Capturing Millennials

At 32 years old, I’m a pretty typical Millennial. I rent a house, drive a six-year-old car, will be paying off college debt for several more years and the idea of buying a recreational item like a new motorcycle, snowmobile or boat is incomprehensibly far into my future.

It’s not that I don’t want the trappings of the American Dream. Like most people, I have this fantasy vision of myself driving an Audi, residing on the water (I live in the City of Lakes within the Land of 10,000 lakes, after all), and spending my summer weekends on the water.

But for my peers and I, these goals are not currently attainable in the traditional sense. I get my time on the water in affordable ways — kayaking rivers back home in northern Wisconsin, renting pontoons on suburban lakes and fishing aboard the Sea Ray my friend’s parents keep on Lake Minnetonka.

After 10+ years of sending out monthly rent checks, the routine feels like throwing a stack of bills into a fireplace. At this point, getting out of renting and into home ownership trumps all else. I’m not alone, as housing inventories in most cities can attest. Recreational toys, a new car, tropical vacations and other superfluous purchases remain on the back burner, far out of sight.

Like associate digital editor Chris Gerber so expertly wrote back in 2012, our generation has seen three bubbles burst before our eyes — Dot com, financial and housing. We’re not about to lightly take on more debt, since most of us started the big game with more than enough.

It’s worth repeating that this new normal doesn’t mean Millennials have no interest in boating. Anything on a smartphone screen can’t hold a candle to the thrill of speed, acceleration and sun you get from boating.


It means the industry needs to radically transform its ownership and usage models to accommodate this heavily indebted generation. Instead of deriding this generation as a bunch of cheapskates — now about one-third of the U.S. population — the boating industry needs to respond to this generation’s challenges with something more significant than uber-entry-level stripper models. Whether it’s boat sharing or boat clubs, any and all marinas and dealerships need to be aware that this lasting trend requires a significant response in how this industry does business.

Young people aren’t scared to spend money; they generally just don’t have much lying around. Giving those who want to boat the opportunity — without requiring ownership — is the only way to ensure this generation values boating the way our parents and grandparents have.

Many in the industry note the lack of a boating culture in emerging economies, like China. Imagine if one day that was true about North America. After letting that thought settle, vow to find creative ways to get younger people on the water this summer.

Forget Obamacare, E15 and the rising price of commodities for a moment. Maintaining a mass-market audience should be Job 1. If it isn’t, you’re not playing the long game.



  1. Dear Tom... Great post! We couldn't agree more... this is exactly why we launched a few weeks ago in partnership with over 150 marinas around the country! As a marina owner myself for the last 11 years, I've seen first hand the challenges our industry faces. Collaborative platforms like BoatSetter make boating more affordable and more accessible! This is a rallying cry for the industry! Andy

  2. Tom, This is so exciting for me. I totally understand, I bought my first boat at 24, and my house didn't come until I got married at 31. I did it backwards. I have always loved being on the water, and I want everyone else to experience that also. This is why I love the Freedom Boat Club, it is so affordable for millennials. Also, we know you have packed schedules, and the ease of use, helps get you on the water. I see more and more of my members that are in your age group. Then when manufactures start making more affordable boats, later on they leave the club, and buy a boat.!!!

  3. You hit the nail on the head, Tom! I love the water, and I'd personally love to own a boat. But I'm nowhere near ready to take on the debt and responsibility that boats require. I rent an apartment and when I think about my future plans, they're so up in the air right now that the idea of taking on house payments and boat payments, and other types of debt is terrifying.

    I would love to see some sort of low cost shared usage model, like they do with private jets. A group buy/rent program maybe? I wouldn't mind putting in a couple hundred bucks a year to have access to a boat, along with a dozen other people or so, to use a few times in the summer. It's cheaper than renting and I wouldn't need to pay for storage, maintenance, etc.

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