The American Boating Congress will be held May 12-14 in Washington, D.C. The lineup of speakers is still being finalized, but there will be a new waterfront venue, the InterContinental Hotel; in-water boat displays; and a focus on three key topics: infrastructure, fishing and conservation.
ABC brings together hundreds of industry leaders to network about boating advocacy with lawmakers ranging from cabinet-level officials to members of Congress. “We’re really making a continued effort to draw first-time attendees and young professionals,” says Nicole Vasilaros, senior vice president of government relations and legal affairs for the National Marine Manufacturers Association.
Randall Lyons, executive director of the co-hosting organization Massachusetts Marine Trades Association, says this year’s ABC conference will be his fifth, “and I still remember thinking my first year in 2016 was one of the best professional experiences of my 20-plus-year career.”
Kathleen Burns, executive director of co-hosting organization Connecticut Marine Trades Association, says the three topics the NMMA is focusing on this year are good ones. “Particular to these three, infrastructure must be addressed,” she says. “We see the challenges of dredging, disposal and reuse in our front yard of Long Island Sound as significant economic barriers or pathways, depending upon the regulation of these activities. Without access, there is no economic driver from the water.”
Burns agrees that conservation is a pressing issue. “Conservation, or I prefer the term water quality, is at the root of the industry,” she says. “The health of our environment is crucial to the continuation of our recreation and only can be achieved by sound, nonpartisan science, cooperation and common sense.”
Vasilaros says last year’s conference had the largest attendance ever, with more than 300 participants. NMMA is expecting more this year. “When we take 300 — or maybe 400 this year — diverse industry stakeholders to Capitol Hill, it has a powerful impact,” she says. More than 200 meetings are planned.
“I believe the event is snowballing organically across all stakeholder demographics because of the success it is achieving,” Burns says. “Our motto here at CMTA is, ‘We’re stronger together,’ and I believe ABC is a prime example of that effort.”
While buzz around the upcoming presidential election will certainly be a backdrop for the conference, Vasilaros says the focus is about policy, not politics. “We work across the aisle because we are not a red or blue industry,” she says. “The ABC conference is a great chance to break through party barriers to accomplish bipartisan efforts to advocate for boating.”
ABC conference updates are available at nmma.org. In April, a webinar about the conference will be launched to orient showgoers.
This article originally appeared in the April 2020 issue.