Boating in all its forms is about freedom and fun. Millions of Americans go boating every year for those very reasons. It’s where some of the best memories of their lives are made. But when you look at who is boating and who owns a boat the data exposes some red flags. According to National Marine Manufacturers Association senior vice president Carl Blackwell, who runs the Discover Boating program, the average boater is about 55 today, and with every year that passes the age increases by six months. That means that in ten years the average age will be 60. Let that sink in for a minute.
It’s not a good trend. Those of us in the industry need to do our part to attract younger people to the fold. Fortunately, efforts are ongoing to determine why this is happening and what, then, can and should be done about it. However, even without detailed analyses, the obstacles are not the stuff of rocket science, and we should be able to reverse this ‘aging’ trend.
“Boats are too expensive”
Boat ownership might require less than people think, but it’s certainly not free. There are pathways to try out boating before taking the ownership route. Businesses like Freedom Boat Club, Boatsetter and Boatbound, offer potential boaters the opportunity to get out on a boat via club membership or rental contract. Alternatively, local boat rental businesses are just about everywhere there’s a body of water, and allow folks another way to go boating with very little investment. There are some baseline requirements such as boating licenses which vary from state to state, but boat rentals allow people to get out on the water at minimum expense.
There are a growing number of peer-to-peer ventures as well. Some of these renters and boat club members will get bitten by the boat bug pretty hard and decide they want to own their own boat, which is great. Some of them won’t, and that’s ok too. In both cases, they’ll be able to make an educated decision based on experience.
“We don’t have the time”
This is another common refrain, but is it really accurate? I’d argue not necessarily. For example, we all complain about how busy we are, but on average, Americans don’t take all the vacation time they accrue. The reasons are varied but it’s a fact, it isn’t healthy and the data proves it. There are other pressures like structured kids activities that seem to suck the time out of weekends. And let’s not forget we are all hyper connected and find it difficult to ‘unplug’. To all that, I say we need to do some soul searching and do a much better job of prioritizing what is really important.
Growing boating will take collective effort by both industry and the consumer. We need to keep building affordable boats that serve the entry-level buyer. We need to encourage alternate pathways to boat ownership and increase the options people have to get out on the water. Current boaters also have a part in this – they are our best ambassadors. They already know that a day on the water with family and friends is the very definition of “quality time” and in fact can be an incredibly enriching experience. It’s up to them to take out friends and colleagues that have never been boating and share that joy.
There’s no doubt in my mind boating will always be a part of many people’s lives. The water is literally in our blood, after all. The innate attraction will always be there. We just need to evolve with the times and be smart about how we nurture the sport.