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Why boat registrations decline

We may be finding out the claims that lots of boaters are quitting the sport may be overstated. Once again, valuable new data for the industry is available from research done by the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation (RBFF).

Iím referring to a study undertaken by RBFF with the Oregon State Marine Board. The goal was to learn why the stateís boat registrations have declined, something thatís happening in many states. The study revealed that a boaterís decision to keep and re-register their boat appears to be based on a relationship between three factors: perceived benefits, costs and utilization, with the latter two having the biggest influence.

Not surprising, when it comes to utilization, the†No. 1†reason people leave boating is that they donít use their boat enough. But itís also not that simple. For example, the study found that 29†percent†indicated they donít need to use the boat at all in a given year to justify owning it! Add to that an additional 29 percent†that said they would only need to use their boat a mere†one to†five times a season to be satisfied. Combined, we have nearly 60 percent†indicating low usage is acceptable.

But that still leaves a large segment of boat owners, some 42 percent, apparently wanting more to stay in the sport. In recent years, manufacturers have pushed dealers to organize and host events that result in owners increasing the use of their boats. Clearly providing boating functions and opportunities is good for boater retention and dealer business.

Turning to costs, in general, the study participants indicated that owning a boat is ďmoderately affordable.Ē The average rating was 6.6 out of 10 (extremely affordable.) Thatís not too bad, but it tells me that we must be vigilant about finding ways to keep costs at acceptable levels for boat owners lest they slip into an ďunaffordableĒ rating or worse.

The study contained much more data, but here is one of the most interesting results. Of the study participants, 90 percent†indicated that their primary boat was registered in 2007. However, when asked about all the boats owned by these participants, a surprising 21 percent† indicated at least one of their boats was not registered. Further examination revealed 56 percent†of unregistered boats are from multiple boat owners who choose not to register their secondary boat.

Thus, the registration decline issue, at least in Oregon, is largely about secondary boats. It shows that most owners presumed to have gotten out of boating really havenít gotten out at all. Rather, they are apparently just cutting back on the usage of a second boat and, therefore, not re-registering them.

Thatís a piece of good news and, hopefully, itís true in the other states that have experienced a decline in boat registrations recently.


3 comments on “Why boat registrations decline

  1. Arch

    This is good to know, but I have a few comments.
    1- the people that said boating is “MODERATELY AFFORDABLE”, are they people that own boats? Perhaps they should have presented these questions only to people that LOVE boating but don’t currently own a boat.
    2. The fact that people with multiple boats not registering the ones they don’t use often as an explanation for the decline in boat registrations is shortsighted. The same people that didn’t register all of their boats in 2007 also didn’t register all of their boats in 2004. Are you implying that this wasn’t happening prior to 2007 and therefore already reflected in registration numbers in those years? You can’t attribute this to the fact boaters are not using their secondary boats as much. If anything, I would suggest that people have avoided using their primary boats (which typically use more gas) and were more likely to use their secondary boats which are typically smaller and use less fuel.

  2. Big Casino

    Arch, you are just speculating but you are probably on to something. For most people owning a boat is not a sound financial decision but the question of affordability really has to do with how much (if any) disposable income a person has. If the money spent on a boat is appropriate for the amount of disposable income that person has, then the boat is totally affordable. If the cost of buying and owning a particular boat is inappropriately high for the amount of disposable income available, then the boat is only moderately affordable or perhaps not afforable at all!

    The realization of this brilliant logic probably won’t stop most of us from engaging in our favorite passtime but economic pressures may hold some people back. Maybe they have better sense.

  3. Stephanie

    Arch & Big Casino Ė Thank you for your comments and for your interest in our boat registration research. Weíre working hard to understand the nationwide decline in boat registrations and itís important to keep in mind that this research is based on data from only one state and implications at this time are preliminary. The Oregon State Marine Board will be using this research to develop a pilot marketing program to increase boat registrations in their state. RBFF is also planning to expand the research with additional states, which will allow for further conclusions to be drawn about the nationwide decline in boat registrations.

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