Once upon a time boating was the big thing in
America but, over time and for a variety of reasons,
it slipped. However, since 9/11, I have come to
believe that boating, with a little help from
you and me, might again become America's next-big-thing.
If you were a citizen of
the 1950's, you discovered you had a little leisure
time and some discretionary income, not much,
maybe enough to rent a little boat with oars.
You earned a little overtime pay and you bought
a five horsepower Elto kicker for the transom.
It got better. Fiberglass
boats appeared. Outboard motors became more powerful,
fast enough even to water ski. The government
created massive reservoirs, huge playgrounds for
boats to stretch their wings and fish to be caught.
Families traded little boats for bigger boats.
Boating got big.
Then, in the late 1970's,
OPEC slowed the flow of oil and sent gas prices
at the pump to the $2 level. President Carter
even suggested closing gas stations on the weekends--
not a good thing to say to somebody thinking about
buying a boat.
In the 1980's the government
put a 10 percent "luxury" tax on yachts.
Yacht sales stopped. Boat plants closed.
In the 1990's, times were
good, but time was short. Rather than spending
time on your boat, you spent time on your computer,
your Nintendo, or in front of your 35-inch TV
with surround sound, cable hook-up, and a remote.
Industry research now tells
us what we probably already knew. A lot of boaters
The boat companies, figuring
the best prospect is an existing customer wanting
to trade up, advertise directly to boat owners.
That's fine but it doesn't create new boaters.
This shrinking may be just
fine if you're the kind who wants the water all
to yourself but I believe unless boating is growing,
it's going backward, and as the number of participants
goes down it means fewer on-the-water facilities
and higher prices for boats and accessories.
Industry associations are
working hard to bring people back to boating,
and I applaud the efforts. One strong initiative,
the Water Works Wonders campaign by the
Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation (RBFF),
generated more than 800 million national advertising
impressions this year and will do it again this
People say that on September
11 a lot changed, starting with a change in our
thinking. Now, we see more clearly what is important
and what is not. Family and friends are important.
Spending quality time with them is important.
This is where boating comes in again. Almost by
definition, boating means spending quality time
with the people who mean the most to us.
This attitude shift is
going to be good for some things, and not so good
for others. Things that were in will go out and
things that were out will be in. I saw a poll
that showed that since 9/11, people are planning
vacations that involve the great outdoors. I think
boating, once again, will have its day in the
Once upon a time our fathers
let us take the wheel or the tiller and steer
the boat. When we were teens we could take the
boat out ourselves. When we were old enough to
buy our own boat, we already knew how to operate
them. It's different now. Non-boaters, even if
they want to own a boat, don't know how to operate
one, care for one, or navigate safely. That's
why boating's return to the big time needs another
big push, a push from you and me.
You and I can do what national
advertising can never do. We can take our friends
boating. We can help them catch the boating fever.
We can show them how to operate the boat. We can
point them toward advanced boating classes and
courses. We can help them buy a boat or charter
This is akin to what the
recreational flying industry does to create new
flyers. A would be skipper, like a wannabe pilot,
needs a friend by his or her side to help them
clear the hurdles.
Imagine. If every boat
owner converted just one friend to boating, the
industry would double in size.
Obviously, this would be
good for the firms and employees who make boating
products and provide services. It would be good
for our country, too, with millions of new people
sharing good times with the people they love,
on the water, in America the Beautiful.
They just need a little
help from their friends.