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From 1999 to 2017, boating is still The White Man’s Sport

By Brianna Liestman

Every week I post a different “Throwback Thursday” photo on the Boating Industry Instagram account. It’s a huge benefit of having 87-some years of archives at your disposal. Sometimes I go back pretty deep – back to the 1930s – and other times I stay a little closer to home, like when I picked up the 1999 archive book last week.

While I was partying in the archive room like it was 1999, I was struck immediately by a headline in the At The Wheel section of the November 1999 issue: “The White Man’s Sport.” (You can see the photo on our Instagram page)

In it, former publisher Humphrey S. Tyler asserts the purchasing power in the boating industry will always lie in middle- and upper-class households and how, increasingly, those households are headed by women or non-white individuals, both nationally and internationally.

“In short,” he says, “the colour and gender of those with money to buy boats is evolving to include new consumers who have not viewed themselves as boaters and who have had little cultural affinity for marine leisure activities. When was the last time you saw more than a sprinkling of non-whites and single women browsing at the aisles of a boat show?”

Having attended boat shows last year as a solo woman, I can say with confidence that in 2016 this is still the case. While Tyler was speaking from an international perspective, the need to attract new customers beyond our traditional white male buyer has only become an increasingly relevant concern in North America 18 years later. It was honestly astounding to me that we were talking about this way back when I was only … okay, I won’t be cruel and say how old I was in 1999.

We’ve reported a number of times on the changing demographics in the U.S., but the industry at large is still not very concerned about selling to these groups, but is very concerned with selling to a “young buyer.”

The reality is that if we want to grow beyond the slow, steady growth we have experienced over the past few years, we need new customers. Several companies get this, and we’ll be profiling five of those companies today in our webinar “Proven Strategies for Engaging New Markets,” which we partnered on with the Recreational Boating and Leadership Council’s New Markets Task Force. I would encourage you to sign up and listen in at 2 p.m. EST today to hear tangible success stories for how we can make this happen.

I’ll leave you with Tyler’s closing statement, as relevant today as it was in 1999:

“If the international marine industry is going to set its course for growth – serious growth, not the puny, low single-digit growth of the last decade – it has got to confront head-on and radically change the perception of boating as a white man’s pastime.”

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