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ABC 2015: Leadership council meets on industry future

WASHINGTON — The Recreational Boating Leadership Council met here Monday, marking concrete progress in strengthening industry advocacy.
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The Recreational Boating Leadership Council met Monday on the first day of the American Boating Congress. Shown are Peter Durant (left), of Sail America; Jim Coburn, of Coburn and Associates LLC; Carl Blackwell, of Discover Boating; and Joe Lewis, of the Mount Dora Boating Center.

The Recreational Boating Leadership Council met Monday on the first day of the American Boating Congress. Shown are Peter Durant (left), of Sail America; Jim Coburn, of Coburn and Associates LLC; Carl Blackwell, of Discover Boating; and Joe Lewis, of the Mount Dora Boating Center.

WASHINGTON — The Recreational Boating Leadership Council met here Monday, marking concrete progress in strengthening industry advocacy, the promotion of youth boating programs and diversity in boating, and the marketing efforts of the Discover Boating campaign.

The meeting opened this year’s American Boating Congress, a three-day legislative conference where the industry in a united effort formulates and lobbies for public policy on issues that affect marine businesses.

A group of about 30 marine industry representatives from marinas, dealerships, brokerages, and regional and national associations gathered at the Renaissance Marriott in the nation’s capital for the four-hour session. The council was created during the industry’s third Growth Summit in December 2011 to guide and oversee efforts to increase participation in boating and spark action and discussion to overcome obstacles to growth.

“For a voluntary effort as part of an industry coalition I think we've made great progress,” NMMA president Thom Dammrich, who is secretary of the council, said after the meeting. “The RBLC has no paid staff or budget and yet it is creating a level of industry unity around advocacy, around youth boating, around new marketing and Discover Boating that wouldn’t exist if it didn’t exist.”

Committees responsible for each of the council’s previously identified six priority areas reported their progress since the group’s last meeting in December. Those areas are marketing communications, youth, affordability, diversity, education and advocacy.

“We’ve made great progress and we’ve positioned ourselves to go forward to our next steps,” council chairman Matt Gruhn said. “We’ve made concrete steps in some important areas.”

Some of the developments include the decision to begin promoting and marketing the youth education boating program database, the launching of two new Discover Boating ”Stories of Discovery” videos and the addition of thousands of advocates to the industry’s relevant political causes. Challenges include finding ways to grow the number of boating instructors across the country and increasing strategies to lessen the cost of boating while highlighting its value.

The council's Youth Committee has built a database of 3,200 boating and sailing programs for youngsters across the country, said committee chairman George Harris, president and CEO of the Northwest Marine Trade Association.

“We’ve had only sort of a soft promotion of the database so far,” Harris said. But the committee decided it was time to get the word out about the extensive list and find more programs to add to it. Organizations such as BoatUS are ready to help direct people to the database — and to add information about the programs they know of, BoatUS president Margaret Podlich said. (The database can be accessed via http://www.discoverboating.com/boating-courses/youth-boating-programs.aspx)

In other news, Discover Boating will soon launch two new videos in its “Stories of Discovery” campaign. One is about a young professional — Ashley Rae — who uses her small freshwater aluminum outboard boat to feed her passion to fish. The other one highlights a saltwater boating family in Miami, focusing on how the father’s love of boating, fishing and diving has rubbed off on his 16-year-old son.

Discover Boating also will continue to have country singer Jake Owen participate in its promotional campaigns, said Carl Blackwell, Discover Boating president and co-chairman of the marketing committee. Owen promoted boating on his Days of Gold tour last year and will be doing the same as he tours with Kenny Chesney this year, Blackwell said.

“The good news is Jake is back on board, so we’re very happy about that,” he said. “He has been a tremendous asset for us. And with Kenny Chesney, Jake will be playing larger venues.”

Discover Boating also launched a new campaign, called “Get on the Water,” to promote a new section of its website called the “Get Off Your Dock Guide To Boating.”

The affordability committee is ready to draw up a guide for boat dealers — called a “tool kit’’ — to highlight the value of boating to consumers while offering more affordable ways to take up the recreation, such as buying a used boat. "If a dealership can use one piece of advice from this tool kit, then it is going to make a difference,” committee chairman Jim Coburn said.

After his presentation, Karen Trostle of the National Marine Bankers Association said the industry is doing a good job at boat shows of presenting new-boat purchase price signage in monthly payment increments. The industry can benefit further by explaining to consumers the overall cost of boat ownership, which includes storage, maintenance and insurance, said Vin Petrella of the Association of Yacht Sales Professionals (YBAA).

The diversity committee said it will take a new name — New Markets Task Force — which better describes the group’s efforts to promote boating within not just minority groups, but also among women and youths. The committee also voiced the need for career opportunity development for new markets. “The hiring of diversity markets is essential in key markets and the development of career paths is critical for our industry,” the committee’s report said.

There were big strides in industry advocacy. The NMMA’s Jeff Gabriel and Michael Lewan updated the advocacy efforts of Boating United, which since its formation in January 2014 has grown to more than 25,000 advocates and users who can be called upon to take action on policy issues.

Since January 2014, “campaigns have been launched on issues such as ethanol, boater safety, boater access and even boat foam insulation,” the advocacy committee report said.

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