Boating is big in Tennessee, and in East Tennessee especially. It’s not just big fun; it’s big money.
In March 2019, the GEICO Bassmaster Classic – known as the “Super Bowl of Bass Fishing” – was held in Knoxville for the first time. The event, which used the Tennessee River and connected waterways, drew a record 150,000 fans.
Not just for fishing anymore
“The No. 1 activity that boats are used for is fishing,” said Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association. “Probably 70 percent of all boats are used for fishing, if not exclusively at least some of the time.”
But boating today goes far beyond bass boats. While most are still used for fishing, the trend is toward dayboats – larger, more comfortable recreational models, but not necessarily with cabins for sleeping, Dammrich said.
“Basically, boats are becoming more versatile, so you can do more things,” Dammrich said. “It’s versatility that the consumer’s really been looking for.”
Nearly a quarter-million boats are registered in Tennessee, one for about every 27 people in the state, according to NMMA.
Within Tennessee’s 2nd Congressional District, which includes Knoxville, 96 boating-related businesses employ 1,965 people and support 745 indirect jobs, for a total annual economic impact of $711 million, the trade group figures. Statewide, 663 boating-related businesses have nearly $6 billion in annual economic impact, including 13,000 direct jobs and nearly 7,000 indirect jobs.
Who’s building boats in Tennessee?
American boatmakers tend to cluster in Florida, the Carolinas, the Great Lakes states, Washington state – and East Tennessee, Dammrich said.
The top name in East Tennessee boatbuilding is probably Sea Ray, now in its 60th year. The company built its Tellico factory in 1985 – a year before Brunswick Corp. bought the brand, said Ritch Ragle, Sea Ray director of North American sales and customer service.
In 2017, in light of declining sales for some models, Brunswick – which owns multiple boat brands – mulled selling Sea Ray. It opted to keep the company while changing its focus, closing its sport yacht factory in Florida but keeping the Tellico plant.
“We build our sport boats as well as our cruisers here in East Tennessee,” Ragle said.
Now Sea Ray is putting “significant capital investment” into Tennessee – the company also has a factory in Greeneville, distribution center in Dandridge and corporate office in Knoxville, he said – and is hiring at all levels.
MasterCraft Boat Company is the premium manufacturer of inboard wakeboarding, water skiing and luxury performance boats. The company's brands include X-Series, MariStar, ProStar and SaltWater boats. All boats are manufactured at their headquarters in Vonore, Tennessee. MasterCraft was founded in 1968.
OTHER MARINE MANUFACTURERS
The Knoxville region of East Tennessee has become a hub for the pleasure boat manufacturing industry. More than 16 major boat manufacturers are located in the area, including the headquarters for the world's largest recreational boat builder.
Pleasure boats parts
Source: Book of Lists, community websites 2022
Watch for our next of the Series of "Moving to Tennessee for Dummies"...Outdoors and Bass fishing!