The health of boating? Never been better

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With years of declining sales finally behind us and our recovery from the Great Recession, while disappointingly slow, well under way, you’ve gotta like the solid evidence that our future is good as shown in the Coast Guard’s latest National Recreational Boating Survey.

Bottom line: boating still has a powerful attraction. According to this participation study, more than a quarter of the 118.1 million American households had at least one member who is involved in boating. That’s 32.3 million households. Moreover, these participants include 57.9 million adults and 15.6 million children.

Here are some other takeaways:

• There are now nearly 74 million Americans participating in 22.2 million boats, the second highest on record. Specifically, some 33.3 million women account for almost half of the boating participants.

• Another encouraging sign is that more than 15 million children up to 15 years old are boating with their family. We know from other market research that most of today’s boat owners report they were first introduced to the sport as youngsters and 30.2 percent of children in the 11- to 15-year-old age group are boating participants.

• The reasons people go boating are also encouraging because they indicate the key benefits of boating that we strongly advocate in our industry ad campaigns, like Discover Boating for example, are resonating. Topping the list at 88.3 percent of respondents is: “to relax alone or with friends.”

• Swimming came in at 58.7 percent, fishing or crabbing slightly less at 56.5 percent, while waterskiing, wakeboarding and tubing were cited by 38 percent as a reason to boat. Notably, paddling, the fastest growing boating segment, was cited by 34.2 percent.

Survey results also include the numbers of different types and sizes of vessels that are owned in different regions of the country, as well as how often vessels are used. According to the study, overall boating growth was 3.2 percent in 2013 with $36.7 billion in retail expenditures (includes new and used boats, engines, trailers, accessories.)

Not surprising, the South region ranks No. 1 in the country, accounting for 43.5 percent of the total number of person-hours spent aboard boats, presumably attributable to the warm climate and variety of boating opportunities. But while boaters in this region racked up a total of about 1.6 billion boating hours, they only averaged 13 days and 6 hours per use day. And, as expected, Florida alone represents nearly 25 percent of all boating person-hours in the South region followed by Texas at 10 percent.

Similarly, Florida is tops in sales of new powerboats, motors, trailers and accessories, up 16 percent last year to $1.9 billion, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association’s Recreational Boating Statistical Abstract published last month. The NMMA is predicting new boat sales growth will pick up to 5 to 7 percent this year.

The Statistical Abstract is available for a fee from NMMA. A downloadable copy of the Coast Guard’s survey is available free via the Coast Guard’s Boating Safety homepage, www.uscgboating.org/default.

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