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.

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.

Washington Boat Sales Data
County of New Boat Sales Used Boat Sales
Boat Sales Activity Purchaser and Source of Sales Length Class/ Propulsion Type Vessel Characteristics Length Class/ Propulsion Type Vessel Characteristics
Jan-Mar MoorageResidence Jan-Mar Jan-Mar Jan-Mar Jan-Mar
Apr-Jun MoorageResidence Apr-Jun Apr-Jun Apr-Jun Apr-Jun
Jan-Mar Jan-Mar Jan-Mar Jan-Mar Jan-Mar Jan-Mar
Apr-Jun Apr-Jun Apr-Jun Apr-Jun Apr-Jun Apr-Jun
Jul-Sep MoorageResidence Jul-Sep Jul-Sep Jul-Sep Jul-Sep
Oct-Dec MoorageResidence Oct-Dec Oct-Dec Oct-Dec Oct-Dec