Washington Boat Sales Reports

With access to raw boat titling data, Washington Sea Grant has been keeping track of boat sales in the state since 2002. The data include information about the characteristics of all powered vessels and sailboats whose titles have been recently issued or transferred.

This information is downloaded weekly from the Washington Department of Licensing (DoL) secure server. When processed and tabulated the information can be used by state officials to more authoritatively site pump-out stations for boaters’ waste, target prevention program strategies for small oil spills and validate demand for new in-water moorage or dry-stack storage throughout Washington.

A new data contract between the University of Washington and the Department of Licensing (DoL) has markedly improved the quality of the data we receive and, consequently, the accuracy of sales numbers reported on this website since DoL launched their new DRIVES vehicle and vessel titling and registration program.

However, the vessel characteristics reported to DoL by owners and licensing agents as boats are first registered or re-registered have changed, and not all are directly comparable with those reported under their “legacy” system that DRIVES has replaced. For example, the old “Propulsion Type” descriptor has been expanded and split into “Propulsion” and “Engine Drive” descriptors. A comparison of legacy and DRIVES vessel descriptors (pdf) is available for download.

Please note that some coding errors may occur as licensing agents learn how to operate in the DRIVES environment. These can be expected to diminish as experience is gained.

For data older than 2017, please see the Washington Boat Sales Data Archive page.

A word about how we classify vessel transactions:

The data we receive weekly from DoL are unambiguous: Model Year, Boat Length, Hull Material, Transaction Code (whether the vessel is being registered first time, or is being transferred), etc. are values entered into the DRIVES database when the vessel was first registered and revised when the current transaction occurred. From these data we derive further information about the kind of sale that appears in the Boat Sales Activity (BSA) table. For the most part, these derived data are also unambiguous, but there is an exception:

Whether a vessel being registered for the first time in Washington State and sold by a dealer is classified as a New Vessel sale or an Imported Used sale is very sensitive to the cut-off year chosen to define a “new” vessel.  Our decision rule in 2018 uses the 2017 model year; vessels older than that are considered used, and must therefore have been imported from out-of-state by the dealer.  However, there may be boats in dealers’ showrooms and yacht brokers moorages that were built earlier than 2017, but have not sold. When they do sell they will have been misclassified as an Imported Used sale. We have no way of ascertaining, a priori, which classification is correct.

Over the course of 2017 we saw a sharp decline in the share of “new” 2015 model year vessels sold each quarter and classified as “Used Dealer Imports,” from 31.8% in Q1 to 8.6% in Q4. This decline suggests a draw down of older inventory in dealerships – evidence that these are likely real “new” sales that were misclassified.

The information in the tables below is directly comparable to that in the same quarter 2017, the first full quarter for which we have had access to Department of Licensing’s DRIVES boat titling and registration data.

2019 Highlights

First Quarter 2019 Boat Sales Highlights

  • Five vessels, each over $1million in value and one over $900,000, buoyed sales of new vessels sold by dealers to a 7% gain in value of sales. Units sold were down 4% compared to same quarter 2017.
  • New boats purchased from dealers in other states were up 16% in dollar value, but down 5% in units sold. These imports account for 22% of new sales by value.
  • Dealer sales of used boats fell by nearly 13% in units sold and 11.6% in dollar value
  • Sales of used vessels imported by dealers decreased over 19% in units sold, and nearly 8% in dollar value.
  • Used boats imported by Washington boaterswere down 25% in units and 3% in dollar value.
  • The number of in-migrant boaters fell by 25%. While not sales, these 779 in-migrants’ boats are added to the fleet and do place demands on boating facilities and services.
  • The number of new vessels lengths 31’-34’ led with gains of 33% followed by lengths 23’-26’ at nearly 10%; those 10’ and under grew by 8%; all other length classes had either no growth, or lost significantly: 11’-14’ boats down 8%, 19’-22’ down 16%; 43’-46’ down 67%.
  • New pontoon boats led the types of vessels sold with 21.6% growth, followed by personal watercraft at 16%. All other types lost ground: inflatables down 29%, auxiliary sail down 50%, open motorboats down 3%.
  • Sterndrives reversed their poor showing in the fourth quarter 2018, gaining almost 21%; Inboards grew by 9.6%; Outboards lost 6%.
  • New vessels with Plastic or Fiberglass hulls grew 15% and 1% over Q1 2018 respectively. All other hull types lost ground.
  • Diesel Fuel Types showed the highest percentage loss in fuels used by new vessels, down 22.5%. There were no gainers in this category.

2018 Highlights

First Quarter 2018 Boat Sales Highlights

All categories of boat sales activity showed growth over 2017:

  • New vessel sales by dealers were up 6.4% in units sold and 19.8% in dollar value
  • Used dealer sales were up 24.2% and 29% respectively
  • Sales between private parties grew 15.4% in units and 66% in dollars
  • New boats imported from dealers in other states were up 8.3% and 25.2%
  • Sales of used vessels imported by dealers increased 14.3% and 25.9% respectively
  • Used vessels imported by private parties grew 10.6% and 1.5% over 1st quarter 2017
  • The number of in-migrant boaters increased by 16.9%. While these are not sales, in-migrants’ boats are added to the fleet and place demands on boater services.

Second Quarter 2018 Boat Sales Highlights

Increase in 2018 second quarter sales of new vessels by dealers outperformed first quarter in both units sold and dollar value of sales: Units were up 12% and dollar value was up a whopping 40.8% over same quarter 2017, due in part to one large, very high-end new vessel being sold.

  • Dealer sales of used boats were up 9.8% in units, but down 5.4% in dollar value
  • New boats purchased from dealers in other states were up 13.0% in units and down 15.3% in dollars, and used boats up 15.4% in dollars and down 6.2% in units imported by Washington boaters
  • Sales of used vessels imported by dealers decreased 8.1% and 13.5% in units and dollars respectively
  • The number of in-migrant boaters decreased by 11.9%. While these are not sales, in-migrants’ boats are added to the fleet and do place demands on boating facilities and services.

Some caution is warranted in interpreting changes in the share of boats sold this quarter from county to county where they are moored and stored. In Quarter 2 2017 there were over 4,000 boats assigned to a non-existent county in Washington; this coding error in the Dept of Licensing had the effect of suppressing numbers in real counties and, hence, exaggerating the growth of those counties’ share of boats added to the fleet this quarter. This discrepancy does not show up in the county of residence of the owners however, as these counties are derived from the owners’ zip codes.

Third Quarter 2018 Boat Sales Highlights

  • Sales of new vessels by dealers showed a modest increase in both units sold and dollar value of sales compared to same quarter 2017: Units were up 5% and dollar value of sales was up 3.2%.
  • New boats purchased from dealers in other states were up 15.1% in units and 24.6% in dollars.
  • Dealer sales of used boats grew by less than 1% in units sold and declined by 4.9% in dollar value
  • Used boats imported by Washington boaterswere down 7% in units and 18.3% in dollars
  • Sales of used vessels imported by dealers decreased 10.5% and 25.5% in units and dollars respectively
  • The number of in-migrant boaters decreased 15.7%. While these are not sales, these 671 in-migrants’ boats are added to the fleet and do place demands on boating facilities and services.
  • All new vessels 14’ and under that were added to the fleet showed significant growth; lengths under 10’ led with 21.5% growth; 11’-14’ boats were up 12.5%; 15’-18’ and 19’-22’ length classes lost 3% and 6% respectively.
  • New cabin motorboats, inflatables, and personal watercraft all gained ground, increasing by 26.6%, 33.7% and 14.6% respectively in units sold.
  • Water Jet Propulsion (16%) and Inboard Engine Drive (14.7%) were the largest gainers among new vessels.
  • Licensing Agents are still having problems correctly coding Propulsion and Engine Drive characteristics, particularly in used vessel transactions. Nearly 25% of used boats Engine Drive and 39% of Propulsion Type were coded as “Other,” making year-to-year comparisons of questionable value.
  • Plastic and Rubber/Vinyl/Canvas Hull Types grew 69% and 45.7% over Q3 2017.
  • Though numerically small, Diesel and Electric Fuel Types showed the highest percentage gains in new vessels: 46% and 106% respectively.

Fourth Quarter 2018 Boat Sales Highlights

  • Driven by 13 vessels, each over $1million in value, sales of new vessels by dealers gained 25% in value of sales, but lost almost 10% in the number of units sold compared to same quarter 2017.
  • New boats purchased from dealers in other states were up a modest 3.7% in dollar value, but down 1% in units sold.
  • Dealer sales of used boats fell by nearly 8% in units sold but increased more than 7% in dollar value
  • Sales of used vessels imported by dealers decreased 3% in dollar value, but fell 35.3% in units sold.
  • Used boats imported by Washington boaters were down 6.8% in units but rose over 20% in dollar value.
  • The number of in-migrant boaters decreased by over 18%. While not not sales, these 749 in-migrants’ boats are added to the fleet and do place demands on boating facilities and services.
  • The number of new vessels lengths 27’-30’ led with gains of 65%; those 10’ and under grew by 7%; all other length classes had either no growth, or lost significantly: 11’-14’ boats down almost 10%; 31’-34’ down 55%; 35’-38’ down 56%; 39’-42’ down 60%.
  • New cabin motorboats led the types of vessels sold with 9% growth. All other types lost ground: inflatables down 14%, personal watercraft down 9%; open motorboats, by the dominant type sold, lost 4%.
  • No engine drive type showed any growth in 4th Quarter. Sterndrives had the worst showing, losing 18%.
  • Licensing Agents are still having problems correctly coding Propulsion and Engine Drive characteristics, particularly in used vessel transactions. Nearly 19% of used boats Engine Drive and 36% of Propulsion Type were coded as “Other,” making year-to-year comparisons of questionable value.
  • New vessels with Plastic and Fiberglass Hull Types grew 76% and 3.4% over Q3 2017 respectively. Aluminum lost 9% and Rubber, Vinyl and Canvas hulls lost16%.
  • Though numerically small, Diesel and Electric Fuel Types showed the highest percentage gains in new vessels: 21%% and 86% respectively.