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.”
“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.”
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).
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.