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Future Boaters Are Different

Research for the Discover Boating campaign revealed three segments of boating’s present and future
DiscoverBoating_Segments_for_Soundings

The rollout of our industry’s Discover Boating campaign in April followed deep research that guided all aspects, from our new logo and the “See You Out Here” creative to the media, influencers and public relations that the industry will see in the coming months. We not only wanted to understand the basic demographics of future boaters, but also wanted to really get at the feelings, behaviors and mindset of boaters, especially post-pandemic.

We knew we couldn’t simply profile today’s boat owners to find the next generation. One thing was clear in our research: The next generation looks, acts and thinks differently than current boat owners. And yet their mindset and interests in many ways remain similar. Participation in the outdoors, and outdoor recreation specifically, are uniting factors across the boater population.

What we know about current boat owners: They are older than the average American, with a median age of 54, and they are 16 years older than the U.S. median age; they are high-income and high-net-worth compared to the average American; they’re more likely to be male than the average American; and they’re much more likely to be Caucasian than the average American.

However, demographic trends show that this population is shrinking as the U.S. population shifts. As a result, next-generation boaters are more diverse, not just in age, ethnicity and gender, but also in attitudes, behaviors and location. What’s more, they’re less likely to come from boat-owning families than previous generations.

We identified three key segments that we’re calling Traditional Boaters, Growth Segment and Emerging Segment. The Traditional Boaters most closely resemble the current boat owner, while the Growth and Emerging segments are where we can expand our audience. There are 91 million potential future boaters in our Growth and Emerging segments. That is more than one and a half times the Traditional Boater segment size.

Traditional Boaters have the highest penetration of boat ownership and participation in boating activities. They are also older and more suburban and exurban than other groups.

The Growth Segment represents the best opportunity to bring in younger boaters and grow boating. These people are pursuing boating-adjacent activities at high rates, including powersports, biking and hiking. They are younger than current first-time boat buyers, more ethnically and racially diverse, and more likely to live in denser areas.

Discover Boating’s research revealed that the Growth and Emerging segments are more diverse than the Traditional segment.

Discover Boating’s research revealed that the Growth and Emerging segments are more diverse than the Traditional segment.

The Emerging Segment is a large, dynamic and affluent portion of the potential future boat-owner population. They are not pursuing the outdoor activities that are predictive of future boating in their daily lives, but they are doing those activities on vacation with a potential “pull” via rental activity. They are the most diverse, most affluent segment.

Some characteristics of the Growth and Emerging segments include that they like to attend events such as auto shows, food and beverage festivals, and music festivals; they consider themselves more environmentally conscious; they are heavy users of social media, including Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn and TikTok; they enjoy foreign and domestic travel; they can be found golfing, cycling, running, playing tennis and doing yoga; and they own autos from brands including BMW, Jeep, Tesla and Subaru.

In addition to identifying audience segments, our research looked at the behaviors and mindset of potential future boaters. A key finding was that the freedom of being on the water, and the feelings associated with that freedom, were significant unifiers and influencers for boating. Those feelings of freedom are what we work to capture in our creative.

At the same time, the social connections and opportunities that uniquely come with boating align with what both future and current boat owners seek.

Discover Boating is focused on inviting the next generation while remaining connected with the current boater. The insights we gleaned from our research can also help the industry define targets for individual marketing initiatives. Some marketers may want to focus on the more Traditional segment for near-term sales, and on the Growth and Emerging segments as a way of building participation among younger, more active individuals and families over time. 

Ellen Bradley is senior vice president of marketing and communications for the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

This article was originally published in the May 2022 issue.

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