Kids, boats and the future of our industry

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Some of the best prospects for boat sales today and tomorrow are the grown children of the current crop of boaters. And if you wait just a little bit, the grandchildren may be looking for boats, too.

The following stat says an awful lot: Roughly 86 percent of those who participate in boating today were introduced to the sport as children. That speaks to the power of starting them young. And remember the mantra: Purchase follows participation.

The importance of reaching young people is the reason youth boating is one of the six priorities identified by the industry Growth Summit, which held its third meeting in early December. The committee responsible for the youth initiative will work this year to indentify existing programs serving young people in order to better understand the opportunities and challenges in front of us. And the industry also is getting behind programs such as Sea Scouts and other high school-level fishing and boating clubs.

The committee is co-chaired by George Harris, president and CEO of the Northwest Marine Trade Association, and Keith Christopher of the Boy Scouts of America. Their work will benefit all of us.

Next Friday, Jan. 18, I have the pleasure of moderating the sixth annual Industry Roundtable at the Providence (R.I.) Boat Show. The topic: “The Next Generation of Boaters.” It’s a subject near to the heart of Rhode Island Marine Trades Association CEO Wendy Mackie.

“Cultivating the next generation of boaters is a topic that has been in the forefront of my mind for several years,” Mackie told me Tuesday by email. “I have been working with young people specifically around building career awareness and skills for the marine industry for about six years. I worked with youth who live in waterfront communities to make them aware of careers available to them in the marine trades. It was shocking to learn that, though they lived in these communities, too many of them had never participated in a boating or fishing experience and they had no idea what it meant to work in the recreational boating industry. It became very clear that in order to engage youth in careers in the marine trades we first needed to expose them to the water, the culture … and the fun.”

When it comes to kids and boats and the water, hook them on the fun and you often have them for life. Even if they wander off for a time starting families and building careers, many will make their way back if that initial early experience was memorable.

This photo from my archives shows daughters No. 1 (Alana, right) and No. 2 (Leah) out for a day with yours truly. Today they are both busy new mothers who still love getting out on the water. Future family boat owners? I’m betting yes.

I’ve also included this link to a column on two youth programs — one on the East Coast and the other on the West Coast — in the February issue of Soundings magazine. Written by sailing editor Dieter Loibner, “The win-win of kids learning about boats” is a good story about two efforts worthy of praise. It’s worth a look.

And lastly, this observation: Sometimes it’s the kids who bring their non-boating parents or other adults into the sport through their participation in a sailing, fishing or other youth boating program — reverse engineering at its finest.

For an example, I return to Wendy Mackie.

“Though my professional role has changed significantly over the years, I have maintained my connection to youth and training programs,” Mackie told me. “One example of that is our Youth Work and Learn in the Marine Trades Program, a summer boatbuilding exposure program for 14- to 15-year-olds. Ten kids spend six weeks building 14-foot Bevin skiffs. [Last year], the students honored me — they built me a boat and named it after me.

“So, I’m hooked … and now I’m a boat owner, too, thanks to my students.”

An example of the virtuous circle at work.

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