Stronger 2004 season likely

Several recently released statistics, some provided by Yamaha Motors Corporation and others from Michigan-based Statistical Surveys, Inc, seem to indicate increased potential for the 2004 buying season in both the jet boat and personal watercraft markets.
Add in the early season success of shows like the Ft. Lauderdale boat show, and the marine industry appears to be heading into 2004 with more enthusiasm than we have seen in years.

Potential In Jet Boat Market
A renewed focus on the potential for growth in the jet boat market has been obvious in recent seasons, with Sea-Doo continuing to expand its jet boat line, Yamaha redesigning its jet-powered offerings with award-winning results, and even Polaris joining the fray with a boat built in conjunction with both Baja and Mercury Marine.
Sugar Sand Marine, now part of the IMAR Group, also appears to be in a period of growth, with new designs and an expanding dealer network.
According to statistics provided by Yamaha Motors Corporation, the money being doled out by these manufacturers appears to be well spent. What Yamaha refers to as the so-called “family fun” segment of the boating market — a category that includes runabouts, deckboats, ski boats, and jet boats — is relatively stable at about 74,000 units sold per year.
Of this number, the runabout segment is by far the leader, with approximately 45,900 units; ski boats and deckboats total 11,300 and 10,800, respectively. Jet boats now hover around 5,300 units, but many industry insiders see the jet-powered segment growing at the expense of sterndrive-powered offerings, as consumers increase their acceptance of the jet drive’s potential.
Innovative seating layouts and deck designs also continue to attract attention. Yamaha’s 230 already has won accolades for its clever stern seating area, which enhances the boat’s appeal at anchor by offering a seating area on the swim platform, complete with removable table for snacks and drinks.
This growth potential seems to be more of a reality for Barney’s Motorsports in St. Petersburg, Florida. “We seem to be doing a little better in sales, yes,” said Barney’s owner Ray Hempstead, who saw his October sales in jet boats more than double over the same period last year.
“The product is getting a little better, and there seems to be more interest in it then there has been. It’s a little hard to read because we’re fortunate that there seems to be a little more interest in all our toys. But we carry Sea-Doo and Yamaha both, and we’re only seeing increases right at the moment thankfully.
“Sea-Doo has done a good job with their product line, Yamaha has, too. They’re attractive, and I think that they’re going to do pretty well. I’m happy where we are, particularly for this time of year.”

Dealers Face Challenges
According to Hempstead, however, the challenges at the dealer level are many. Unlike PWC, jet boats take up much more space. Keeping them outdoors on the lot requires daily maintenance.
“When you start talking about 30 grand, customers don’t want to come get it when it’s all faded, or full of leaves and trash. It requires a pretty big facility to put those things inside. Otherwise, you’ve got to clean them every single day. I just don’t see that happening at the average motorcycle dealership.”
Jet boats can also be a challenge at the service level, requiring technicians trained to handle the boat’s unique service needs. “I think the bigger dealers who are structured to handle them are going to do pretty well,” said Hempstead.
Yamaha also offered some interesting insights into just who the “typical” family fun customer is. With an average age of 45 and income of $100,000, 85% of buyers will be married and average 2.14 children.
Their focus? Spending time outdoors in calm riding conditions, while using their boats for a variety of tasks, chief amongst which is entertaining and socializing with friends.
Further good news for the jet boat market is that by far the greatest demand is in the 18-23-foot, “family fun” segment of the marine industry, with over 35,000 boats sold, compared to less than 5,000 in the 15’-17’ range, and approximately 10,000 in the 24’-26’ category.

September Sales Strong
The month of September also produced promising news, as sales numbers indicate that the rebound in boat sales continued to accelerate into the fall.
According to Statistical Surveys, volume in the 14′-and-up fiberglass segment rose 21.89% in September, and is currently running 7.3% ahead for the third quarter of the year.
The data — generated from 11 leading boating states including Florida, California, Texas, Michigan, South Carolina, and Washington — indicates that fiberglass boats in the 17-29′ range (the same span that includes almost all of the jet boat offerings currently on the market) gained 28% in September, and are running 10.3% ahead for the quarter.
Said Statistical Surveys Vice President for Marine Richard L. DuMont, “the figures are all looking very good.”
Even better news for the overall market is that the gains were widespread, including the closely watched personal watercraft segment.
After a much-publicized steep decline in the mid-’90s, the industry finally appeares to have leveled in recent years.
Sales surged in September, however, with a 28% increase. Personal watercraft sales were also up 7.6% for the quarter.
While DuMont cautioned that the states surveyed were historically the largest boating states, and often outperform the market as a whole, he feels strongly that September will long be remembered.
“Only the final numbers for September will show how well the market performed in the third quarter,” said DuMont, “but I have no doubt it will be the best quarter so far in 2003.” he said.

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