Sailing Statistics Industry Trends 

Carla Vianna
Carla Vianna
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Sailing Statistics Industry Trends 

With its extensive coastlines and waterways, the U.S. is a haven for boating enthusiasts. Sailing has long been a cherished pastime for millions across the country. 

The popularity of sailing in states like California and Michigan, which each boast over a million registered sailboats, is a testament to the activity’s enduring appeal.

And as more Americans prioritize outdoor activities and quality time with friends and family, sailing tours are just the right fit. In this article, we’ll explore the latest sailing statistics in the U.S. and beyond.

General Sailing Industry Overview Trends

  • Americans went on a boat-buying spree in 2020, spending an all-time high of $50.3 billion on powerboats, sailboats, and personal watercraft.
  • ​​Sales slowed down slightly in 2021, partly due to supply chain issues.
  • There were about 88,000 thousand sailboats registered in the United States in 2022, a 7.5% decrease from the previous year.
  • Electric boats are making waves in the industry. The growth in passenger electric boats is being driven by the tourism sector; specifically, younger customers who prioritize sustainable travel.
  • The global marine tourism market was valued at about $72 billion in 2021 and is projected to reach $137 billion by 2031.
  • Meanwhile, the leisure boat market is expected to reach $49 billion in 2026, up from about $41 billion in 2022.
  • In 2022, cruise gross bookings skyrocketed more than 500% year over year, reflecting a powerful comeback from the pandemic lockdowns.
  • From a global perspective, the yacht charters market is expected to grow to $21.7 billion in 2027.

How many sailing businesses are there in 2023? 

Estimating the exact number of sailing businesses operating in the U.S. is difficult. However, we can get an idea of where the market is headed by looking at the recreational boating market as a whole.

Recreational boating is growing in popularity in the U.S. There was a 35% increase in annual economic activity between 2018 and 2023, jumping from $170 billion to $230 billion.

Meanwhile, marine industry-related jobs — including tourism jobs — grew from 691,000 to 812,000 during that same period, representing a 17.5% increase.

Is sailing declining in popularity?

Sailing was among the most popular tourism activities in the U.S. in 2021.

Overall, global marine tourism is on the rise. The driving factors are an increase in disposable income and government-backed initiatives to stimulate growth in the market, such as improving tourism infrastructure.

How many Americans went sailing in 2022? 

The boating industry overall boomed during the pandemic. New boat sales hit a 13-year high in 2020, as Americans increasingly prioritized outdoor activities and spending time with family and friends.

However, sailing as a sport seems to be in decline in several regions of the world. Statista reports that the number of sailing participants was the lowest recorded since the beginning of the past decade. In 2021, only about 3.5 million Americans went sailing, compared to 4 million in 2010.

Where is sailing most popular?

The leisure boat market shows North America as the largest region in 2021, while Western Europe is expected to be the fastest-growing. Croatia reigns as the top sailing destination globally, with over 38% of yacht charter bookings in 2022.

Here in the U.S., Annapolis is often called the “Sailing Capital of the U.S.,” offering visitors several different types of boat experiences. When it comes to economic activity and job growth, however, Florida takes the top spot.

These are the top 10 states generating the most activity from recreational boating:

  1. Florida: $27.2 billion and 109,000 jobs
  2. California: $15 billion and 48,000 jobs
  3. Texas: $10.6 billion and 38,000 jobs
  4. Michigan: $10.2 billion and 45,000 jobs
  5. New York: $8.6 billion and 34,000 jobs
  6. North Carolina: $8.2 billion and 28,000 jobs
  7. Wisconsin: $7.3 billion and 35,000 jobs
  8. Georgia: $7 billion and 27,000 jobs
  9. Washington: $6.9 billion and 23,000 jobs
  10. Minnesota: $5.9 billion and 25,000 jobs

Meanwhile, the states with the most registered sailboats as of 2022 are:

  • California: 1,051,606 registered boats
  • Michigan: 1,000,337 registered boats
  • Florida: 922,597 registered boats
  • Minnesota: 834,974 registered boats
  • Wisconsin: 650,280 registered boats
  • Texas: 624,390 registered boats
  • New York: 592,732 registered boats
  • Ohio: 413,276 registered boats
  • Illinois: 398,431 registered boats
  • South Carolina: 383,971 registered boats

What do you need to do before starting a sailing tour business

Begin with a thorough exploration of the market in your chosen location, delving into customer demands and the competitor landscape. Every sailboat tour business needs to tackle regulatory compliance, ensuring they have the proper licensing to operate. Your fleet is the heart of your business, so carefully choose vessels that align with your tour vision. Let’s expand on this below.

  1. Conduct market research: The first step is to understand the demand for sailing tours in your chosen location. Identify your competitors and become familiar with their selling points. This will help you brainstorm ways to stand out against existing players in the market. You can also start engaging with potential customers on social media to better understand their preferences. Are there any holes in the current market that your company can fill?
  2. Regulatory compliance: Ensure your company complies with local maritime laws from the start. Obtain the proper licensing and familiarize yourself with local safety regulations and environmental standards. Hiring legal counsel can help guide your business through complicated compliance processes.
  3. Purchase/rent your sailboat(s): Choose sailboats suitable for your tours, considering capacity and comfort factors. As you’re researching boat options, remember that you’ll have ongoing costs to keep up with, too. The average annual cost for boat maintenance and repairs, for instance, ranges from $1,000 to $5,000 or more.
  4. Get the right insurance coverage: Insurance is another ongoing cost to factor into your financial plan. The right coverage is essential for protecting your business, employees, and customers from potential risks and liabilities. On average, the annual cost of boat insurance premiums ranges from $300 to $500.
  5. Make a business plan: The plan should outline your goals, target market, financial projections, and marketing strategies. Consider how you’re going to fund your startup costs and ongoing expenses.
  6. Safety protocols: Train your crew on emergency procedures and conduct regular drills to ensure they’re prepared for the job. It’s also important to create a boat maintenance schedule that you stick to from the start, ensuring that your fleet is always operating as safely as possible.
  7. Develop a marketing strategy: Decide which online and offline marketing channels you’ll use to build a brand presence that aligns with your target audience. Video marketing has proven especially effective within the boating industry, making YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram viable stomping grounds for your new business.
  8. Consider your pricing strategy: Pricing plays a key role in maximizing revenue for facilities. Decide which pricing strategy makes the most sense for your business, keeping in mind that you want to cater to different preferences and budgets. Overall, the average profit margin for a bout tour business in the U.S. typically ranges from 20% to 30%.

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Sailing is not merely an American pastime. It’s a cultural phenomenon deeply ingrained in the American lifestyle, making it an excellent market for sailboat tours. 

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Writer Carla Vianna

Carla Vianna