At the tail end of 2023, we asked our team of writers to give their predictions about the state of boating heading into 2024.
Now we're taking a look at the state of boating from a cultural perspective. As the pandemic fades further into the rearview, and with supply chains continuing to level out, a few key trends have emerged.
While it's reasonable to be a cautious boater (or buyer), especially with the global state of affairs, there are a few reasons to look forward to a positive year in boating.
In a nutshell, boating is steadily increasing in popularity and the financial and technological investments in the industry are increasing at a steady clip.
Let's look at the state of boating in 2024:
1) Boating is growing
Despite the turmoil of the last four years, boating is experiencing a huge surge in popularity. The pandemic kickstarted a massive wave of new boaters and boat buyers, and that surge is still rippling through the industry. Many who dipped their toe into boating in 2020 and 2021 became serious boaters, which means good things for the next few years.
According to a 2028 global forecast, "the recreational boat market is expected to flourish due to the presence of numerous manufacturers in a well-integrated and fragmented industry, ensuring a steady supply of recreational boats to meet global demand. North America is expected to be the fastest-growing market for recreational boats, driven by high demand for leisure boating and water sports activities."
That's expected to generate significant growth in the U.S. boating industry from $18.9 billion USD in 2023 to $25.9 billion USD by 2028. In Canada, recreational boating accounts for over $6 billion in annual GDP and over $10 billion in total revenues. With a population of only 38 million, that equates to over 8.6 million recreational boats in circulation and over 12 million Canadians going boating every year.
We even broke down which states and provinces have the most boaters in North America, and the numbers will surprise you.
Don't expect the launch ramp at your local lake to slow down any time soon.
2) It's a buyer's market
BoatBlurb contributor Craig Ritchie attended almost every industry show in 2023, which gave him excellent insight into industry trends for 2024. One of the biggest takeaways is that because of supply chain disruptions during the pandemic, paired with post-pandemic economic slowdowns, there is a lot of inventory available. That's good news for buyers looking for a deal, and it's an opportunity for dealers to clear their lots.
According to Craig, "the simple fact is that with interest rates dampening sales, there is still far more 2023 inventory in the pipeline right now than anyone wants to see. The top priority for dealers exhibiting at this winter’s boat shows will be to get rid of it, and especially since they’re now paying higher interest rates on that inventory."
"If you’re serious about getting a new boat, this is the time to get out there and haggle. Dealers and boat builders alike are beyond motivated."
One interesting note about the glut of inventory is that buyers are getting younger. Since 2020, there have been more boat buyers in the United States under the age of 40 than over the age of 60. That means buyers with a different mindset, different needs, and different priorities. In Canada, 85% of recreational boats are under 26 feet and are trailerable. Plan accordingly.
3) Electrification isn't slowing down
Purists are right to keep their skepticism, but the reality is that investment in electric boating isn't slowing down. In fact, it's increasing at a massive rate. The so-called "Green Boating Revolution" is expected to charge ahead until at least 2028.
Savvy economists and prudent boaters know there are politics involved, especially in North America, but the facts are the facts. Companies like Candela, Nimbus, and Voltari continue to push the electric envelope, while industry leaders like Mercury Marine are making major commitments to electric propulsion. Even Silicon Valley is getting in the game with entrepreneurs from Tesla throwing their boat into the ring. Even Hollywood is making investments in electric boating with fanciful names like the 'Arc.'
Even with their fair criticisms, the performance capability of electric boats is showing promise. Vision Marine just raced an electric boat to 116 mph. We haven't reached critical mass where electric boats are viable for a large percentage of recreational boaters, but we're getting closer by the day.
4) Other power alternatives are heating up, too
For those not buying into the 'Green Boating Revolution,' there are several alternatives showing huge promise that aren't getting the attention they deserve.
Companies like Caudwell Marine have made huge advances in diesel outboard power, most notably the upcoming V6 300 hp outboard. Fellow Brits at Cox Marine have also upped the ante by setting a diesel outboard speed record at 67 mph (107 km/h).
And that's to say nothing of hydrogen power, which may have the most potential of all. Yamaha turned everyone's head by announcing a hydrogen-powered outboard for the upcoming Miami International Boat Show. With a V8 5.6L powerhead (but no mention of the horsepower) it has the potential to change boating forever. Imagine a hydrogen-powered outboard with similar capability to a standard gas-powered engine. Their only emission is water vapour. Literally just water. Other companies like HC2 Boat have successfully built the world's first hydrogen-powered RIB with a top speed of 28 mph (45 km/h), so we already know it can be done.
5) The European design trend continues to forge ahead
Like bellbottoms and lava lamps, everything comes back around. While many boaters might think these 'new' design features like the vertical bow are a novel concept, they date actually back to the early 1900s. Thanks to their resurrection, a huge influx of modern European designs is helping the vertical bow make a comeback. The vertical bow may be the signature feature of the new trend, but European design philosophy is gaining major traction across the board. Big time industry players like Brunswick Corporation recently launched Navan Boats -- a telltale sign that there's a market for new stylings. A steady stream of Nordic boatbuilders like Saxdor, Axopar, and XO Boats are also taking the vertical bow even further -- offering a unique palate of attractive new wares that span everything from dayboats to cruisers. Western markets are beginning to eat it up.
6) Car companies and boat builders remain in cahoots... and it's mutually beneficial
If you read about the history of boating, you'll notice a constant overlap between the automotive and marine industries. It makes sense from a business perspective -- each side has expertise that is beneficial to the other. When they work together, they both get better. That mindset dates back to the birth of motorboating when famous automotive names like Benz (Mercedez-Benz), Daimler (Daimler-Chrysler), and Maybach all began tinkering with boats. That helped spawn the world's first marketable powerboats, and neither side has slowed down since.
With the partnership now 225 years strong, the auto-marine collab is continuing to shape the future. Iconic automakers like Porsche partnered with Frauscher Yachts to design an electric sportboat (and a matching SUV), while fellow Germans BMW and Tyde Boats linked up to develop an electric hydrofoiling concept yacht. The objective? To advance electrification capabilities on both sides -- better performing electric cars for the automakers, and practical electric boats for the mariners.