An Alarming Trend in Boating

It was a cold, gray morning. Drizzle painted the German road outside the 16 enormous convention halls that housed the Düsseldorf boat show. When I stepped inside, however, I felt as if my ruby-red boat shoes transported me to a magical world for boat nuts. From surfboards and kayaks to center consoles and super yachts, the annual show is a pilgrimage for the Euro­pean marine industry that brings 1,600 vendors from 60 different countries together to debut their offerings for the new year.

Besides filling a notebook with news of all the models bound for our shores, this show gives me the chance to spot a host of industry trends. This year I noticed more enthusiasm than ever about the use of carbon fiber in boat-building. The size of windows and sunroofs continues to grow by the year, as does the creativity that designers are putting into bow lounges and social spaces.

One trend—an alarming one—that rose to the surface in various talks with overseas builders, marketers, and journalists is the aging demographic of boat owners, and the lack of millennials entering our sport. A study I read in our sister publication, Trade Only, before flying out to the show was referenced in many of my conversations. According to the report by Info-Link Technologies, in the U.S. today there are nearly as many boat owners over the age of 80 than there are under 30. It took a few moments for the weight of that statistic to sink in.

I mentioned that alarming report to Sunseeker’s Marketing Manager Bryan Jones after dinner one night. Jones has been seeing similarly alarming trends in the U.K. and is on several boards aimed at combating them.

“Yes, we are having the same problem here,” added a journalist from Germany sitting beside us. “Young people are not getting into boating.”

The contributing factors, we agreed, are formidable. Student loan debt is a barrier to entry for many millennials around the world. As a millennial myself, I see other obstacles, most pressing perhaps is the absence of free time. People are busier than ever. In today’s world of social media and instant gratification it’s getting harder to put everything on hold and sneak off to the cove for the weekend.

Jones agreed. “Golf, careers, relationships, electronics—they all vie for our attention, and time.”

“You should offer a challenge to your readers,” he said. “You should challenge them to take young people boating. We need to get more young people out on the water, and I’m sure they would enjoy passing on something they’re passionate about.”

I thought back to my colleagues Capt. Bill Pike and Simon Murray and a cruise they went on last year. I’d tasked Simon and Bill—opposites in many ways outside of their chosen profession—to spend a long weekend together navigating the St. Johns River in Florida. It was an assignment made under the guise of producing a cruising story, but my hope was that a dash of Bill’s passion for boating would rub off on Simon and that he’d be hooked on the benefits it can bring to your life.

I was relieved when both reported it was a trip neither would ever forget (for better or worse). Bill and I have been patting ourselves on the back recently as Simon’s begun talking about ditching his apartment and moving aboard a boat.

“I think you’re onto something there,” I replied to Jones. “Yes, that is a very good idea,” nodded the German journalist.

As I was flying home from Germany, I realized these conversations gave me a deepened understanding of how much boating needs younger people. And if I think about it, I realize younger people probably need boating now more than ever, too. So, I offer this challenge: Clear some time in your hectic schedule. Grab your kids, grandkids—hell, take your neighbors and their kids—and get them out on the water. Start sharing your passion for boating.

I’d love to hear about memories you’ve made while sharing your love for the water with others. Send your stories and photos to us for a chance to win a new pair of Steiner binoculars. inbox@pmymag.com

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