The sale of new powerboats, which plummeted nationwide during the mortgage crisis and recession, began to rebound this year, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association.
"We are anticipating new powerboat sales to be up 10 percent in 2012," association spokeswoman Ellen Hopkins said last week. The trade organization won't issue its official year-end 2012 report until next May. But Hopkins said that sales reports from members, as well as statistical surveys, led to the encouraging estimate.
Powerboats that can be used for multi-purpose recreation, including pontoon boats and small cruisers, are leading the uptick.
"It's the versatile boat that seems to be working well," Hopkins said. "We think one of the reasons is that when you're spending time outdoors, you'd like to do a variety of activities."
Most of the sales increase is coming from boats in the 15- to 26-foot range, she added.
Some local boat vendors are feeling the surge.
"We're 50 percent above expectations," said Mike Martin, owner of Riva South Motorsports in Key Largo, which began selling small and midsize powerboats in the summer of 2011.
Riva South has had its most success selling 12- to 23-foot center-consoles made by Carolina Skiff, Martin said. Hybrids, featuring a pontoon top but a V-shaped fiberglass hull, have also done well.
"I think you're going to see another increase next year," Martin said. "I'm looking forward to it."
Carl Hansen, general manager of Boats Direct USA in Key Largo, said new boat sales were up there as well this year.
"We had a good steady stream of traffic. We stayed busy during the typical slump times," he said.
But Hansen said that things have slowed down in November and December. He attributes the drop to the re-election of President Obama, which he said has left wealthy boat buyers concerned about potential tax increases.
According to Hopkins, approximately 300,000 new powerboats sold nationwide in 2006 and 2007. Then the bottom dropped out, with the number of sales dropping to 208,000 in 2008, 157,000 in 2009 and 142,000 in 2010. The bleeding stopped last year, with new powerboat sales remaining essentially flat.
Meanwhile, 34.8 percent of American adults boated recreationally at least once in 2011, according to trade group, the highest percentage since 1997.
If powerboat sales do turn out to have increased 10 percent this year, it will bring sales numbers near 2009 levels, which is still just over half of the pre-recession total.
The health of the economy, Hopkins said, will be a major factor in determining if the upward trend continues.
"Certainly, it's the first big bump we've seen," she said.