I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the longer term growth of boating as a lifestyle and recreational outlet. NMMA (National Marine Manufacturers Assoc) has for years promoted a “grow boating” campaign aimed at doing just that. It’s certainly something I see as a long term issue which can effect a recreation that to me offers so much and continues to bring families together in ways other recreation can not.
The spark that ignites boating passion for many (me included) and needs to stay alive is the introduction to the water and boats at a young age. For many boating spans generations and the kids/grandkids of boaters are likely to catch the bug and remain passionate about boating into their adult age and so on. For me for example my dad bought a 21 Bayliner when I was about 12-13 and while he kept it only for 2-3 years I remember those times as vividly as any childhood memory. There was something about his coming home from work early mid-week and us going out fishing near Sandy Point in the Chesapeake humidity that seeped in my blood and stayed with me for good. I recall how the boat looked, how it ran, hitting a crab pot and pushing it to the beach to unwrap it from the drive like paintings in my mind. Then the boat was sold (my Mom was not a big boat lover) and I was deeper into high school sports and off to college. Late in my twenties and gainfully employed I woke up one day with spring fever and could not get the images of those times on the water out of my head. I decided then and there that I wanted that for my family and announced to Judy “hey I wanna get a boat”. Years later I have two kids who the first warm day in Feb/March start asking when the boat is going in the water and why its not already there ready to go. The bug might be genetic it seems.
For boating to prosper and thrive will require people to continuing to experience all that being on the water offers and exposing future generations to it as well. I’m not sure how that happens in today’s overly expensive cost of living where even to go to the grocery store seems more expensive by leaps and bounds versus 5-7 years ago. Boating like many things in our society has become more of a have and have not proposition. It has not always been that way but the tremendous increase in the cost of new boats and the fuel to go in them makes it far harder to justify as anything but a luxury item. Heck even going to a baseball or football game as a family takes a major amount of disposable income.
Hopefully this trend is more cyclical and at some point in the future the industry can find ways to put boats and boating within the reach of more people. You don’t have to own a 75’ Sunseeker or 42’ Sea Ray to enjoy and reap the rewards of the salt air and memories that last a lifetime. We just need to find a way to put more people on the water which will create a stronger industry not to mention families that will smile more and enjoy the bonds with family and friends boating creates that nothing else can match.