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Is 2023 a good year to buy a boat? Here’s what our industry experts had to say

illustration of people inspecting a boat Photos Freepik.com, Shutterstock.com

If you’ve tried to buy a boat in the last few years, only to watch your summer plans sink to the bottom of a 12-month waitlist, take heart: 2023 is looking like a more normal year for boat markets. We spoke with boat dealers and industry experts across the country to get the scoop on availability, pricing, and what’s hot in 2023.

The boating boom

“When the pandemic landed on our shores, and we suddenly couldn’t gather, we saw gangbusters interest in boating,” says Jim Wielgosz, the interim executive director at the National Marine Manufacturers Association Canada (NMMA Canada), a trade association for boat, engine, and accessory manufacturers. “Many of those people were first-time boaters.”

4 Boat buying tips for 2023
Act now

“If you’re considering buying a new boat, you should be acting on that immediately, because supply chain is an issue right now,” says Chris Perera of boatdealers.ca. “Every year, as soon as the good weather hits, we see a surge in people looking for boats.”

Watch the market

If you’re looking for a used boat, you have to watch the market closely, says Perera. “There’s no used boat factory, so it’s based on opportunity. You have to check the dealers regularly.”To simplify your search, set up alerts on platforms such as boatdealers.ca and Craigslist to let you know when a boat that meets your search criteria is listed on the platform.

Research marina and boat repair options

Boat manufacturers aren’t the only ones with long wait lists. The boating boom also put pressure on marinas and repair shops. “Three years ago, you might have been able to get into a mechanical shop in two weeks, but now it’s like a month to two months, and in the summer it can be even longer,” says Dave Boxrud of M&P Mercury Sales. “For a lot of people last summer, when something happened to their boat, it was a two-month waiting period.” If you’re buying from a dealership, check if it has a full-service team. Summer is short and having a team you can rely on to keep your boat in good condition could add weeks to your boating season.

Skip the waitlist and join a boat club

If you don’t want to wait for a new boat, you may want to look into boat clubs, such as Freedom Boat Club and Club Yolo, where members pay an upfront fee to join and then a monthly fee to access a fleet of boats that are stored and maintained by the club. NMMA Canada’s Jim Wielgosz says he signed up this year. “It’s a good model for me,” he says. “I have three locations that are within close driving distance. I get there, the boat is in the water. It’s fueled, its clean, and ready to go.”

“No one could have predicted the surge of demand,” says Chris Perera, the president and founder of boatdealers.ca (a boat listings site) and boatblurb.com (boating news and information). “It created a supply issue, particularly for new boat builders. They could build part of a boat, but then seats, cleats, steering wheels, and parts became an issue. Dealers went from selling boats to basically taking orders.” Those who were able to buy boats often paid steep prices in the used market. “Prices became unrealistically high,” says Perera. “We saw boats built before 1990 with unheard of asking prices.”

The demand and backlogs persisted into 2021. In 2022, when things were more open and people could travel, “We definitely saw a softening in demand,” says Perera. “However, because there was pent-up demand, the market was still strong.”

The new normal

You might think that today’s economic uncertainty and higher interest rates would curb the enthusiasm of many would-be boat buyers, but according to Wielgosz, interest remains strong. “At the Toronto International Boat Show last January, foot traffic was roughly what it was in 2020,” says Wielgosz. “I talked to a bunch of our members and exhibitors, and they saw strong sales.” There were similar reports from the Vancouver show. “Normalization” is the term that Wielgosz uses to describe the boat market when it comes to his predictions for 2023. “Consumer demand is returning to normal,” he says. “I think we’re going to see healthy demand for boats, with new and used retail sales roughly on par with what we saw in 2022.”

Perera says he’s seen a 30 per cent drop in demand from the pandemic highs, but there remains a lot of interest in certain categories. You’ll find that some new boats have 18-month wait lists, while others are available immediately.

“It just depends on the type of boat you’re looking for,” says Perera. The availability of pontoon boats, for example, is getting a lot better, whereas various PWCs and centre console boats are still in very short supply.

“We have maybe two or three models of each brand, and they go pretty quickly,” says Dave Boxrud, the store manager at M&P Mercury Sales in Nanaimo, B.C. “If you order one, it could take six months to a year to arrive.” As of March 2023, two dealers we spoke with did not have any Boston Whalers in stock. One dealer also mentioned low inventory on other brands, including Bayliners, Sea Rays, Chaparrals, RH Aluminum Boats, and Robalo.

Prices on the rise

Like everything else in the world, boats have gotten more expensive. “Some people will have a bit of sticker shock if they shopped for a new boat five years ago and they look at a similar new boat now,” says Perera.

He chalks the price increase up to inflation, supply chain pressure, and workforce issues. “All these things have created the perfect storm. We are seeing double-digit per cent price increases in boats since 2019.”

According to Wielgosz, preliminary data from the boat shows indicates that prices have increased by around nine per cent in the last year alone. The good news is that used prices are finally starting to stabilize. “We’re seeing more realistic asking prices,” says Perera. Boats older than 1990 in particular are correcting, he says. “They are coming back to 2019 levels.”

Interest rates

Adding to the pinch are rising interest rates, which have made boat financing less favourable than in years past. “It’s a macro issue,” says Wielgosz. “It’s so much bigger than just the boating industry, and it’s being dictated by the central banks. So it’s a dynamic situation, and it’s hard to predict how it’s going to play out.”

The new luxury tax

For those looking at boats in the $250,000-plus price range, there’s the added cost of the federal government’s luxury tax that was brought in last fall. The tax is calculated as the lesser of 10 per cent of the full value of the boat or 20 per cent of the value above $250,000. So, for instance, a $350,000 power cruiser would be charged $20,000 in luxury tax, with GST/HST applied to the final sale price (including the luxury tax).

Here’s how Canada’s new luxury boat tax will affect you

Is 2023 a good year to buy a boat?

“My prediction is that it’s going to be another strong boating year,” says Perera. “It will definitely be easier to buy a boat than it has been in the last two years.” But you may have to move quickly if you’re interested in a particularly popular model. Wielgosz is also optimistic: “I think you’ll be much more likely to get what you want.”

Fiona McGlynn once spent 26 days alone at sea with her husband, Robin (and yes, they’re still married!). She lives in Atlin, B.C., and runs waterbornemag.com.

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