Florida is number 1 again in boating

With more miles of coastline in any state except Alaska, Florida is a prime location for water recreation including boating. As Florida population, jobs and income are increasing, residents are spending more money on discretionary items like boating.

So, it should come as no surprise that Florida is number 1 for boat sales, far ahead of any other state in the nation.

The National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) has just released its U.S. Recreational Boating Statistical Abstract, and Florida is again at the top of the charts.

Leading the nation for 2013 in sales of new boats, motors, trailers and accessories, the top state was Florida, with $1.93 billion in boat-related sales. Not only did Florida sales approach the $2 billion mark, but they were up a hefty 14 percent from 2012.

Florida has consistently led the nation in boat sales, with Texas coming in second. California, which once ranked third, has fallen to tenth place with boat sales of $429 million. California is still struggling with high unemployment and a slow economic recovery, and boat sales have not rebounded as well as Florida.

Nationwide, boating suffered a slowdown as a result of the 2007-2009 recession, when people cut back on nonessential spending including boats, motorcycles and other products.

Boat sales are growing, NMMA reports, especially versatile boats that can tow water skiers or wake boarders. Outboard boats are especially popular, along with personal watercraft, where a person sits on, rather than inside, a boat.

Other states rounding out the top ten for 2013 boat sales are: Michigan, Delaware (which has no sales tax), Minnesota, New York, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Louisiana.

For Florida, according to NMMA, recreational boating generates an overall economic impact of about $10.35 billion, including about 83,000 direct and indirect jobs that come from spending by boaters.

Nearly 1 million boats are registered in Florida, more than any other state, plus about 300,000 more boats are brought into Florida during the year by out-of-state visitors.

Boat making has been a significant contributor to Florida jobs, though less so in recent years. With nearly all of the top boat-buying states east of the Rocky Mountains, some boat makers have followed their customers and moved East, including to Florida. One local example is Catalina Yachts, which closed its California plant to consolidate its manufacturing here in Largo.

Boston Whaler, which despite its name is based in Florida, this year announced an expansion at its facilities near Daytona Beach, which will create new full-time jobs.

However, a number of boat makers have moved out of Florida, citing costs, land issues and better financial opportunities in other states such as North Carolina and Georgia.

Nevertheless, boating remains a small but highly-visible Florida industry, and boat manufacturing jobs still are a source of income for some low-skilled workers.

Not only that, boating provides enjoyment for literally millions of residents and visitors as well as others who simply like to sit by the water and watch the boats go by. Boats are a welcome part of the Florida lifestyle.

With 1,197 miles of coastline and more than 11,000 miles of rivers, streams and waterways, Florida is a boaters’ paradise.

— Joseph Santangelo is a former reporter for the Bergen Record newspaper in New Jersey. He has written for magazines in Connecticut and Massachusetts and worked in business, government and community service. He writes from Clearwater.

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