Southwest Florida Yachts


Boating Needs a Little
Help from its Friends

By Barb Hansen
December 3, 2001

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.

Some background:

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 drop out.

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 spring.

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 sun.

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 one.

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.

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