Outdoors: Watercraft sales booming heading into spring

Ray Gildow

Contributing Writer

With a growing economy and high consumer confidence, the watercraft industry is expecting a booming boat show season. The National Marine Manufacturers Association is predicting a 6 percent growth in sales of new powerboats in 2018. This includes boats of all types, pontoons and motors.

Florida topped all states in sales in 2016 with $2.5 billion in sales, while Minnesota posted $710 million in sales in 2016, up 9 percent from 2015. The close of 2017 marked the sixth consecutive year of growth in new boats sales and recreational boating expenditures according to the association. National annual sales totaled $36 billion in 2016 and are expected to climb by 3 percent to $37 billion in 2017. Minnesota ranks fourth in total marine industry sales.

Not only are sales getting bigger, so are the sizes of every marine device on the water. Bigger boats, bigger pontoons and tritoons, bigger trailers and much bigger motors. Seven Marine, located in Germantown, Wisconsin, is now making a 627-horse outboard motor. Really! It can be purchased for a mere $90,000.

Boat enthusiasts used to talk about how good a motor was by how fast it could get out of the “hole,” meaning how fast it could get up and go full speed. With some of the new outboards the question is “Can you stay in the boat?” Mercury Motors, one of the real icons of the fishing industry, has just introduced a new 400-horse outboard, the 400R, that is now on the market with rumors of a 600-horse outboard motor coming soon. The 400R will be selling for around $35,000 – $36,000.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are the introductions of new electric motors for running powerboats. This technology is really evolving quickly. A number of companies have joined the competition to produce an electric motor, up to 80-horse power, that can power a big boat without all the extra weight from batteries. Some of the new designs can power 18- to 20-foot boats at speeds up to 30 miles per hour with almost no sound. Not only are they quiet, they look odd. These new electric motors are a fraction of the size of a standard outboard motor. From a distance it almost looks like there is no motor on the boat.

One of the fastest growing segments of the marine industry is the rapid growth of pontoon sales. These rigs are getting bigger, more luxurious and faster. It is not unusual to see a pontoon flying down the lake with twin 300-horse power motors hanging on the back. Tritoons, pontoons with one extra tube, are also a fast-growing part of this industry. Pontoons and tritoons have come a long way from the tippy 16-foot pontoons I remember as a kid.

One thing is for certain. The growth in the marine industry is good news for Minnesota and Wisconsin, with both states playing a big role in the production of motors, boats and pontoons. Now, if most of us could just figure out how to afford all this stuff!

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