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Boat sales rising in Minnesota, across U.S.

Minnesotans purchased more than $1 billion worth of new boats in 2020, with more expected in 2022.

Boats displayed at a boat show
Boat sales are skyrocketing across the U.S. during the pandemic and many prospective buyers are checking out new models at boat shows across the country this winter. The Duluth Sport Show is set for Feb. 17-20 at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center.
Contributed / National Marine Manufacturers Association

DULUTH — If you’ll be kicking trailer tires and ogling the shiny new boats at the Duluth Sport Show next week, you won’t be alone.

And the word is you'd better hurry up and pick the model you want or it may not arrive in time for summer fun.

Boat sales continue to sizzle in Minnesota and across the U.S., with near-record sales in recent years and higher sales expected in 2022 as more people hit the water to escape the bonds of the ongoing pandemic.

That’s the report from the National Marine Manufacturers Association, the trade association representing recreational boat, marine engine and accessory manufacturers.

mother and son looking at new boats boat show
Visitors look at new boats at the Duluth Boat, Sport, Travel & RV Show at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center. This year's renamed Duluth Sport show is Feb. 17-20.
Derek Montgomery / 2009 file / Duluth News Tribune

Supply chain shortages for raw materials and parts were an issue in 2021, including for Minnesota boatmakers, but sales still hit 300,000 boats totaling nearly $50 billion nationally, the association noted. That’s down 5% from a record 2020, the first year of the pandemic, but still 7% above the five-year average.


Those sales included everything from water bikes, like personal watercraft, that have soared in popularity with new entrants into the boating world; to pontoon boats, which continue their popularity rise; to the fully loaded $100,000 bass and walleye boats now almost common on Minnesota lakes.

Minnesota ranked fifth in the nation in total boat sales at $1.1 billion in 2020, the most recent year full numbers are available, with Wisconsin close behind in sixth place at $967 million in sales.

The shortage of materials hit the boat industry much as it did the auto industry, slowing down production lines and greatly restricting available units to sell. Many boat dealers had few, if any, boats to show customers, and customers had to make down payments and then wait for months to see their new boat.

“Most of the boat dealers say they will have units to sell at the show. … But we’re still hearing that demand is outpacing supply,” said Chris Navratil, owner of Shamrock Productions, which produces the Duluth and La Crosse, Wisconsin, boat shows.

Industry officials say manufacturing productivity is revving back up to meet demand for new boats, with boat building production nearing pre-pandemic levels as supply chain constraints ease.

"The pandemic created shifts in how Americans prioritize their time, and boating is an activity they’re doing with family and friends to escape from stresses on land,” said Frank Hugelmeyer, association president, in a statement.

Family on boat
Boat sales in Minnesota and across the US. are soaring during the pandemic. And thanks to supply chain problems, demand for new boats has outpaced supply in some areas.
Clint Austin / 2013 file / Duluth News Tribune

The boatmaking industry and associated manufacturing accounts for more than 690,000 jobs in the U.S., Hugelmeyer added. And boating has among the highest economic impacts of any outdoor activity, hitting $689 billion in 2020, surpassing even RVing and hiking for economic impact.

Boat sales in 2022 are expected to be up 3% or more from 2021 levels.


U.S. recreational boating by the numbers

  • Annual U.S. sales of boats, marine products and services totaled $49.3 billion in 2020, up 14% from 2019.
  • It’s not just new boats being sold; an estimated 1.1 million pre-owned boats were sold in 2021.
  • Discover Boating, the industry’s resource hub for those interested in getting started in boating, reports traffic to the site was up 14% in 2021 compared to 2020, and up 91% compared to 2019, pre-pandemic.
  • Some 95% of boats sold in the U.S. are made in the U.S.
  • An estimated 100 million Americans go boating each year.
  • 61% of boat owners have an annual household income of $100,000 or less.
  • 95% of boats on the water in the U.S. are shorter than 26 feet — boats that can be towed by a vehicle to local waterways.

Source: National Marine Manufacturers Association

Highest boat sales by state, 2020

  1. Florida: $4.3 billion, up 28% from 2019.
  2. Texas: $2.4 billion, up 22% from 2019.
  3. Michigan: $1.3 billion, up 12% from 2019.
  4. North Carolina: $1.2 billion, up 24% from 2019.
  5. Minnesota: $1.1 billion, up 14% from 2019.
  6. Wisconsin: $967 million, up 22% from 2019.
  7. New York: $966 million, up 20% from 2019.
  8. California: $948 million, up 17% from 2019.
  9. Georgia: $921 million, up 24% from 2019.
  10.  South Carolina: $859 million, up 20% from 2019.

Source: National Marine Manufacturers Association

States with the most boats

If you think you've noticed more boats on Minnesota's lakes and rivers recently, you're right.

California, Florida and Michigan may have more boats total, thanks to larger overall populations, but Minnesota continues to lead the nation for the number of boats registered per person. And it’s not even close.

According to boatsafe.com , using data from the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Census Bureau, the top 10 recreational boating states, based on registered watercraft per 100,000 people, are:

1. Minnesota: 14,505.
2. South Carolina: 11,161.
3. Wisconsin: 10,444.
4. North Dakota: 8,809.
5. Maine: 8,397.
6. Michigan: 8,066.
7. New Hampshire: 7,077.
8. Alaska: 6,887.
9. Montana: 6,822.
10. Louisiana: 6,790.

Total number of boats registered

  1. California: 1.05 million.
  2. Michigan: 1 million.
  3. Florida: 922,597.
  4. Minnesota: 834,974.
  5. Wisconsin: 650,280.
  6. Texas: 624,390.
  7. New York: 529,732.
  8. Ohio: 413,276.
  9. Illinois: 398,431.
  10. South Carolina: 383,971.

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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