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The past year was marked by constant change. Huge sectors within the economy have evaporated, and millions of consumers have migrated to new homes and workplaces. We’ve seen significant supply-chain disruptions and upheaval in our political landscape. Through it all, the recreational boating market has remained strong as the country reassessed how it lives, works and plays.

Essentially, Americans have chosen what’s most important in the lives of their families. Boating, fishing and the great outdoors made the list for most.

During this time, the National Marine Manufacturers Association has been determined to emerge as a stronger and more relevant trade group and industry. To do that, we remain focused on two key strategic areas on behalf of the industry.

The first is advocacy, an essential component of the organization’s work. For the past year, the NMMA team has been focused on building stronger relationships in Washington, D.C., and solidifying our political priorities at the federal, state and international levels of government. We met early with the forming Biden administration, including a virtual session with the president-elect. As senior cabinet officials were nominated and confirmed, we engaged quickly with key officials.

People have come to boating as a recreational pursuit in large part thanks to awareness 
campaigns such as 
Discover Boating. 

People have come to boating as a recreational pursuit in large part thanks to awareness campaigns such as Discover Boating. 

The global 30 by 30 movement — an initiative aimed at combating climate change by conserving 30 percent of our oceans and lands by 2030 — received an important ally with the election of President Biden, leading to a recent report from the administration on how the United States will achieve this goal. While preliminary, the administration’s 30 by 30 report prominently referenced the importance of preserving recreational access when considering conservation, a direct product of the NMMA’s and the broader outdoor recreation industry’s engagement with policy-makers.

In the ongoing debate about balancing access and conservation, Biden signed a proclamation in October restoring protections for Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monument while maintaining access for recreational fishing. Because of the NMMA’s support of this initiative, our outdoor recreation partners and I attended the White House signing event, providing our community with another opportunity to advocate for reasonable and sustainable access for America’s boaters and anglers.

Additionally, with a new wave of participants on the water, a growing number of states and localities attempted to restrict boating access related to water sports. In response, and in coordination with the Water Sports Industry Association and our most affected members, we launched a campaign to oppose these closures and advance industry-backed solutions. The result? We prevented punitive boating access restrictions in more than 10 states this year, and we are well-positioned to build on this progress moving forward.

Most recently, the NMMA led the effort to eliminate the European Union’s 25 percent tariff on American-made boats. Thanks to robust industry engagement, close coordination with our European and international counterparts, and extensive conversations with the administration and congressional allies, we resolved one of our industry’s long-running trade issues.

Finally, we recently added Tillie Fowler, an experienced and seasoned professional, as our senior vice president of government relations and regulatory affairs. Tillie’s extensive knowledge in the private and public sectors, especially in the complex policy fields of energy, transportation, biofuels and the environment, will help the NMMA build upon the strong foundation we have in Washington as we seek to expand our legislative and regulatory influence across the international, federal and state levels.

The second strategic area of the NMMA’s focus is expanding boating’s consumer market share, and positioning Discover Boating and our industry-owned boat shows so they’re more relevant. These member-owned programs raise our collective voice to grow and retain interest in the boating lifestyle. They also foster greater participation in emerging consumer markets.

After having to pause our 2020 winter boat shows because of the pandemic, we started 2021 with the January announcement of a long-term event-management agreement and partnership with Informa Markets to produce future Miami International Boat Shows under the Discover Boating banner, bringing together the world’s two largest boat show producers to deliver the ultimate and largest boat show experience (both online and in-person) in a marquee boating market.

The partnership between Discover Boating and Take Me Fishing resulted in the popular “Get On Board” fishing-and-boating campaign.

The partnership between Discover Boating and Take Me Fishing resulted in the popular “Get On Board” fishing-and-boating campaign.

Moving into spring and summer 2021, the NMMA team was at full throttle generating awareness through marketing and public-relations efforts. The joint “Get on Board” campaign from Discover Boating and Take Me Fishing has been a huge success through coordinated advertising, public relations, influencer marketing, site content and social media.

The Get on Board video had more than 32 million views on YouTube, via digital advertising and through Take Me Fishing’s Disney partnership. Our efforts drove not just more traffic, but also younger and more diverse visitors, to DiscoverBoating.com, whose site traffic more than doubled compared to prepandemic metrics.

Looking ahead, Discover Boating will continue to focus on building on our consumer market gains and momentum. Central to that strategy is uniting Discover Boating with our industry-owned boat shows to deliver the best, most seamless consumer experience. This integration will allow us to be much louder in all major consumer markets, and will kick off at the 2022 Miami International Boat Show. By the beginning of the 2023 show season, all NMMA shows will be branded Discover Boating. This hybrid digital and in-person consumer strategy will connect the 6 million annual online visitors from Discover Boating to all our valued boat show brands and dealers.

Fortuitously, the very challenges that affected many of our business models also led to an acceleration of the recreational boating lifestyle. This means we’re facing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to grow and sustain our industry. The continued impact of the pandemic and enduring trends related to health and wellness, and working and living anywhere, has forced an ongoing reaffirmation of our key strategic priorities: becoming a more advocacy-focused, consumer-centric, data-driven and digitally savvy organization. By pursuing these paths, our industry will be better positioned to win. And the NMMA will be a more relevant industry association in a post-pandemic world.

We now turn the page on a roller coaster of a year and redirect our attention to the future. Let’s seize our many opportunities and rise up as a stronger, better-positioned recreational boating industry. 

Frank Hugelmeyer is president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

This article was originally published in the December 2021 issue.

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