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We must introduce kids to boating

There’s no doubt our industry’s future growth will depend, in significant measure, on our appeal to kids. “Survey data tells us we must expose boating to kids,” Brunswick CEO Dusty McCoy told the Lake Erie Marine Trades Association in Cleveland recently.

McCoy was referring to research that concludes a whopping 78.1 percent of current boating participants were exposed to boating as youngsters. Conversely, 61.3 percent of people studied who are non-participants in boating reported they never boated as kids.

We assume our image as a family sport means lots of kids (aka: future boat buyers) are being exposed to the sport these days. But, while studying data can be confusing, there’s reason to believe that’s not as true as we’d like it to be. For one thing, the total boats in use that for most of our industry’s history kept pace with the rising population, has dropped by 1 million since 2004, while the population continued up by 75 million. In addition, studies show we have more boaters by age in their 50s and 60s and less in their 30s when their kids would be at great ages to experience boating and fishing. The demographics for sailing are even older. We clearly have an “aging” sport and I suspect we’d all agree that we need to reverse that for long term success.

In discussions like this, it’s the “long term” that usually trips us up. After all, we’ve been an industry that, as a whole, has never seriously invested in the long term (“Discover Boating” notwithstanding.) We’ve chiefly focused on current sales and profits. Perhaps that’s because we were always growing with the population, but that’s not true now. So, investing in the long term must become part of our plans to see future growth again. Reaching kids is one investment in the future. There are lots of ways to do it – kids’ fishing opportunities (go to and kids’ activities or events (ideas at, or invite kids to your dealership. Here’s one excellent model for reaching kids with your dealership:

South Shore Marine, Huron, Ohio, (Pursuit, Scout, Regal, Grady-White) recently invited local students to its dealership as a field trip. The bus load was on a mission – to learn how a boat business works. “We told the story of how our dealership began and showed them how it works,” explained president Tom Mack. “We also answered some great questions and after our tour explaining all the areas of the dealership, we just let them freely explore the boats in the showroom.”

Mack believes at least half the kids had never had the opportunity to climb aboard or crawl through a boat. “By the time things were over, they all had picked their favorite boat to tell their parents about,” Mack said. “Interesting, a handful of them were kids of customers and, surprisingly, a couple quickly converted their parents to service customers or a showroom visit.”

But Mack says the kids told the story best when, a few days later, individual drawings and thank yous came from each student. They were neatly assembled into a book. “Talk about heart warming,” related Mack. Here are a few samples:

Francis Sherman wrote: “Thank you for showing us around. We really enjoyed going in boats. Now I’m trying to talk my parents into buying a boat.” Meanwhile, Chris Jonas wrote: “Thank you . . . for teaching us about boats. You guys have great service and you all are so nice. I loved to see them working on the boats.” Logan said: “I was surprised to see a TV and a bed in the boat.” And, Taylor wrote: “It was cool how you got into the boat business. It was fun meeting you and learning how boats work.”

Each student received a special gift bag from South Shore containing key chains, cup holders and literature . . . a good investment for the long term!


8 comments on “We must introduce kids to boating

  1. Tom Mack

    Norm – Thanks for sharing this story. Hopefully it inspires other dealers to try something so simple and powerful. The same school group is rescheduled with a new group of kids for this May!

  2. Terry Methner

    I agree with you 100%. If the kids have fun they will be our future customers. We installed Wi-Fi to get the kids out of the malls and out to the marinas. We have one free party per month where kids can eat all the ice cream cones they can handle. We have free dinghy docks where the docks are approx. 9″ off the water, heated swimming pool, and we are hanging soap box derby cars, antique fishing rods & reels, antique motors…… looking for an old 3 pointe hydroplane to make it exciting for kids. We are looking into providing free space for canoes/ kayaks / small sail boats / jet skis for existing customers. The marina has floating cottages for rent for guests or non-boaters. We have two generations at the marina & about to start on the third.
    Thanks, Terry

  3. Dennis Mykols

    Great article, right on target. I want to help push this concept of school field trips, what a great idea. In the Classic boating world, we have a “Youth Judging” program sponsored by the Haggerty Insurance Co. It gives 8 to 10 young kids a chance to view, and judge the Classics on displayed.
    I am also into Classic cars, and I got a sticker under my hood, that says” TAKE A KID TO A CAR SHOW”. a SUTTLE HINT TO ANY ONE LOKKING INTO MY ENGINE COMPARTMENT.
    Maybe we should design something like that for boating. Keep up the good work, Dennis

  4. C Moore

    You will need an App for that……
    Was watching Alaska State Troopers on Natgeo & they were talking to an old indian leader in a small town & he said he was concerned that the youth had little interest in learning the traditional ways of hunting & fishing & how to preserve the catch. He blamed it on Iphones, Ipads, and similar devices. He pointed out that it was the only way to live though the winters was to hunt & fish and put away the food stocks for winter….

  5. CaptA

    Want the younger generation to be your customers? Make it easier for them to get into the lifestyle. Forget about one-owner boats. Sell 6 boats to a club so multiple users can use the boats. The younger generations are not going to be able to afford their own boats. Clubs and fractional programs will be the only way to sell to this up and coming market.

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