2020 has been challenging—and the biggest reason for this is the unexpected occurrence of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a global phenomenon, the entire world has been affected by the virus in one way or another. As such, people worldwide have had to transition to various changes in their daily lives. From taking classes online to working from home, the pandemic has led to the need for the so-called new normal.


Businesses are also not exempt from this, as the pandemic has forced companies to stop conducting business as usual early on in the year. Some industries, like tourism and entertainment, have been badly affected by mobility restrictions. However, as a whole, the economic recessions and downturns in different countries have caused businesses to plummet, with many still recovering from the impact.


Interestingly, the COVID-19 pandemic saw an increase in the number of people engaging in recreational boating. Boat sales have risen starting the summer of 2020, prompting questions about how the industry will fare as the economy recovers. Take a look at the 2020 recap of the boating industry to learn about the trends, statistics, and outlook on it.


Boat Sales Hit By Rocky Start, But Recovered in the Summer


Like many other businesses, the boating industry was hit hard by the pandemic. It became vulnerable and at risk due to the travel restrictions, stay-at-home orders, and quarantines that have kept people at home. According to the Marine CEO Sentiment Report, 81% of boat manufacturers saw an overall decline in sales in the first quarter, while 15% of manufacturers permanently shut down operations.


Surprisingly, however, the second quarter saw a significant turn of events, with boating sales increasing during the summer. Total boat sales increased by 59% in May compared to April, and some businesses have reported over 40% year-on-year growth for the months of May and June. People have learned to navigate the situation by looking for alternative hobbies to spend their time. Boating has turned into one of the most popular recreational activities during this time as it allows people to practice social distancing while having fun.


Vacationers, in particular, have turned to recreational boating due to air travel restrictions, which have put a halt on many people’s travel plans. Due to the pandemic, many have opted to leave the city and find solace in islands and lakes to get some calm out of their busy lives. Sales for new and used boats have surged significantly, with the former growing by 30% and the latter growing by 74%. Cumulative data also shows that sales for personal watercrafts, fishing boats, and jet boats have all increased this year compared to last year.


While boat sales may have peaked in the summer, reports show that the momentum has started to slow in September. The month registered slower shipments, which led to lower supply, but this is expected to pick up in the following months.


Surge in First-time Buyers


The rise in boating sales can be attributed to many buyers, but first-time buyers are one of the largest contributors. Boat buyers vary in characteristics, with some being first-time buyers looking for a chance to get out of the house and others being former boat owners who want to rekindle the hobby. The effect of the pandemic has come as a surprise to many as the industry boomed during this time. With boating recognized as a COVID-safe outdoor activity, many have turned to this new outlet.


The trend in sales from first-time buyers began in the summer and continued to grow through fall. So far, 2020 has seen about 25,000 more boat purchases than 2019, and 24,000 of these can be attributed to first-time buyers.


While the surge is certainly beneficial and profitable for dealers, it will also be important to help first-time buyers get acquainted with boating in general. They will need guidance in the types of boats and where they can be used, proper maintenance procedures, and other important protocols to help them get started. Educating them on safety guidelines will also be crucial to ensure they have smooth sailing experiences.


Boat Dealers Face Shortage in Supply


With the unprecedented increase in boat sales starting the second quarter of 2020, several boat dealers faced shortages. Some companies and manufacturers have expressed how unexpected the turn of events were, with many experiencing such a high demand for the first time in their many years of working in the industry. One salesman in Marina del Ray Yacht Sales noted that he used to sell 11 boats per month, as opposed to two or three before the pandemic.


Due to the all-time high demand, many dealerships have sold out of their products, giving rise to the problem of shortages. While the pandemic may have led to an increase in sales, it has made procurement of boats more difficult since several manufacturers were able to sustain their operations. For manufacturers that managed to continue amidst the pandemic, several disruptions have slowed down their production, leading to lower inventory levels.


Aside from manufacturing restrictions, lack of personnel has also proven to be a problem for dealers. Since the rise in demand was unexpected and unpredictable, several boat dealers are struggling to find enough manpower to meet the demand and provide appropriate customer service.


Coordinating Boat Sales During the Pandemic


2020 has certainly disrupted many industries, with the boating industry being no exception. While sales may have skyrocketed, dealers and sellers were still required to adjust to the changes, especially due to physical distancing restrictions. This year has particularly highlighted the growing importance of online sales and marketing. Customers prefer digital and contactless buying methods now, more than ever, due to the emphasis placed on health.


As a result, automated payments, online management and scheduling tools, and virtual communication platforms have all been important in managing sales amid the pandemic. As much as possible, customers want to limit contact with the purchasing process. Due to stay-at-home measures, many also begin their research on the internet.


As boat dealers and buyers venture into this new and uncertain situation, proper communication will be key. Whether it be matters regarding new boat sales, service repairs, or getting parts to complete repairs, dealers will have to communicate realistic expectations to customers.


First-time buyers, in particular, tend to have unrealistic expectations about how the process goes. Failure to set expectations can cause them to have negative perceptions on dealerships, making communication an integral part of the seller-buyer relationship.


Challenges Brought About by COVID-19


Several boating dealers have cited what they consider to be a buying frenzy earlier this year, particularly in the month of April and onwards. During this time, restrictions had started to ease slightly, and people saw boating as the perfect opportunity to recreate while social distancing. As a result, sales surged and the number of people with new boats and on the water increased significantly.


Evidently, the pandemic has led to an unprecedented positive outcome for the boating industry as it prompted many to learn about the activity. However, the shift in demand has also presented some challenges for boat dealerships.


In the short-term, the challenge will be forecasting sales to determine appropriate inventory levels, as well as staffing requirements to accommodate the demand. While the current situation has led to a rise in boat demand, the industry’s trajectory in the coming years is still not concrete. Changes are also expected to ensue in the coming months and year, now that air travel restrictions are slowly easing and people are starting to travel once again.


In the long-term, the challenge will mainly revolve around how the boating experience and business can be improved. This will include refining manufacturing processes to make them more efficient, developing new and innovative products, improving the customer experience, and many others. Overall, the prospects for the future have to do with how sellers and dealers can continue to promote the boating culture and convince people of the hobby.


Indeed, the pandemic has led to the need for a new normal, making it infeasible for businesses to run their operations as usual. Given the uncertainty on how things will unfold, there remains to be several questions. One of the most important, which remains to be unanswered, is whether the sales surge caused by the pandemic will be sustained in the coming years.


Innovation to Drive Boating Industry


The sales frenzy experienced by boat dealers this year has prompted many new market opportunities to emerge. For one, the industry is witnessing several new advancements and innovations in technological features to promote the boating experience. Nowadays, customers are becoming more reliant on automated controls to avoid having to spend too much time on learning how to operate a boat.


Some innovative features include lightweight engines and power systems, automatic controls, and digital throttle. With the rate at which boating sales, it is expected that these technological advances will be driving the industry in the coming years.

Boating Industry Trends to Anticipate for 2021


The global pandemic has caused much of the dynamics in the economy to shift. Though oating sales increased sometime in the second quarter, dealers and sellers must still be cautious about the market’s volatility. As the year 2020 nears its end, several trends are expected to drive the boating market for 2021.


  1. Fishing

Boats have exploded in popularity for many reasons, but fishing is undoubtedly one of the top uses for these vehicles. Thus, fishing boat sales are expected to regain momentum in 2021 after they dropped in 2019. Related fishing accessories will also accompany the boats and are projected to have favorable growth for the coming year.


  1. Rentals

Aside from boat sales, boat rentals have also risen in popularity during the pandemic. Many people have found solace in spending a day or two in the water after months of staying at home, thus leading to increased boat rentals. Organizations like the Center of Disease and Control (CDC) have provided safety guidelines to practice social distancing and protect one’s health.


With that said, the positive growth in the boat rental industry is expected to continue through 2026. Medium-sized boats ranging from 28 to 45 feet in length tend to be the most popular and in-demand category for sales, boats larger than this have observably lower demand for rentals.


  1. Affordability

The pandemic has caused consumer perception and priorities to shift significantly, so customers are now more discerning about their expenses. Fortunately, boats have started to become more affordable due to more advanced technologies that can boost efficiency in production and manufacturing. However, with that said, affordability may be relative to the consumer, so it still depends on the company’s target market and product offers.


  1. Family Activities

Boating demand increased rapidly for various reasons, and family activities serve as one of the top growth drivers for revenues and sales. As a result, family-friendly and family-oriented boats are expected to remain popular. This projection will also prove to be valuable for manufacturers as boats like the pontoon can be customized and innovated in various ways.



The boating industry is one of the industries that saw an unexpected rise in sales due to the pandemic. Such a change was coupled with challenges like the lack of workers due to lay-offs, shortages due to manufacturers closing operations, and many others. However, on the flipside, it has also led to many opportunities to get more buyers to incorporate boating into their lifestyle.