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There’s no doubt the rise to political prominence of Barack Obama in this year’s Presidential sweepstakes has brought the subject of racial diversity to the forefront in America. In particular, it recently got me thinking about the subject as it relates to our boating industry.

For example, are African Americans or Hispanics a significant factor in the boating marketplace? If not, what are we doing to reach or expand this customer base?

For one thing, I couldn’t find much available data to answer such questions. There is some, however. For example, a 2002 study conducted by the Roper ASW organization for the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation revealed some interesting keys to a largely untapped market for boats. It’s worth another look today.

The study concluded that boating was not widespread among either African Americans or Hispanics, the two largest minority groups in the nation. But don’t write them off just yet. Deeper in the study was noted that 64% of all African Americans and 59% of Hispanics had gone boating at least once. Moreover, 25% of African Americans and 31% of Hispanics had recent (within 24 months) boating experiences. Those numbers are significant if we acknowledge other research, such as that done for the industry’s “Discover Boating” national campaign that indicates the best way to convert someone to boating is to give them a first-hand boating experience. So, assuming their recent experience was an enjoyable one, there are a lot of possible African American and Hispanic boaters out there.

Right now, only about one in twenty African Americans or Hispanics own a boat and that small number may be why we fail to “pitch” boating to this large potential market. For example, my unscientific look at recent issues of major boating and sport fishing magazines reveals virtually no ads/pictures/stories showing African Americans or Hispanics enjoying the sport. We do only slightly better in some manufacturer literature where there are some minority lifestyle photos.

Perhaps the best thing we’ve got going to reach this untapped market is the “Discover Boating” campaign. In it, African Americans and Hispanics are included in some measure. But it’s sure not enough for an industry that needs to expand markets. I suspect the lack of attention to minorities in our industry literature sends a signal that manufacturers and boating media are simply disinterested in African Americans, Hispanics and others as customers. I’d say that’s a “put off” for those prospects!

Perhaps one African American boater put it best when he joked: “Even in the parts catalog all the people are Caucasian!” Do we need to make a more direct effort to attract the African Americans and Hispanics to boating? I say yes -- what do you see?

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