As the first day of Summer 2021 is about to drop on Sunday June 20th (the Summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere lands at exactly 11:31 PM), boaters across the country are clamoring to the water in record numbers to celebrate what is, by all accounts, the start of the biggest boating season in the history of the marine industry. In fact, Memorial Day Weekend 2021 saw a record number of boaters hit the boat ramps early to get a head start on Summer fun.

New Boaters Are Coming Out In Record Numbers

A quick look at some of the data shows us why. According to Boats Group, newcomers are now the largest segment submitting leads for boats online. The company's study matched U.S. leads from Boat Trader, YachtWorld and with purchases and revealed nearly 60% of people submitting leads were first-time buyers. The comprehensive study included data from Info-Link's National Boat Registration Database indicating the company's rate of conversion climbed to 17.5%. That means that one in every six sales leads submitted on a Boats Group portal converted to a boat sale. 

Sea Tow recently conducted a pandemic-influenced survey of 3,500 boaters across the nation who said they plan to "increase their on-water activity this summer" in 2021. Those in the industry may recall that according to last year's 2020 YachtWorld Market Index, sales of brokerage boats in the United States and around the globe increased significantly, with the report showing brokerage transactions rose 13% in 2020 over 2019 in America. Data collected by the National Marine Manufacturers Association revealed sales of new power boats were up 12 percent in 2020.  That equates to over 310,000 power boats sold - a number that the United States hasn’t seen since before the Great Recession. Fast forward to March of 2021 and there was another 57.8% year-over-year increase in boat registrations for vessels under 30 feet in length! That is unprecedented growth.

Family on a sailboat

Family on a sailboat. Photo by Tatiana Twinslol from Pexels.

What Is Driving This Massive Interest In Boating?

Given the many constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic, water activities presented a great socially-acceptable way to get outside and enjoy a bit of nature, even during the most restrictive period of the pandemic. And now, with remote work options becoming more of a dominant mainstream cultural lifestyle, many have the flexibility to spend more time away from the office doing outdoor activities. This has become the new normal on the water. It isn't only experienced boaters out there – new enthusiasts have flooded the market with record numbers and increased demand. 

Specifically, some of the newcomers who are driving this significant industry uptick are women boat shoppers and millennials. This has accelerated the drive towards a greater diversity in boating. Boat Trader's data reveals a stark shift in women’s involvement in the boat buying process as more families make their way into the lifestyle. In September 2020 Boat Trader documented that women boat shoppers increased by 75%, significantly higher than the previous season. The growing PWC market along with kayaking, scuba and paddle boarding, as reported by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) have likewise broadened the on-water experience which can be a stepping stone to a boat purchase. 

From Sea Tow's survey, the organization reported some interesting numbers:

  • 30% have found it more difficult to find dockage and/or marina space.

  • 20% cite the pandemic as the reason for extending their boating season again in 2021.

  • 24% plan to vacation on/by boat (versus other forms of travel) because of the pandemic.

  • 35% plan to use their boat primarily for cruising near their home.

  • 16% upgraded to a larger boat in 2020 or plan to do so in 2021.

“Our member survey has typically been a very strong indicator for seasonal recreational boating trends,” said Kristen Frohnhoefer, President of Sea Tow. “Last year, Sea Tow saw a 34% increase in requests for on-water assistance in the summer of 2020, and our nationwide network of captains are anticipating another busy season for 2021.”

Boat Safety Is More Important Than Ever

Anyone who has been on the waterways in the U.S. over the past year can testify — it’s crowded out there and MANY people do not understand the rules of the road. Of course, in that mad rush to get fishing and floating around everyone's favorite Stomping Grounds, boating safety is now more important than ever. Executive Director of the Water Sports Foundation Jim Emmons some tips and advice – and some of the biggest topics and issues in boating safety right now – ahead of this weekend’s fun.

is a primary provider of boating safety outreach through more than a dozen U.S Coast Guard non-profit grants. Memorial Day and 4th of July weekends as they are the biggest boating holidays in the U.S. and with aproximately with 415,000 new boat owners on the water the push for boting safety is being done by promoting educational aspects to new boaters, with a focus on life jackets, responsible driving, skills training and awareness for the rules of the road and potential hazards and dangers.

Again, according to Sea Tow, "69% of boaters surveyed are looking for more advice on local navigational assistance, mishap prevention and general boating basics".

Written by: Ryan McVinney
C. Ryan McVinney is a film director, writer and producer. As an experienced boater he regularly produces and directs on-the-water video shoots for major boat manufacturers, yacht brokers and dealers, as well as independent film and media companies. He is president of the National Soho House Film Club with chapters in Miami, FL, Manhattan, NY and Los Angeles, CA and regularly contributes content to YachtWorld, and Boat Trader.