The Annapolis Spring Sailboat Show and other recent boat shows have seen signs of new boaters getting involved. Photo: Annapolis Boat Shows

First-time Boat Buyers Remain Highest in 15 Years

An early-pandemic resurgence in people taking up boating for the first time is holding strong, according to national numbers just released.

In 2020, when people had time on their hands and were looking for ways to get outside safely, the number of new boat owners nationwide surpassed 415,000 for the first time since 2007. Demand for new and used boats was high, and some wondered if the boat boom would continue into the second year of the pandemic. In 2021, another 420,000 first-time boat buyers entered the market—showing that interest in boating remains high among rookie boat owners.

The National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) and boating market intelligence firm Info-Link report that first-time boat buyers comprised 34 percent of all boat sales in 2021. That means more recreational boaters on the water and the same heightened demand for boats we’ve seen since 2020.

The second consecutive year of pre-recession numbers of new boat buyers is an encouraging sign for the boating industry, says Info-Link Technologies Managing Director Jack Ellis.

While Ellis acknowledges the number of first-time boat buyers may soften as things begin to normalize from the pandemic, “2022 should see healthy levels of new boat owners enter the market as manufacturers work to refill the pipeline and fulfill the backlog of new orders.”

Other factors that could impact the number of new boat owners going forward: inflation, continued supply chain disruptions, and the war in Ukraine.

“The boating industry has seen tremendous growth the last two years as more Americans discovered the freedoms, special moments and accessibility of the boating lifestyle,” says Ellen Bradley, NMMA senior vice president of marketing and communications.

On the Chesapeake, there’s evidence of new boaters joining the party. At the Annapolis Spring Sailboat Show over the weekend, how-to seminars were standing room only.

Starting next Thursday, the Marine Trades Association of Maryland is bringing back its free Welcome to Boating Clinics at Sandy Point State Park, which proved so popular in 2021 the event has an expanded capacity this time.

The clinics are run by Boat US Foundation and instruction on docking, launching, and safety are taught by the captains at our sister company, Annapolis School of Seamanship (ASOS). They take place May 12 and 13, with clinics beginning at 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. each day, running 2 hours and 15 minutes each. Experts will also be on hand to discuss safety tools, towing and anchoring, DNR’s Clean Marina program, and fishing conservation efforts. ASOS provides the boats. Please register at mtam.org/2022/04/welcome-to-boating-spring-2022/ .

-Meg Walburn Viviano