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Why boat registrations decline

We may be finding out the claims that lots of boaters are quitting the sport may be overstated. Once again, valuable new data for the industry is available from research done by the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation (RBFF).

I’m referring to a study undertaken by RBFF with the Oregon State Marine Board. The goal was to learn why the state’s boat registrations have declined, something that’s happening in many states. The study revealed that a boater’s decision to keep and re-register their boat appears to be based on a relationship between three factors: perceived benefits, costs and utilization, with the latter two having the biggest influence.

Not surprising, when it comes to utilization, the No. 1 reason people leave boating is that they don’t use their boat enough. But it’s also not that simple. For example, the study found that 29 percent indicated they don’t need to use the boat at all in a given year to justify owning it! Add to that an additional 29 percent that said they would only need to use their boat a mere one to five times a season to be satisfied. Combined, we have nearly 60 percent indicating low usage is acceptable.

But that still leaves a large segment of boat owners, some 42 percent, apparently wanting more to stay in the sport. In recent years, manufacturers have pushed dealers to organize and host events that result in owners increasing the use of their boats. Clearly providing boating functions and opportunities is good for boater retention and dealer business.

Turning to costs, in general, the study participants indicated that owning a boat is “moderately affordable.” The average rating was 6.6 out of 10 (extremely affordable.) That’s not too bad, but it tells me that we must be vigilant about finding ways to keep costs at acceptable levels for boat owners lest they slip into an “unaffordable” rating or worse.

The study contained much more data, but here is one of the most interesting results. Of the study participants, 90 percent indicated that their primary boat was registered in 2007. However, when asked about all the boats owned by these participants, a surprising 21 percent indicated at least one of their boats was not registered. Further examination revealed 56 percent of unregistered boats are from multiple boat owners who choose not to register their secondary boat.

Thus, the registration decline issue, at least in Oregon, is largely about secondary boats. It shows that most owners presumed to have gotten out of boating really haven’t gotten out at all. Rather, they are apparently just cutting back on the usage of a second boat and, therefore, not re-registering them.

That’s a piece of good news and, hopefully, it’s true in the other states that have experienced a decline in boat registrations recently.

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