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Flying and boating: A strange parallel

I read Flying magazine. No, I’m not a pilot. I’ve just always been fascinated by airplanes. But this month, I found an unexpected parallel between flying and boating.

In his article “The Ultimate Human Factor,” contributing editor Jay Hopkins (flyingmag.com) contends that the most important factor in aviation is the pilot. However, there are apparently ongoing discussions in flying circles these days about “a decrease in the number of student pilots and the general lack of interest in aviation, especially among young people.”

With those observations, Hopkins could have just as easily been writing about boating. It became even more evident when he went on to cite various factors including the increase in the cost of flying, the lack of new general aviation plane designs and the excitement surrounding them, and the added complexity of today’s airspace.

But above all, however, Hopkins believes aviation has lost its aura of adventure. That lasting impression that is often formed during a person’s first encounter with something new and exciting, like seeing “the Earth start to fall away and the neighborhoods surrounding the airport slide under the wing” on that very first takeoff. It happened to him as a youngster and he was hooked for life.

Hopkins hit it right on the head. That’s what happened to me as a kid the day I got my first boat ride with my Dad on a neighbor’s boat on Long Island Sound. I still remember that day aboard a Chris Craft Corsair. It was the feeling under my feet as the engines started up, the unique sound when cooling water periodically gushed out the exhausts, the smell of the vinyl cushions in the cabin and a sense of real power as the throttles were pushed up and the hull started sending spray flying. I was hooked for life, as was my Dad. Shortly thereafter, our family had our first boat and I cannot remember any time since that a boat hasn’t been in my life.

By now, I’m sure you’ve figured out where this blog is going. We’re all members of the same marine industry and, as such, we must all become more aware that to grow boating in the long term, seeds must be planted now. But just as in my own case, while I wasn’t a prime prospect at my young age, my Dad was. My excitement for boating surely was a positive influence on his decision to become a boat owner. So there can be a reward now and a reward later.

I’m reminded that industry studies have revealed 80 percent of current boat owners got their first exposure to boating as youngsters. Clearly, reaching kids now is a building block for our future. Accordingly, it’s important that dealers actively engage kids and continue to nurture their initial enthusiasm for the sport.

MarineMax offers a good example. This Saturday, MarineMax store in Clearwater, Fla., will be holding a day of free seminars, product demos and other activities. Of particular note is a special three-hour “Kids and Teens in Boating Seminar” that will teach little skippers, ages 7 and up, such things as line handling, water safety and the sure-to-be the highlight session - hands-on driving of a boat. Of course, the day also includes seminars, demos and activities for adults and they’re all free to the general public as well as current customers.

If we want to see boating alive and growing again, we must be willing to engage in creating ways for people – especially kids – to have an opportunity to experience the excitement of boating, just like I did so many happy boating years ago.

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