As I travel to meetings in Florida and the warmer areas of the country, the comment I hear most often is about how many boats people are seeing out on the water. There seems to be amazement in the industry that boaters are out on the water in force in spite of high gas prices. As warm weather reaches North, I know I am watching the Chicago lakefront gradually fill with boats.
Are people changing their behavior to conserve gas while boating? Sure they are. But, research and anecdotal reports tell us that boaters will spend as much time on their boats this summer as they ever have. They may take shorter trips, or anchor in their favorite cove more or spend more time at the dock. But they will be on their boats as much as ever. Only one percent of boaters say they won’t use their boats this summer due to high gas prices. Our research shows that over the past three years, boaters have been using their boats as much as ever—32-33 days a year.
A survey of Certified ValvTech marinas reported that for most boaters, good weather and favorable boating conditions have much more to do with how and how often they use their boats than gas prices do. The average boater only runs his engine 75 hours a year. And, 95 percent of all boats in use are under 26 feet in length. The vast majority of boaters can enjoy all the benefits of the boating lifestyle without spending a lot on gas.
Why is this important to those in the industry who make their living on boat sales?
Well, how often do you sell a boat to someone who has never been on a boat or to someone who has never had a boating experience? I suspect the answer is, ‘very rarely’, if not ‘never’. Participation in boating precedes boat purchases. Participation in boating peaked in 1997 and declined for nearly 10 years. We didn’t get where we are overnight and we aren’t going to turn it around overnight. With fewer people experiencing boating the past ten years, is it any surprise there are fewer buyers?
The good news is we have had two consecutive years of increases in boating participation. This is confirmed by studies done by Michigan State University and the National Sporting Goods Association. Boating participation was up 6.2 percent in 2006 and up another 8-10 percent in 2007. As we get more and more people on the water we are planting the seeds of our future success! This increase in boating participation is occurring just as the industry has unified behind a strategy to grow boating and executed on that strategy. We are only in our third year of the Discover Boating campaign and boating participation is growing strongly and the seeds of our future growth are being planted.
I spend a lot of time talking with reporters from newspapers and magazines from coast to coast. They all want to talk about the same thing. And, I tell them all the same thing. Sales are off nationally, but not everywhere. And participation is up. Boating has its ups and downs and has for decades. But, for the first time, when the current slump ends sometime next year, there will be more new buyers in dealer showrooms than ever before. Because we have taken the unprecedented step to unify behind a strategy to improve the boating experience while promoting the boating lifestyle.
I have more good news on the Grow Boating Initiative to share with the industry. As long as Lois Caliri gives me this space, I’ll bring you my perspective. I welcome your perspective too.