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At the Helm: Building a future for boating

By Liz Walz

We didn’t have a lot of money when I was a kid, but the one luxury my mom made sure to save for every year was summer camp. It was my escape (and hers).

For as many as eight weeks each summer, I would play in the outdoors, swimming, hiking and canoeing in the mountains and rivers of Vermont, New Hampshire and New York. Eventually, I earned the title of “Pioneer” for an entire summer devoted to the development of outdoor survival skills.

Thanks to summer camp, I earned my lifeguard certification, own an ax with my name inscribed on it (the Pioneer’s trophy), gained a strong sense of self-reliance, and perhaps most importantly, developed a love of the outdoors that has carried into adulthood.

Likewise, my husband attended summer camp for most of his youth, eventually lording over the waterfront as “Sailing Master,” and we’re now preparing to send my soon-to-be seven-year-old for his first summer camp experience.

In mid-December, I was honored to attend the Recreational Boating Stakeholder Growth Summit in Chicago. Among the many important points of discussion during the event was the aging of the boating population. The largest group of boat owners today is in their 50s whereas 10 years ago the largest group was in their 40s. Clearly, we need to get more young people out on the water in order to build a stronger future for our industry.

It starts with kids. Statistics show that 78.1 percent of today’s boating participants boated during childhood versus 38.7 percent of non-participants. We need to get kids boating now to build up our base of potential buyers in the years ahead. Not to mention the fact that kids drive a lot of their parents’ purchasing decisions.

Kudos go to the National Marine Manufacturers Association, which not only organized the summit but invited representatives of the YMCA and the Boy Scouts, both groups I’ve personally witnessed having a huge positive influence over the lives of children.

As part of the summit, attendees were challenged to think about how they could take the action items we developed to drive change at a grassroots level. Certainly, as a media outlet, we have the opportunity to communicate the progress made during the summit and in its aftermath to those who weren’t there. And with our cover story this month (see page 14), we began that process by incorporating data shared during the summit into the article.

But I’ve also been thinking about how I can personally contribute to our industry’s growth. In my mind, summer camps are one of our greatest opportunities to set the foundation for a bright future. If each of us got involved with one local summer camp and helped them provide opportunities for fishing, boating and water sports to kids, together we could make a significant contribution to our industry, as well as to the lives of those children.

That’s my plan: to reach out to my son’s summer camp and see how I can make a difference. This isn’t a new idea. Forward thinking dealers and manufacturers have been contributing to and even hosting their own summer camp programs for years. But it is one that could benefit from more industry involvement.

As a wise person once said, improvement begins with I.

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