Boating industry gets schooled

NORFOLK, Va. — The boating industry is afraid a decline in water access is pulling the carpet out from under the industry’s efforts to increase boater participation.

But after attending the first two days of the National Symposium on Water Access this week, National Marine Manufacturers Association President Thom Dammrich concluded there was “as much good news as bad news” about water access.

The two days of presentations, which included more than 34 speakers, were focused on water access best practices. Interestingly, most of those examples did not include involvement by the recreational boating industry. Rather, they were examples of partnerships between educational bodies, community groups, and local, state and federal agencies and governments — such as Sea Grant, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Coastal States Organization, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the Florida Department of Community Affairs, the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management and various universities.

The boating industry hasn’t typically welcomed government involvement in its affairs, but the spirit of collaboration — and the impressive results — showcased during the event suggested the industry might miss out on significant opportunities to improve its future if it doesn’t change its views.

A relatively small percentage — approximately 10 percent — of the more than 175 symposium attendees came from within the boating industry. But that 10 percent included several members of the Grow Boating Initiative’s Water Access Task Force, as well as its new chairman, George Bellwoar of Perko.

Among the lessons to be learned were that “there is a lot of money available, there’s a lot of interest [in water access], and there’s a lot of work to be done,” said Dammrich. “We must do a better job of supporting those who are already involved [in preserving and growing water access].”

Perhaps the most significant developments to come out of the symposium, however, have yet to be revealed. Today is the final day of the event, during which organizers hope speakers and attendees will collaborate to create a list of actional objectives and name leaders to guide the various stakeholders to carry them out.

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