When boaters walked into the Seattle Boat Show in early February, they saw two things they didn’t expect: brokerage boats mixed in with the new boats on display at the indoor venue, and a new logo intended to help buyers identify the most reliable brokerage boats for sale.
Call it kismet. Or a convergence of trends. Or yet another fledgling idea that the Covid-19 pandemic accelerated into reality. Whatever the combination, it’s the kind of thing boaters nationwide can expect to see a lot more of in the future.
Boat show organizers everywhere are trying to deal with the booming boat sales brought on by the pandemic and supply-chain crunches. After two years of both, there is a boat-inventory shortage. Dealers—sold out of the new and brokerage models they had on hand—don’t have as much inventory as usual to display for consumers to see. At the same time, people still want to buy boats, so they’re turning to places like their neighbors and the internet to find them.
A lot of what’s left out there is bottom-of-the-barrel leftovers, or boats that new boaters purchased at the start of the pandemic and then beat up pretty hard for a season or two. As a result, dealerships have been seeing more people trying to unburden themselves of boats with laundry lists of problems. And most dealers, quite frankly, don’t want to touch them.
“The pre-owned market is approximately a $10 billion market in the United States. About 52 percent of that was driveway-to-driveway sales of boats, versus roughly 48 percent of dealership sales,” says Jason Walz, director of programs for the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas. “When the Covid pandemic started, it really put the magnifying glass on that.”
The MRAA is long known to industry insiders as an organization that supports boat dealerships, and not so much as an organization that interacts with consumers. Walz joined the MRAA in June 2021 to change that. The MRAA had been working for almost two years on the idea of an MRAA Certified Pre-Owned Boat Program, giving dealers a tool much like the pre-owned certification programs at automobile dealerships. “They brought me in to put the idea to paper to make it happen,” Walz says.
In early December, the MRAA announced the program’s launch. It’s available for boats that are less than 10 years old, and that were certified by the National Marine Manufacturers Association when they were built. The MRAA created a 130-point inspection form for dealers to ensure that no required repairs are necessary, along with a way for dealers to run the boat through the programs at Boat History Report and Titan Certified. Those third-party reports show that a boat has had what Walz calls “no negative incidences,” and that its engine and transmission fluid samples indicate no problems.
If a boat can withstand that stress test, it can be labeled MRAA Certified Pre-Owned, and customers can buy it from a dealer with a 55-hour, or three-month, limited guarantee.
“It goes beyond a dealer looking at a customer and saying, ‘Yeah, I certified my boat,’” Walz says. “This gives a level of credibility to the dealer and the customer that the boat is really pre-certified, that the inspection was done to the satisfaction of the MRAA, and there’s a clean history report. The customer gets copies of all of that.”
The MRAA Certified Pre-Owned Boat Program was announced just as the
Seattle Boat Show organizers were telling dealers they could bring pre-owned boats to the indoor event, and setting parameters to ensure that those boats would be in good shape. “For the first time this year, we have a preowned section with about six dealerships and 20 boats,” says Boat Show Director Katie McPhail. “That was timed nicely with the MRAA’s announcement of their program.”
The MRAA Certified Pre-Owned logo made its way onto some of the boats in the show, giving the public a first look at the program. Walz also ended up at the Seattle show, in a booth where he explained the program to consumers and dealers alike. Heading into the show, he had 21 dealers signed up, representing more than 30 dealerships nationwide. All indications, he says, are for that number to grow quickly. “People are going to see the CPO logo on dealer websites,” he says. “We want them to understand who the MRAA is and why we’re here doing this as a neutral third party.”
Consumers, he adds, can ask their dealers to sign up for the program, which the MRAA plans to continue long after the supply-chain and other pandemic problems ease up. People will still want to buy boats, and the MRAA’s goal is to have more of those people consider buying a better brokerage boat from a dealership.
“This market is going to settle out, and there will be an influx of used boats, and we’ll see these boats sitting longer,” Walz says. “These dealers are going to need a way to differentiate their inventory from their competitors and the driveway-to-driveway sellers.”
This article was originally published in the April 2022 issue.