WASHINGTON — The Recreational Boating Leadership Council gathered at the 2014 American Boating Congress on Monday to hammer out plans to increase boating participation by focusing on six crucial areas, including luring younger boaters into the sport and making it more affordable.
Committees responsible for each of the council's previously identified six priority actions reported their progress since the group's last meeting in December. Those areas are marketing communications, youth, affordability, diversity, education and advocacy.
There were nearly 30 participants at the five-hour meeting at the Phoenix Park Hotel in Washington. Marine Retailers Association of the Americas president Matt Gruhn is the council’s chairman; Association of Marina Industries president Jim Frye is vice chairman; and National Marine Manufacturers Association president Thom Dammrich is secretary. The council was created during the industry's third Growth Summit in December 2012.
Dammrich said that "of the six areas we are identifying, affordability is clearly the most challenging. If there was one thing we could do, that would be enough. That would be tremendous. I do know that 83 percent of the boats owned today are pre-owned boats. Discover Boating has put its toe in the water in terms of trying ... to teach [consumers] how to buy a pre-owned boat. Maybe there is more work that could be done. If we get them into their first boat and they have a good experience, they'll want to buy another one."
Promoting the value of the boating experience — the "ing," not the "thing" — stood out as a key theme during the meeting. Discover Boating plans to fully utilize an exciting new face and voice — country singer Jake Owen.
Carl Blackwell, chief marketing officer for Discover Boating and the National Marine Manufacturers Association, told the group that it was wrapping up the production of four videos that show real-life examples of passionate boaters.
One of them features a Hispanic boating family, and another highlights Owen, showing him driving his boat, wakesurfing and catching fish. He also talks about the large role boating has played in his life and in his music.
"Jake is a natural," Blackwell said after showing a short teaser of the videos. "We did not have to give him one sound bite. Talking to him, you can tell he is a boater. He gets it and has become a great ambassador for us."
The Youth Task Force plans to launch a national database of youth boating programs on the Discover Boating website on May 19.
"The goal is to seed the database with 500 programs by May 19 so that program providers and program participants can immediately see the potential and value of the database," said George Harris, task force co-chairman and president and CEO of the Northwest Marine Trade Association.
Collecting data on the programs has been a tough task, though, Harris said. "Merely getting people from these programs to call you back with information is challenging in itself," Harris told me after his presentation.
The NMMA's Michael Lewan talked about the progress that Boating United, the grassroots platform of the recreational boating industry, has made. It is composed of boating manufacturers, businesses and supporters who share the common goal of protecting and promoting the industry.