A View from Here

Bill's Sisson's weekly Trade Only blog

Initiating the uninitiated

Getting a non-boater out on the water is not a new concept, but it is a powerful one. And it’s one of the cornerstones of the NMMA’s new Welcome to the Water campaign, which through a soon-to-be-launched app will enable 40,000-plus Discover Boating Facebook “fans” to invite their friends to leave terra firma behind and feel the wind and spray on their faces.

Leveraging the power of social media to grow the pie organically is smart and cost-effective. Through a Facebook contest, boaters — or so called “captains” — will send custom e-invitations to their friends, and a running tally of who is logging the most RSVPs will be recorded. The idea is to make the process smart, fun, fast, easy and, yes, cool.

NMMA chief marketing officer Carl Blackwell says the new app could be ready as early as the week of June 5. The potential audience is large. All we need is a slice. Blackwell hopes the effort becomes more of a “movement” than an advertising campaign, one that the industry can “rally around.” That’s the right approach.

As an industry we need to get behind this initiative in a big way. We have the expertise, the access, the boats. Coming off the past three years, we certainly have the motivation. We need to keep a steady stream of acolytes joining our ranks to replace those slipping out the other end of the funnel. That’s our lifeblood.

If each of us were to introduce just a couple of new people, several perhaps, to this world we find so vital, think of the impact. Collectively our reach is large and diverse. And it’s hard to imagine a better way to get someone hooked into our world than to get that person out on a boat. That’s critical. Let’s make it easy.

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The NMMA’s campaign is ongoing, but Michael Sciulla recently raised an interesting question on LinkedIn: Should the industry create a dedicated week — call it a National Discover Boating Week — when the tribe makes a concerted effort to initiate the uninitiated into our ways?

Sciulla, vice president of the Marine Marketers of America, believes a weeklong focus would create momentum and give the effort a needed push.

“I think to get this ball rolling you need focus. You need an action item,” Sciulla told me. “We need a national campaign focused on one week, one that doesn’t compete with National Safe Boating Week, National Fishing and Boating Week, National Marina Week. Deciding on one week would put a focus on it and help galvanize action this boating season.”


That’s a key point — this boating season. There’s no time and reason to dally. “You snooze, you lose,” Sciulla says. “Why wait?”

Why indeed.

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At a meeting of the Grow Boating task force at the Miami International Boat Show in February Blackwell mentioned the powerful sensation of seeing land for the first time from the water, from a different perspective. I made a note of it, but I didn’t have to write down the thought. I can easily roll the clock back nearly half a century and remember how the lighthouse looked the first time I saw it from the sea.

I am sitting on the forward seat in a worn working lobster skiff. Fred is standing aft, extended tiller in one hand, the other on his hip. He is dressed in khaki pants, a short-sleeve shirt and knee-high rubber boots. He grips a pipe between his teeth. His face is tanned, his arms muscular and knotty from pulling traps by hand off the shallow reefs around Watch Hill, R.I.

His wife was my godmother, and growing up I always called him “uncle” — our families were that close. To a boy of 10 or 11, this tough, independent lobsterman with a growl to match his tough little skiff was larger than life.

“Hold on now,” he says as we come up on the point. “Hold tight. It’s gonna get rough.”

The workboat enters the rip for the first time — the boy feels the jarring as the skiff moves across the current stream and through the standing waves, the water alive now and breaking, the boat moving as if it had a life of its own. I am startled and excited but not frightened. I lift myself off the bench seat with my hands to soften the pounding. Fred is moving toward a pot buoy. And seeing for the first time, from this perspective, the familiar granite light tower, the red-and-white buildings and the surf rolling in on the rocks is as wonderfully disorienting as the run across the reef.

The outing left a powerful impression on me.

Almost 50 years later I make a point each fall of drifting this same stretch of water on the harvest moon, fishing for stripers and visiting lost friends. I say hello to my uncle and to another old dragger captain, both of whose ashes are spread on this reef.

Put shoulder behind this Discover Boating initiative. Invite a non-boater out on your pride and joy. Take a kid out on the water this summer. You never know what you might ignite.


3 comments on “Initiating the uninitiated

  1. Jeff Scherer


    Your point is well made. It is very difficult to get non-boaters engaged while their feet are still on land. I think this new GB app also has some interesting merit. I don’t know too many people that will turn down a day out on a boat when invited. I also think that the influence of social media has turned the proverbial sales funnel on its side and made it more of a megaphone now.

  2. Joe Lewis

    Hey Bill,
    Good article! Getting people on the water to experience first hand what boating is all about is and will always be our industry’s most compelling way to explain why folks should buy a boat. I’ve got my fingers crossed the new “Welcome to the Water” campaign will become a movement and I firmly believe if the industry gets behind the program and uses it, the results will surprises us all. The tools are there. All we need to do is pick them up and use them.
    I do need to take you to task on one major point. This is not an NMMA program! It is a campaign brought to the industry by Grow Boating. This is an industry wide initiative created and supported by manufacturers, dealers, suppliers and other businesses that support the marine industry. While NMMA has provided a vital role in the development and continuation of the program so has MRAA, NMBA and every manufacturer and dealership contributing to the funding. Grow Boating/Discover Boating and the new “Welcome to the Water “campaign is not NMMA’s its OUR’s. We own it and it’s up to us to make it work.

  3. Barbara Lippert

    Grow Boating Campaign: Is indeed a national effort by all the trade associations reaching out to the non-boater to make them aware of what fun they are missing out on with friends and families.
    The Pacific Northwest – unquestionably one of the finest cruising destinations in the world – has 2 associations running dueling campaigns. Each one is showcasing the spirit and dedication to enticing first time boaters to take the plunge.
    Northwest Yacht Brokers (NYBA) has a fabulous site [NWCruising.com] – written by one of the local magazine editors who really knows the best kept secret spots and points of interest – all reachable by boat! The Northwest Marine Trade Association (NMTA) features their campaign on the site [seattleboatshow.com/Get started boating] with their spin on getting out on the water.
    It isn’t the size of the boat that matters, it’s the experience and memories that can’t be measured in feet !

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