lesson from 2020: boats matter

Emilie Barland and Matt Howard of United Yacht Sales at the Annapolis Powerboat Show

I like to remind boat buyers and sellers when entering negotiations to ‘keep in mind that unless you are a commercial fisherman, nobody really needs a boat.’ Thankfully for me and everyone else in this industry, however, people want boats. I say this because it helps remind us that boats are largely discretionary purchases, whether it be a small center console fishing boat or a megayacht. Accordingly, unlike homes and cars and other things people really do need, boat and yacht negotiations must take into account the subjective as well as the objective. It can be an emotionally charged process. 

As 2020 recedes in the rear view mirror, and good riddance I may add, let’s not lose sight of the lessons it gave us. One of the lessons is making me rethink what I stated above. New and brokerage boat sales absolutely skyrocketed between May and December of 2020. Think about that for a couple seconds. In the midst of a global pandemic, social unrest, and a bitterly contested election cycle among other challenges, people flocked to boats. Was this something limited to the rich, seeking to allow their wealth to insulate them from the issues of the day? Nope. Sales were up across the board, from small outboards and pontoons to large power and sailing yachts. New and used inventory is at the lowest level seen in years.

So how and when does a ‘want’ become a ‘need’? Look no further than 2020. The boat sales phenomenon reinforces something I’ve said for years, namely that being on any kind of boat, on any body of water, represents the absolute best way for family and friends to spend leisure time together. Boating means freedom. Boating also means ‘social distancing’. More fundamentally, it’s a beautiful, unmatched way to experience nature. People have known this since the dawn of time, but 2020 has introduced many more people to the experience.

It will be a challenge for the industry to keep up, and we are seeing the resulting challenges from this sales explosion. Dealers and vendors are having a tough time keeping up with service requirements for all these boats, and Manufacturers/Dealers have a big hole to climb out of. Likewise, given the depressed inventory, it’s a challenge for brokers to find good candidate boats for clients that are ready to buy. In any case I’d call this a ‘good problem to have.’ Bring on 2021.

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