More boats in the water could mean good news for Southwest Florida's economy.
New powerboat sales increased 10 percent nationwide in 2012, according to a report by National Marine Manufacturers Association. The increase is the first time since the boating industry experienced significant growth in five years, said Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association.
"Almost every aspect of the industry saw growth," Dammrich said. "Consumer confidence today is higher than it was a year ago, and we have an improving economy. All of those things lead to boat sales."
Florida was ranked No. 1 nationally in new powerboat, motor, trail and accessory sales in 2011, with $1.47 billion in boat sales. State specific data was not immediately available for 2012.
The state also led the nation with boat registrations in 2011.
Jim Hunt with MarineMax of Naples said his company saw an uptick in sales in 2012.
"The main thing we're seeing is that people are looking for lifestyle changes," Hunt said.
"That's what drives our sales. They're looking to do something different with their time and money, and boating offers a personal freedom that no other hobby can offer."
Hunt said his company is "seeing steady increases" in sales in Naples.
"Our dealership did extremely well in 2012," he said.
But at MarineMax, Hunt said, it isn't just sales that's driving better-than-normal performance. The company, he said, offers everything from boat sales to folks who can provide services to the owner once the boat is purchased. That, Hunt said, is essential when it comes to boosting sales in a still tepid luxury market.
"(Buyers) want a complete package," he said. "They're looking for a lifestyle change, where they have a new family to go places with on their boats."
An increase in boat sales may seem like a good sign for just one industry, but Florida Gulf Coast University economics professor Gary Jackson said it's really a good sign of economic recovery.
Jackson said people shy away from buying durable goods — such as cars or boats — when times are tough, because they can wait to replace the item. The fact that people are starting to purchase those types of items again is part of a broader picture pointing toward economic growth.
"Other indicators are showing the economy is doing well," Jackson said. "This is really all still part of the recovery.
And while the people purchasing the boats may have more disposable income than the average person, Jackson said those purchases create jobs and fuel the economy as a whole.
As for the boating industry as a whole, Dammrich said he expects 2012 was the first of several years of continued growth.
"Another 10 percent increase in 2013 would be good," he said.