Miami shows exemplify boating’s attraction

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Starting today, Miami is the center of the world’s boating universe. The Progressive Miami International Boat Show & Strictly Sail covers three locations and the in-water Yacht & Brokerage Show runs alongside Collins Avenue for more than a mile.

More than 100,000 visitors from dozens of countries will visit these shows in the next five days and, when they end, our industry will have a good read on what this year holds for sales.

As for me, I’m spending time in the “Welcome to the Water” Affordability Pavilion at the Miami Convention Center, illustrating for prospective boating families that getting into boating can actually cost less than today’s car payments. The display is filled with more than a dozen different examples of boats that can be owned for less than $250 a month. But I’m not selling boats. I’m selling the idea that the boating lifestyle is within everyone’s reach. It’s a lot of fun.

Speaking of getting people into boating, I’m thinking about another great Florida location where big numbers of families are being introduced to boating and fishing. It’s Walt Disney World in Orlando and it’s part of a five-year promotional program with the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation.

For example, the RBFF’s “Take Me Fishing” brand is prominent at dozens of fishing sites throughout Disney World. The lakes there boast excellent bass fishing and are proving perfect for introducing thousands of first-timers to fishing.

Perhaps even more impressive, however, is that kids are taking the helm of small powerboats at Disney World. The boats are Sprites, dubbed “SeaRaycers,” powered by 9.9-hp Mercury outboards. Any youngster 12 years old and 60 inches tall can take the helm of these boats alone.

And there’s no shortage of boats. Currently, there are 110 “SeaRaycers” at various locations and they’re easily seen when they’re zipping around the lakes. How many kids take the helm? How about 200,000-plus annually. Talk about reaching out to youngsters.

Clearly, the RBFF’s joint promotional agreement with Disney is a win for Disney and for promoting boating and fishing.

Finally, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has just handed out nearly $9 million in grants to researchers who are “trying to manage nutrient pollution” of our waterways. It’s like putting a Band-Aid on the patient after being giving last rites — far too little funding for what is a rapidly growing national problem.

If the EPA wants to get something consequential done now, try this: Demand Congress immediately repeal the Renewable Fuel Standard and rid the country of a mandate to produce corn ethanol.

It doesn’t take four research universities to recognize that the recent increase in nutrient pollution is coming directly from the rush to cash in on record corn prices driven by ethanol production. Indeed, farmers have planted more than 1.5 million acres of once-reserved conservation land to grab corn profits. Moreover, the millions of pounds of fertilizer being spread on those acres are washing into our rivers and lakes.

The growing algae problems on Lake Erie, fed by the Maumee River that runs through Ohio’s farmland or the huge and growing “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico are victims of the broken Renewable Fuel Standard’s mandate to turn food (corn) into ethanol.

The marine industry continues to push for congressional action. It’s a campaign we must win. If you want to help, go to www.boatingunited.com and send a message to your congressional delegation to act on repeal of the fuel standard.

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