Sailboat Study Reveals Optimism

Exports were up, imports were down, production fell slightly, but sailboat manufacturers are optimistic about the year ahead.
Those were some of the key findings as The Sailing Company released the results of its annual “State of the Industry” sailing study during a breakfast presentation Feb. 18 at Miami’s Bayside Marketplace.
The presentation actually covered three studies conducted by Hilton Head, S.C.-based Rick Walter MarketResearch Associates, but the 2004 edition of the North American Sailing Study, now in its 17th year, was the main attraction. Walter said 90 percent (132 of 146) of the North American sailboat manufacturers his company had identified in North America, responded to the study.
Thirty-one percent of those companies said they had increased production in 2004, 21 percent said their production went down, and 48 percent reported production was essentially the same as in 2003.
Walter said data from those companies indicated that aggregate sailboat production fell 1 percent in 2004, from a total of 16,302 sailboats produced in 2003 to 16,075 produced in 2004. Production of was up 9 percent for sailboats 20 to 35 feet in length and 7 percent for sailboats 36’ and over. But a 4-percent decline in sailboats 19’ and below, which accounted for 78 percent of the sailboats built in North America in 2004, more than offset those gains.
Production of multihull sailboats fell slightly, from 2,304 to 2,271, but the drop was much less precipitous than it had been the two previous years.
The estimated value of the sailboats produced in 2004 was $678 million dollars — with the 424 boats manufactured in the 41’ to 45’ range contributing $175.8 million to that total — the highest dollar value reported by any of the eight segments tracked.
Exports of sailboats rose significantly in 2004, up to 3,195 from 2,194 the year before. The favorable exchange rates that helped fuel the rise also drove down the number of imports, which fell 14 percent, to 331 from 387 in 2003.
The number of full-time employees in the sailboat production workforce (3,085) was nearly the same as in 2003, when there were 3,147 full-time employees. The study found that 60 percent of the companies in the industry had 10 full-time employees or less, while 8 percent had more than 75.
The builders surveyed predicted a 13 percent growth in production for 2005, with the total number of sailboats forecast to be built this year set at 18,185. The largest increase in production was predicted for the 20’-35’ segment, which builders believed would grow by 18 percent this year. Each of the other two segments (0’-19’ and 36’ or more) forecast a growth of 12 percent.
Walter wrapped up his presentation by telling those assembled that a great opportunity currently exists for the sailing industry to attract new consumers, with the many baby boomers that are now starting to retire, and given the ongoing Grow Boating Initiative and the present economic climate.
“The cruising lifestyle is up for grabs,” he said. “It’s not about selling a boat, it’s about selling a lifestyle. It’s not too late to sell baby boomers on the lifestyle.”

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