis. Ryan holds a Bachelor of Business Administration from Grand Valley State University. Ryan’s exceptional work ethic and attention to detail has rewarded him with a very successful sales career.