COVID shortages? Not just toilet paper

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Boat showrooms went from full (inset, top left) to empty during the pandemic. (Photo by Mike Schoonveld)

Future Americans will likely look back at the year 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic as a historical blip; the same way people now look back at the Spanish Flu, the Roaring ‘20s, the Great Depression, even the Counterculture era of the 1960s.

Much of the story will be the actual human suffering and loss due to COVID-19, but there are many other facets of what transpired last year likely to be at least noteworthy footnotes.

One of those was the widespread shortages for products seemingly unrelated to anything health or pandemic related. Why would a pandemic cause a shortage of toilet paper? Why should it cause a glut of meat products at the grocery store while many Campbell’s soup flavors were missing?

Why did the ‘rona virus fuel depression-era unemployment statistics as well as record sales of boats leading to a shortage of boats available for sale?

Here are some boating statistics from the boat building industry.

Despite human and economic lockdown mandates across the country, retail sales of new powerboats in the U.S. increased last year by an estimated 12% compared to 2019 when the economy was booming. More than 310,000 new powerboats were sold in 2020, levels the recreational boating industry has not seen since before the Great Recession started in 2008.

When it came to boats, whether used or brand new, if it floated, it sold, as Americans took to the water to escape pandemic stress and enjoy the outdoors. Leading the way was freshwater fishing boats and pontoons boats, often sought for their versatility and entry-level price points. These accounted for 50% of new powerboats sales. Bigger boats as well as personal water crafts (Jet Skis) and boats specifically engineered as ski and wakeboard boats also saw impressive sales increases.

In general, all the old inventory sold and boat makers found it difficult to build replacement boats fast enough to keep up. Pandemic concerns, lockdowns, and distancing requirements made it impossible to add to the workforce and it wasn’t just the employees actually riveting the hulls together and installing the seats, decks, and other features. It was the producers who made motors, windshields, fuel tanks, and every thing else that goes into a boat.

I was on a friend’s new boat that was missing several of the dashboard gauges from his instrument cluster. He bought the boat with the promise the speedometer and other missing gauges would be retrofitted when they became available.

Boat sales are expected to remain at historic levels in 2021 as manufacturers continue to fill the backlog of orders from 2020.

Pandemic-related supply chain constraints are expected to subside and restore marine manufacturing to normal levels this year. Additionally, social distancing measures are likely to continue well into the latter months of 2021, spurring additional interest in safe outdoor recreation activities including boating.

Categories: Michigan – Mike Schoonveld

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