Personal watercraft manufacturers strive to keep users on the water, longer
By Adam Quandt
Now in its eighth consecutive year of growth, the personal watercraft (PWC) of today continuously shatter expectations of who they’re for and what they’re designed for.
Manufacturers all around speak of consistent growth between both current users moving up or trying new platforms and first-time buyers and users.
“This segment of the marine industry is absolutely growing,” BRP Sea-Doo director of marketing Mark Lacroix said. “We’re seeing a very healthy mix of customers upgrading and first-time buyers in the sport, which is imperative to forward progress.”
Numbers according to data from Statistical Surveys, Inc. (SSI) show an approximate 3-4% growth for 2019 across the board for PWC, with roughly 72,000 units registered.
The segment continues to be led by Sea-Doo and Yamaha, with about 52% and 42% of the market share, according to SSI data.
“We’re up 9% from the 2019 season over the previous year and we’re already seeing continued growth for the 2020 product cycle,” Yamaha WaterCraft general manager Bryan Seti said.
Part of the reason for this growth? Manufacturers are working hard to redesign what a PWC can do.
“It was time to make customers look at PWC differently and change the current mindset of what you can do on a watercraft,” Seti said. “On top of that, we had to design new products to boast new uses.”
“We as manufacturers need to continue to make PWC more practical and easy to use,” Lacroix added. “Users can run out of things to do with a PWC rather quickly, so we need to change that mindset and show consumers all of the possibilities watercraft use can lead to.”
Designing for 2020
With both leading manufacturers taking an approach to redefine what a PWC can do, each segment leader took a different approach to designing for the 2020 model year, yet both maintain the same goal: keep users out on the water, longer.
Sea-Doo took to a redesign of its family recreation segment, by focusing on its GTI platform.
“Since introducing the Spark and the rec-lite category of PWC, we’ve seen a huge number of first-time buyers entre the sport,” Lacroix said. “Which means it was time to focus on the next step for those who entered with the Spark and move them up. That’s why we focused on the GTI platform for 2020.”
The refreshed platform offers riders new, enhanced engine options, a configurable deck for a variety of activities on the water, various options including a Bluetooth sound system and much more.
“It’s all about extending the usage of PWC,” Lacroix said. “Consumers want freedom on the water and watercraft can certainly supply that. Today’s PWC has to be equipped and ready for a whole day on the water, not just one or two hours of riding.”
Across a variety of its platforms, Sea-Doo has worked at keeping users out on the water longer with the help of the adaptation of BRP’s LinQ system, which allows users to create an almost custom vehicle. Linq offers the use of various accessories like coolers, dry bags and fuel caddies to make PWC riding an all-day affair.
Lacroix said that focusing on certain platforms one at a time allows Sea-Doo to take successes from past platforms and apply them to others in their own unique way, as well as put the time and care into creating the optimum experience on each platform.
“There’s a natural refresh cycle that Sea-Doo goes through if you look at our history,” Lacroix added. “We take our product users through a journey of experiences.”
On the flip side, Seti said that Yamaha worked on improving its Wave Runners across all platforms.
“We believe we have to deliver on products that resonate with our customers, on all levels of our products,” Seti said.
From a unique storage solution for the VX and EX series Wave Runners, to fishing setups and graphics refreshes across the entire product line, Seti said Yamaha aimed at changing things up for all customers in 2020.
“We’ve seen a big shift in the way people use watercraft,” Seti said. “Users are getting more specialized in things like fishing, while others have come to expect multi-use platforms with sound systems and other accessories.”
“All in all, riders want to be out on machines all day now and we as manufacturers need to meet those wants,” Seti added.
In seeing a shift in how today’s PWC are used, manufacturers are noticing a larger spread in who’s using their machines.
Lacroix said that over the last year or so, Sea-Doo has seen between 30% and 50% of its market growth come in the form of new entrants to the sport. “A definite sign of a healthy industry,” he added.
Seti mentioned a flattening of the age of the average buyer, but noted that it’s important to watch who’s buying the product and who’s using it.
“Very often watercraft serve as ‘baby bait’ purchased by parents or grandparents to get kids to come spend time at the family cabin,” Seti said. “However, with the creation of the rec-lite segment of the industry, we’ve seen an influx of younger, first-time buyers.”
Sea-Doo has also seen its demographics change to the younger side with the help of the rec-lite category. Lacroix said Sea-Doo has had a “huge wave” of millennials coming into the sport.
“The Spark has been a wonderful gateway or hook into the PWC world,” Lacroix said. “I would go as far to say it was one of our best decisions in the last 20 years.”
Both Lacroix and Seti made note of the widening demographics of PWC users due to the spotlight on using the machines for fishing.
“PWC offer access to plenty of fishing spots not accessible via boat,” Seti said. “Not to mention the ease of use under solo operation and so much more.”
Manufacturer optimism and indicator data for 2019 continue to foresee another prosperous year ahead in 2020 and some believe even beyond.
“We don’t see anything really slowing down in the next three years,” Seti said of Yamaha. “Our product plan is in a very healthy place and we have a pretty ambitious product cycle coming up in the next five years, so big things are yet to come.”
Despite following a somewhat predictable refresh cycle, Lacroix said big things are also in the pipeline for Sea-Doo. “Water is a great social enabler,” Lacroix added. “We know that people want to have these experiences and the water is the perfect place for them. With that in mind, we must continue to provide customers a platform to exemplify these experiences.”
Personal Watercraft have come such a long way. They are an affordable way for those that can't afford larger boats to get out on the water while making long-range trips possible. The versatility of today's PWC is also lending itself for a wide variety of traditional and not-so-traditional platforms like fishing, wakeboarding, and much more. It's exciting to see what the future holds for the PWC community!