More than half (54.7 percent) of marine industry participants expect sales to increase five percent to 10 percent this year, according to survey results released today by GE Capital, Commercial Distribution Finance (CDF). That’s up from the 43 percent who expected growth in that range last year. That sentiment tracks closely with CDF’s forecast of eight percent growth for the U.S. marine industry in 2014. “Our theme for our annual industry conference this year is ‘Riding a Wave of Optimism’ and that really reflects our outlook,” said Bruce Van Wagoner, president of CDF’s marine group, a leading provider of financing to marine dealers. “We see a stronger industry that’s poised for growth.” This comes in spite of lingering worries about consumer demand, which is the top concern of 64.6 percent of survey respondents, up from 42 percent in 2013. The second-greatest concern was product affordability at 12.5 percent. “Although consumer sentiment is still mixed, consumption rose for 16 consecutive quarters,” noted Rob Podorefsky, managing director of GE Capital’s Interest Rate Management Group. “The labor market is slowly improving, which could create some more opportunity, and inflation is subdued right now. Steadier gasoline prices should help the U.S. economy — and the marine industry — too.” The industry has a positive outlook when it comes to product availability, according to 37.1 percent of survey respondents. It’s excited about new model and product introductions, according to 34.7 percent of respondents, and more “base” or lower-cost models, according to 31.6 percent. Van Wagoner noted that dealers have fresher, more current models on hand and they’re turning their inventory more often. Pontoon boats are expected to be the most popular product, said 61.2 percent, followed by aluminum boats (14.6 percent) and fiberglass fishing boats (10.7 percent). GE Capital’s survey was conducted at the Industry Leadership Conference, which was held in conjunction with the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA), at the Miami International Boat Show on Feb. 12. The respondents are a variety of marine industry participants, including manufacturers, dealers and suppliers.