Boating industry navigates out of rough economic seas

Boating is back.

The Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, set for Oct.30 to Nov.3, is poised for its best year since the recession.

“We’re very excited with the prospects,” said Andrew Doole, senior vice president for Show Management, which produces the annual event for the Marine Industries Association of South Florida, the show’s owner.

Doole said strong boat sales throughout the summer reinforced signs of solid demand. “The American buyer is back,” Doole said.

The show will have pleasure vessels ranging from paddle boats to 250-foot motor yachts. More than 1,000 boats will be on display in the water at various locations and hundreds more on land.

The National Marine Manufacturers Association, a trade group, expects “continued steady growth” this year, with retail sales of powerboats increasing 5 percent to 7 percent from 2013. For the first half of 2014, new powerboat registrations were up 7 percent from 2013, NMMA said.

The recreational marine industry’s sales peaked at $9.8 billion in 2006 then plunged 49 percent to $5 billion in 2010, according to NMMA, which tracks small boats and yachts up to about 80 feet. Since then, boating sales have been recovering gradually, reaching $6.5 billion in 2013.

The upper end of the market is also well on the mend. “Overall, it’s not back to pre-recession levels, but it’s significantly better than it had been,” said Kitty McGowan, president of the U.S. Superyacht Association in Fort Lauderdale.

Florida is the No.1 state in sales of new powerboats, engines, trailers and accessories, with sales totaling $1.9 billion in 2013, up 16 percent from 2012, NMMA said.

“It appears to be trending up nicely,” said Phil Purcell, executive director of the Marine Industries Association of South Florida.

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