A View from Here

Bill's Sisson's weekly Trade Only blog

Spousal conversion

Boating industry poobahs (not me) held a meeting at the Miami Boat Show in February and I understand the hot topic was women.

It’s not what you think.

My source told me the industry association described many things it was doing to promote the sale of more boats. They announced a new section on the website dedicated to spousal conversion.

Male and female laughter rippled through the room. One person was overheard telling a friend it would be nice to convert to an 18-year-old.

But the real point they were making is that boat sales have never been as good as they could be because many times the wife tells her husband “no.”

I’m sure some women – and who can blame them – have been put off by that long and unfortunate habit in the boating tradition to assign the role of captain to the man and the role of first mate to the woman. That is a thing of the past. Good riddance.

But the main thing the marine marketing experts were saying is that many boat sales never occur because many women, married and single, lack confidence in their own boating abilities and also are apprehensive about boating safety issues.

I believe there’s something to this.

I recently read the first person account of a woman who learned the hard way of the importance of training. This was written by Robin Freeman, Chief of the Department of Education of the Coast Guard Auxiliary:

“It was during one of our first few trips offshore that Rick asked me to stand by the wheel while he went aft to tie some fishing jigs. Suddenly I heard a gurgling, choking sound. I whipped around to find Rick doubled over, his face bright red! I feared it was a heart attack. Three horrible thoughts struck simultaneously: I don’t know where I am. . . I don’t know how to call for help. . . Please don’t die!”

It was not a heart attack. Her husband was choking on a piece of fishing line. He coughed it up and he was okay. But that didn’t minimize this woman’s feeling of helplessness while her husband gasped for air. And, in retrospect, she wished that she had learned how to operate the boat and use the marine radio before her scary incident.

That would have been before they started taking out the boat.

Boat sellers have been very good at selling the fun of boating. Now there is recognition that sometimes boat sellers need to adjust their sales focus to address safety and operation, especially among women, even to the point of offering boat courses.

Learning from a textbook won’t cut it, in my opinion. Real learning and confidence only comes with hands-on instruction, in a boat. You can study it, but you also need to do it.

Our instructors positively, absolutely do not assign the male to the helm and the woman to handle the dock lines. Each student, male and female, spends the time he or she needs to be proficient at all responsibilities – operating the vessel, navigating, docking, anchoring, communicating on the marine radio, even lighting the stove.

I hold this truth to be self-evident: The safest vessel will be the vessel on which everybody knows how to do everything. Sometimes the wife will be at the controls and the husband will be applying sunscreen to young faces and arms. And sometimes it will be the other way around.

Management consultants call this redundancy. I rather like spousal conversion.

Barb Hansen
Proprietor of Southwest Florida Yachts
and Florida Sailing & Cruising School


4 comments on “Spousal conversion

  1. Nonnie Thompson

    Bravo to Barb for keeping this angle in focus…

    See my column in Jan/Feb 2008 issue of Pacific Yachting, Boating in the Pacific Northwest, titled “The Purse has a Pulse,” written to this exact issue. “We may not hold the purse alone, but women could be considered the new target market.”

    It’s just smart business, boys.

  2. Nonnie Thompson

    And my column in Pacific Yachting, Sept. 2007, “The Romance of Sailing: To Learn It is to Love It” speaks to the need for encouragement and training. Call it “Spousal Conversion”. As in any sport or endeavor, women “thrive with hand-on training, repetition and method. We want to sail, to succeed at the sport and be on deck. A woman will glow as her boat plunges into rising waves, when she knows how to ease the sails. She will come alive when lingering becomes laboring and she gets to practice reefing. She will welcome a landfall she has plotted on a chart. And when she finally sets the hook in a quiet cove and the sun melts to the horizon, the satisfaction she shares with her co-captain will be romantic indeed.”

    It’s all good…

  3. John Giannasca

    Women on average are shorter then men. Seeboards is the worlds only helm height adjustmant system that helps boaters of all heights find safety and comfort standing at the helm. I welcome correspondence and feedback from anyone experiencing poor field of vision from the helm.

  4. Capt Russ Cohen

    Hi Barb,

    Capt Russ from Boatboy Marine Training (BMT). You know I could not agree with you more! Usually if the wife doesn’t want a boat, the man is not getting a boat! My wife and I, as do you and your husband love cruising and hanging out on our boat. The funny thing is alot of men who have boats around me have actually told me they wish their wives were more involved with the boat.

    BMT did a ‘Women at the Helm’ event for a very skeptical dealer who quite honestly wasn’t even happy putting boats in the water and using his gas, but, the response was awesome! 18 women signed up in 7 days, filled the 3 boats we used and had a great time! The dealer was shocked and thrilled at the response. I said to him….you have alot of frustrated women at your marina! (I think there’s alot of frustrated women in alot of marinas!)

    Your statement above is very true and it has been proven, “Real learning and confidence only comes with hands-on instruction, in a boat. You can study it, but you also need to do it.” The fact is having your wife , girlfriend or female family member trained on how to handle the boat and all the necessary skills will enhance your boating lifestyle tremendously. If you and your spouse are using the boat together, both of you should take the training together. (At BMT we bring duct tape and wire ties for the husband just in case!)

    Keep up the great work, thanks and as always, we’ll see ya on the water!
    Capt Russ Cohen, Founder & President
    Boatboy Marine Training

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