Skip to main content

Sailors on the windy side, survey finds

They’re more congenial, more liberal and much more likely to be talking, tweeting and texting

Hunter 40 sailing in Annapolis, MD.

Sailors are much more social than their powerboating counterparts. That’s the word from Sally Helme, publisher of Cruising World and Sailing World magazines, who quoted from the Mendelsohn Affluent Survey as she addressed the state of the sailboat industry during the Miami International Boat Show and Strictly Sail Feb. 15.

According to the survey, sailors are far more active in social media and face-to-face networking than their powerboating counterparts. The survey polls 59 million households with incomes of $100,000 and above to gather information about their lives, spending and media habits. “All of this is useful information in terms of knowing how [sailors] communicate,” Helme told the group gathered for breakfast at the Hard Rock Cafe. “And they like to communicate. They ranked No. 1 in the past year for using email, talking on the phone via Skype and talking in person, which is a good thing. It’s information you can use to know your customers better.”

They also are big tweeters and texters, compared with powerboaters, Helme said. “Powerboaters had no desire to have anything to do with that little bird,” she said, showing a slide of a healthy Twitter bird under a “sail” tag next to a dead Twitter bird under a “power” heading, eliciting laughter from the crowd. They also tend to be politically liberal, compared with powerboaters, are more likely to have conservative leanings.

Understanding the nuances of how sailors prefer to communicate can help the industry spread the message about sailing, Helme said. A piece of trivia that also drew laughter: “Sailors drank 2,287,100 glasses of rum, gin and tequila in the last seven days.”

Sailing was also the only affluent recreation choice to grow participation in 2012, Helme said, up 15 percent. The survey listed golfers first, with 12.1 million affluent adults opting for that recreation. Affluent adults chose powerboating next, which tied with tennis with 6.3 million participating in each. Sailing lagged behind with 1.9 million participants. However, Helme stressed that none of the other recreations, from powerboating to tennis to skiing, increased participation last year.

The overall sailboat industry is tracking on par with the powerboat segment, showing wholesale shipments up around 10 percent for 2012. “For the first time in five years, the sailboat industry was up, and it was up by 10 percent in 2012,” said Helme. “We are mirroring the powerboat numbers that [NMMA president] Thom Dammrich gave yesterday, and that’s a good thing. I’m glad to see we are right there with them.”

Also mirroring powerboating is the fact that not every size category is experiencing growth, Helme said. Shipments of sailboats 11 feet and under grew the most, 21 percent, from 1,377 in 2011 to 1,661 in 2012, she said. The largest chunk of the market, 12- to 19-foot boats, saw an 8 percent increase, from 3,901 to 4,216 from 2011 to 2012.

On the chartering side, bareboat chartering was up 4.2 percent, the first increase in more than eight years, with 18,626 bareboat charter weeks reported booked out of the

North American market between September 2011 and August 2012. The winter season was up 13 percent with a 500-week gain.

However, North American destinations lost market share in 2012 as consumers ventured farther afield to new and more “exotic” destinations, Helme said. The Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, on the other hand, hit a record high in market share with 65 percent, representing 9,270 weeks. Estimated base bareboat fees in 2012 were $65 million dollars, compared to $62 million in 2011.

The recession has taken its toll on domestic builders, Helme said. “The recession’s impact on the number of North American sailboat builders has been painful,” she said, adding that between 2004 and 2012, the number dropped from 146 to 104. The number of full-time workers in the industry was down from 3,100 to 1,531 in that time frame, Helme said.

This article originally appeared in the April 2013 issue.



A Window on the World

Inflation, supply-chain kinks and the continuing war in Ukraine continue to be serious concerns, but numerous companies with a global presence for exports are reporting optimism at the start of 2023.


BRP Announces Mexico Production Facility

The $165 million plant will open in early 2025 in Chihuahua and create up to 1,300 jobs while bolstering production capabilities.


C.G. Foundation Announces Scholarships

The program each year awards more than $500,000 to qualifying children of active duty, active duty reserve and retired Coast Guard members.


Propspeed Expands U.S. Sales Team

Josh McGuire and Cole Barone were named regional sales managers for the Northeast and West Coast.


Newport Boat Show Had $26.1M Impact

The September show drew more than 40,000 attendees last year, with boat sales estimated at $35 million to $40 million.


Consumers Feel a Bit Better

A key measure of U.S. consumer confidence rose in December as the economy added 223,000 jobs, the smallest gain in two years. The Conference Board reported that its Consumer Confidence Index rose to 108.3 from 101.4 in November.


How the ABYC Creates Standards

Standards are a full-time mission for the ABYC that goes beyond simply putting out a new supplement every July. As an organization built on a tradition of common-sense and real-world experiences, the ABYC works on standards development year-round with its Project Technical Committees.


Year Three of Five

Fear of an impending exodus, especially with concerns about a looming economic recession, has leaders at the MRAA, the National Marine Manufacturers Association and the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation urging the industry to start focusing immediately on improving customer service as the primary way to retain these boaters.


Tax Season Is Approaching

Every year, marine business owners should take inventory of their companies to ensure that their tax planning is up to date. Multiple tax-law changes will affect the filing of 2022 tax returns.