Initiating the uninitiated

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Getting a non-boater out on the water is not a new concept, but it is a powerful one. And it’s one of the cornerstones of the NMMA’s new Welcome to the Water campaign, which through a soon-to-be-launched app will enable 40,000-plus Discover Boating Facebook “fans” to invite their friends to leave terra firma behind and feel the wind and spray on their faces.

Leveraging the power of social media to grow the pie organically is smart and cost-effective. Through a Facebook contest, boaters — or so called “captains” — will send custom e-invitations to their friends, and a running tally of who is logging the most RSVPs will be recorded. The idea is to make the process smart, fun, fast, easy and, yes, cool.

NMMA chief marketing officer Carl Blackwell says the new app could be ready as early as the week of June 5. The potential audience is large. All we need is a slice. Blackwell hopes the effort becomes more of a “movement” than an advertising campaign, one that the industry can “rally around.” That’s the right approach.

As an industry we need to get behind this initiative in a big way. We have the expertise, the access, the boats. Coming off the past three years, we certainly have the motivation. We need to keep a steady stream of acolytes joining our ranks to replace those slipping out the other end of the funnel. That’s our lifeblood.

If each of us were to introduce just a couple of new people, several perhaps, to this world we find so vital, think of the impact. Collectively our reach is large and diverse. And it’s hard to imagine a better way to get someone hooked into our world than to get that person out on a boat. That’s critical. Let’s make it easy.

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The NMMA’s campaign is ongoing, but Michael Sciulla recently raised an interesting question on LinkedIn: Should the industry create a dedicated week — call it a National Discover Boating Week — when the tribe makes a concerted effort to initiate the uninitiated into our ways?

Sciulla, vice president of the Marine Marketers of America, believes a weeklong focus would create momentum and give the effort a needed push.

“I think to get this ball rolling you need focus. You need an action item,” Sciulla told me. “We need a national campaign focused on one week, one that doesn’t compete with National Safe Boating Week, National Fishing and Boating Week, National Marina Week. Deciding on one week would put a focus on it and help galvanize action this boating season.”

That’s a key point — this boating season. There’s no time and reason to dally. “You snooze, you lose,” Sciulla says. “Why wait?”

Why indeed.

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At a meeting of the Grow Boating task force at the Miami International Boat Show in February Blackwell mentioned the powerful sensation of seeing land for the first time from the water, from a different perspective. I made a note of it, but I didn’t have to write down the thought. I can easily roll the clock back nearly half a century and remember how the lighthouse looked the first time I saw it from the sea.

I am sitting on the forward seat in a worn working lobster skiff. Fred is standing aft, extended tiller in one hand, the other on his hip. He is dressed in khaki pants, a short-sleeve shirt and knee-high rubber boots. He grips a pipe between his teeth. His face is tanned, his arms muscular and knotty from pulling traps by hand off the shallow reefs around Watch Hill, R.I.

His wife was my godmother, and growing up I always called him “uncle” — our families were that close. To a boy of 10 or 11, this tough, independent lobsterman with a growl to match his tough little skiff was larger than life.

“Hold on now,” he says as we come up on the point. “Hold tight. It’s gonna get rough.”

The workboat enters the rip for the first time — the boy feels the jarring as the skiff moves across the current stream and through the standing waves, the water alive now and breaking, the boat moving as if it had a life of its own. I am startled and excited but not frightened. I lift myself off the bench seat with my hands to soften the pounding. Fred is moving toward a pot buoy. And seeing for the first time, from this perspective, the familiar granite light tower, the red-and-white buildings and the surf rolling in on the rocks is as wonderfully disorienting as the run across the reef.

The outing left a powerful impression on me.

Almost 50 years later I make a point each fall of drifting this same stretch of water on the harvest moon, fishing for stripers and visiting lost friends. I say hello to my uncle and to another old dragger captain, both of whose ashes are spread on this reef.

Put shoulder behind this Discover Boating initiative. Invite a non-boater out on your pride and joy. Take a kid out on the water this summer. You never know what you might ignite.


Maine Boatbuilders Show opens tomorrow

In its second year in a new location, the Maine Boatbuilders Show opens tomorrow at 10 a.m. at the Portland Sports Complex. Sail and powerboats, plus engines and accessories will all be on display.