For marketers of high ticket/low incidence products such as boats, two key challenges are identifying who is likely to buy your product category and when they are likely to do so.  Knowing this can help you to efficiently reach your target customers.  In this article, I explore insights from a recent industry study to help with the second of these challenges.

Top Purchase Triggers

As part of the “Enhancing the Boat Ownership Experience” study, we asked boaters why they purchased their boat when they did.  Information from 437 boaters who purchased a boat during the 2020 calendar year (during the height of the pandemic) was included.   Four key purchase triggers were identified: Life stage/life events (43%), Impulse (22%), Issues with current boat (15%) and Covid (11%).

  • Life Stage/Life Events: This is about the key milestones that make it easier for someone to afford or use a boat. It includes finally accumulating the funds to purchase a boat, moving on or near the water, or entering retirement.  Note that moving on/near the water is the single largest purchase trigger for New boat buyers.
  • Impulse: This is about stumbling across an exceptional deal and pertains mostly to Used boat buyers. It could mean finding an older boat that is in outstanding condition, has very low hours and/or is underpriced.
  • Issues with Current Boat: Another key motivator among existing boat owners is the desire for a larger or better-quality boat.  The often quoted “two-foot-itis” is a factor but is not one of the main drivers of boat purchases (6% of purchases).
  • Covid: The pandemic spurred an additional, albeit temporary, motivation for buying a boat. The desire to find a safe way to recreate with the family coupled with increased discretionary time and fewer recreational choices created a perfect storm for boating.   11% indicated that Covid was the key reason for the timing of their boat purchase (18% for First-time boaters).

 Implications for Marketers

For boat manufacturers and dealers, the “golden ticket” is to find a way to reach individuals who recently went through a key life event such as purchasing real-estate on a body of water, receiving a promotion, paying off their mortgage or entering retirement.  And, the great thing about these triggers is that they are time-specific.  That is, the purchase of a boat may occur relatively soon after the event.  This is different from other purchase triggers such as “prior boat too small” or “current boat unreliable” that could take years for boat owners to act upon.  However, identifying these key life event triggers is a challenge and may require finding proxy behaviors (e.g., advertise to visitors or registrants on

The impulse purchase trigger, by nature, is more difficult for marketers to act upon. However, boat show specials or end of season offers are ways to appeal to this segment.  Also, for dealers, keeping an eye on local classified listings might uncover some used boat “gems” that are underpriced or in extraordinary condition that could represent a good markup opportunity.

The best way to reach those looking to upgrade is for manufacturers and dealers to continually engage their customers long after the initial purchase.  And, in doing so, consider offering “trade-in” rebates or specials at key points in time to encourage prior customers to step up to a larger or better model.

Covid was a boon for the boating industry and it has been very challenging for manufacturers and dealers to keep up with demand.  However, even when you don’t have boats available to sell, be sure to capture the contact information of these prospects and engage them on an ongoing basis (e.g., newsletter).  The incidence of new boat buyers in the population is very small overall and so these “hand-raisers” are a valuable asset that could prove to be very valuable long after the impact of the pandemic is over.