Americans are hitting the water in record numbers. A report from the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) finds that the total value of the U.S. recreational boating industry has reached more than $170 billion, or 85 percent of all U.S. recreational boat, marine engine and accessory manufacturers. 

It’s estimated that more than two million Americans attended boat shows between January and March 2023, generating 30 percent to 50 percent of annual sales for retailers and manufacturers. 

Boat purchases have risen steadily over the past decade, reaching more than $56 billion in 2021. Powerboat sales fell slightly, reaching 250,000, a 25 percent increase. 

Experts believe Americans are prioritizing living well and are spending more money on outdoor experiences. The highest level of growth in 2022 was seen in entry-level boats, including personal watercraft, freshwater aluminium and fiberglass fishing boats, as well as pontoon boats that are less than 26 feet.

“Last year was a healthy year for recreational boating, with momentum coming off of record sales in 2021 due to continued demand and the fact that supply chain shortages prevented our industry from overproducing like we saw happen in other sectors over the past two years,” said Frank Hugelmeyer, NMMA president. “With boat shows fully returning, following two years of limited events due to COVID, we’ve already seen encouraging sales reports within certain categories, coupled with consumers continuing to invest in the unique experiences that come from being on the water.”

Data from the U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis finds that outdoor recreation generated $862 billion in economic output in 2021, accounting for 1.9 percent of U.S. GDP. This is a greater rate than agriculture, oil and gas extraction, and mining. 

Outdoor recreation also generates more than 4.5 million jobs across America, while recreational boating and fishing contribute more than a billion dollars to the U.S. economy. 

Ellen Bradley, senior vice president of marketing and communications for NMMA, said, “We’ve done extensive research to better understand boaters of today and tomorrow, and local boat shows are a consistent favorite given the sense of community they create.  These shows bring together boaters of all interests, providing access to all local dealers and new boat models in one place, the ability to board and buy boats, shop the newest gear, and be immersed in education and experiences—they take pop-up retail and social meet-ups to the next level,” she said.

  U.S. Recreational Boating by the Numbers

  • Annual U.S. sales of boats, marine products and services totaled $56.7 billion in 2021, up 12.7 percent from 2020.

  • An estimated 1.15 million pre-owned boats were sold in 2021, up 9.2 percent over 2020.

  • The recreational boating industry is an economic driver, supporting more than 690,000 American jobs and 35,000 American businesses.

  • Outdoor recreation accounts for 1.9 percent of U.S. GDP, generating $862 billion in gross economic output, of which recreational boating and fishing are the single largest segment with an attributed $50.4 billion, supporting 4.5 million American jobs.

  • 95 percent of boats sold in the U.S. are made in America.

  • An estimated 100 million Americans go boating each year.

  • Sixty-one percent of boat owners have an annual household income of $100,000 or less.

  • 95 of boats on the water in the U.S. are less than 26 feet