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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.

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