Boating safety. “How dry can a subject be? For most Americans, boating safety is an afterthought, not something that is carefully planned for, but one little organization is doing a lot to change that perception.
For the fourth straight year, the WaterSports Foundation (WSF) has been awarded a non-profit federal grant for a boating safety outreach campaign. Its goal is to reach current and future boaters with messages designed to change their attitudes and behaviors about boating safety ultimately making America’s waterways safer.
Founded by the WaterSports Industry Association (WSIA), a group that looks out for waterskiing and wakeboarding by keeping waterways open and promoting safe boating, the WaterSports Foundation is its non-profit education branch. The outreach campaign, initially designed in 2011, called Increased Awareness of Safe Boating Practices was designed to fulfill the needs outlined by the U.S. Coast Guard’s Strategic Plan. The plan specifically outlines eleven objectives and strategies for improving boating safety. Objective II, called “Boating Safety Outreach,” clearly defines the need for a boating safety public outreach campaign.
Each year, the U.S. Coast Guard stewards funds from the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund that are, in part, passed out to non-profit organizations whose work is in line with the goals and missions of the U.S. Coast Guard’s effort to make boating safer for all Americans. For fiscal year 2015, the U.S. Coast Guard was allocated roughly $4.8 million for its non-profit grants program, about $500,000 less than 2014. In June, the WaterSports Foundation was awarded $700,000 or roughly 15% of the total.
You might be wondering, “What does an organization like the WaterSports Foundation do with all that money?” A little over 90% of the funds are passed through to media outlets that reach current and future boaters. The balance is used for administrative purposes including salary, travel and producing the required U.S. Federal audit.
Jim Emmons, former president of the WSIA and WSF Grant Administrator said, “Even though the award is down slightly from last year, it’s still a significant investment in our boating safety outreach program and we’re delighted that the Coast Guard believes in our work so much.” In May the WaterSports Foundation received a letter of commendation from CAPT. F.T. Boross that stated, “The Water Sports Foundation has done a tremendous job in advancing the National Recreational Boating Safety Strategic Plan's Objective #2, which is to deliver national boating safety messages through various educational resources and media to reduce deaths and injuries of recreational boaters.”
As a watersports fan, a recreational boater or an industry participant you may have seen some of the content produced as a result of the WaterSports Foundation’s grant. In fact, more than 30 million have so far! To date, more than 250 million impressions have been delivered.
The outreach campaign is centered by a website that is an extension of ten well-known boating and watersports brands. They are Boating, Yachting, Sailing World, Cruising World, WaterSki, WakeBoarding, Sport Fishing, Salt Water Sportsman, Marlin and Field & Stream magazines all published by the Bonnier Corporation. Through the use of both advertising and editorial content, these titles reach American boaters with print & digital advertising, electronic newsletters, and video offerings. In fact, several pieces of original content have won national awards for their quality and creativity. In addition to Bonnier’s titles, the grant also taps into other well-known media brands such as Boating World, SEA and Alliance Wakeboarding.
For 2015, the grant will expand to include three new titles that reach small vessel operators—an area of concern for the U.S. Coast Guard since most accidents and deaths occur in smaller vessels. The titles are Kayak, Kayak Fish, and SUP which serves the burgeoning stand-up paddleboard market. Yes, the U.S. Coast Guard considers stand up paddleboards as vessels. Emmons said, “Each year we challenge ourselves to look for additional partners that can help us reach even more boaters. Once we learned that small vessels including canoes, kayaks and jon-boats are contributing more to the number of accidents and deaths than other categories, we knew these titles would be a great fit for our program.”
In its first year, the WaterSports Foundation created a program called Cross-Pollination to alleviate the voracious appetite that its media partners have for fresh content. After signing media agreements, publishers were constantly looking for ads and other content as described in the agreement and the U.S. Coast Guard simply couldn't keep pace with the demand. Emmons realized that other non-profit grant recipient’s messages were achieving the same goals i.e. to make boating safer and that’s when he invited them to participate by sharing their messages in the WSF grant, for free!
Many of the other organizations refused to believe it at first, but eventually as many as eight partners were on board with advertising messages reaching boaters in America at no cost to them. As you might expect, the Cross Pollination program has been a huge hit with the Coast Guard. For many years these organizations competed for Coast Guard attention and dollars. The Cross Pollination program has united a lot of these organizations together in the name of boating safety and their program’s messages are reaching millions of boaters for the first time. In fact, CAPT. Boross of the U.S. Coast Guard stated this in his letter of commendation, “What is especially noteworthy is the WSF's cross pollination efforts with respect to promoting other non-profit US Coast Guard grant recipients' safety messages and boating education services.”
Two big examples of Cross Pollination are NASBLA’s “Operation Dry Water” and NSBC’s “Wear It” campaigns. These are two high profile programs designed to reduce boating under the influence and increase life jacket wear rates. Both were invited to participate in WSF’s Cross Pollination program. This meant that ads – both print and digital – from each campaign would be delivered through the WSF grant and it’s targeted media buy. Six other agencies including the American Boating & Yachting Council, American Canoe Association, the Energy Education Council, U.S. Power Squadrons, U.S. Sailing and the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary are also included in Cross Pollination.
The grant gets busiest in the months of January through July, so if you’re looking for safety messages in months other than these you might be hard pressed to find them, however the safe boating website, www.boatingmag.com/boatingsafety, can be accessed at anytime. For more information on this or any other WaterSports Foundation boating safety initiatives, please call Jim Emmons at 407-719-8062.