Industry growth panels report their progress

Meeting at ABC highlights advances in advocacy and promotion and creation of a database of programs available to young people
The Recreational Boating Leadership Council met during the American Boating Congress. Shown (from left) are Peter Durant of Sail America, Jim Coburn of Coburn and Associates, NMMA senior vice president Carl Blackwell of Discover Boating and Joe Lewis of the Mount Dora Boating Center.

The Recreational Boating Leadership Council met during the American Boating Congress. Shown (from left) are Peter Durant of Sail America, Jim Coburn of Coburn and Associates, NMMA senior vice president Carl Blackwell of Discover Boating and Joe Lewis of the Mount Dora Boating Center.

In its fifth year, the Recreational Boating Leadership Council continues to push the industry to stay on top of issues that impact its future, such as political advocacy and the promotion of boating to young people and to more diverse markets.

The council met in May during the American Boating Congress, the industry’s three-day legislative conference in Washington, D.C.

The council consists of leaders from marinas, dealerships, brokerages, and regional and national associations. It 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,” says NMMA president Thom Dammrich, who is secretary of the council. “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 [otherwise].”

Developments include the promotion and marketing of 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. Educational challenges include finding ways to grow the number of boating instructors across the country and increasing strategies to reduce the cost of boating while highlighting its value.

“Every time we come to this meeting we get a solid report about the progress of the task forces over the past six months and a solid idea of where they’re going for the next six months,” says the council’s president, Matt Gruhn, who is also president of the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas.

Gruhn referred to the six task forces the council previously created that have tackled the priority areas of marketing, youth, affordability, diversity, education and advocacy.

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

Harris was looking for the council’s permission to begin aggressively marketing and promoting the database. The council agreed that, yes, it was time to get the word out about the list and find more programs to add to it. Organizations such as BoatUS stand ready to help direct people to the database — and to add information about the programs they know of, BoatUS president Margaret Podlich, a council member, said at the meeting. (The database can be accessed at

The council also learned that 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 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, says 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 says.

Blackwell told the council about the new “Welcome to the Water” boating trip planner at Boating that allows users to invite friends, family and newcomers to the water.

The affordability committee is ready to create 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.

The diversity committee says it will take a new name — New Markets Task Force — which it says better describes its efforts to promote boating, not just to minority groups but also to 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 says.

The council cited significant strides in industry advocacy. The NMMA’s Jeff Gabriel and Michael Lewan updated the 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 says.

This article originally appeared in the June 2015 issue.


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