Meet the Recreational Boating Leadership Council

The various subcommittees of the Recreational Boating Leadership Council have been toiling away to grow the boating lifestyle, and with a few new developments it’s high time to check in with the organization.

In the next few weeks Boating Industry will be exploring the various subcommittees, examining their successes and getting the details about current projects and future plans. But first, let’s reintroduce the council.

RBLC chairman Matt Gruhn explained that the group got its start as the global recession had just started to ease, but boating lagged behind.

“It started as the Growth Summit, back in December of 2011 and basically the premise was we’re coming out of the recession, and Brunswick ended up doing a pretty extensive research program through a third party,” said Matt. “It didn’t show a very positive outlook.”

He said those ugly numbers sparked action.

“So through conversations Brunswick had with NMMA, the NMMA put together a growth summit to address the issues and there were extensive, extensive issues that needed to be addressed,” said Gruhn.

With the research in hand, it was time to tap the industry for some insight into the realities at dealerships and marinas across the country.

“There was a huge survey done in advance, and the survey helped identify what the industry saw as our challenges and what our industry saw as our opportunities,” said Matt.

That survey outlined the discussion at the Growth Summit and defined the various goals of what was to become the RBLC.

“Ultimately it identified six areas of focus that the industry needed to have,” said Gruhn. “The six areas were marketing, advocacy, youth boating, diversity, affordability and education.”


The function of the marketing communications priority is to improve recreational boating industry stakeholders’ understanding and support of the industry’s Discover Boating and the Welcome to the Water campaigns.

“Discover Boating has done a phenomenal job of spreading the word about boating and the excitement that’s involved in boating,” said Gruhn. “The trouble wasn’t that it didn’t communicate to the industry as effectively as it could have, or maybe the right way to say that is the industry didn’t pay attention as well as it should have.”

Gruhn said Carl Blackwell and team are trailblazers in the industry as far as marketing goes — tapping video, tackling the diversity issue and providing great tools for the industry.

“We literally have comments about, ‘You know, we should do this’ and Discover Boating is already doing it or, ‘We should do that,’ and Discover Boating has been doing it for 10 years,” said Gruhn. “So it’s become clear that we need to communicate to the industry the effectiveness and accomplishments that Discover Boating is realizing, because there’s a lot and it’s been a very, very impactful program.”


The advocacy priority will work to improve the industry’s presence on Capitol Hill to protect and grow recreational boating.

“The focus for the advocacy task force was really to champion the industry around the American Boating Congress event,” said Gruhn. “ABC has historically been an NMMA program, still is, but NMMA opened it up to the industry and what they call cohosts of the event.”

The work the advocacy subcommittee did has made it possible for more industry folks to get involved in the political issues that affect boating; which translates to a stronger show of force in Washington.

“So more organizations are taking ownership in this program because we need an effective event to go to Washington and say, ‘Hey, these are the needs of our industry and this is what we need to do,” said Gruhn.

Youth Boating

The youth priority’s goals are to quantify and inventory existing youth boating programs to understand opportunities and needs.

“There are very hard statistics that show if you go boating as a child, you are far, far more likely to buy a boat as an adult. It’s common sense, but the numbers very definitively illustrate that this is the case,” said Gruhn. “So naturally, we want to get kids involved in boating. So how do we do that? And what are the different steps and processes?”

Co-chair George Harris and team have been quite busy. Recently launching a youth boating database as the foundation of their efforts to make it easy for kids to get into boating.

Tune in next week for more on these early days of the database and what’s coming next for the subcommittee.


The focus of the diversity priority is to quantify the business opportunity that diversity offers, promote greater diversity within the industry and encourage continued outreach to diverse audiences by industry stakeholders and understand how changing demographics impact recreational boating.

“If you just look at boating and look at the room of the 170 people that were [at the Growth Summit], it seems to be an old white man choice of recreation,” said Gruhn. “So we have set out to make it clear that it’s not, and it doesn’t have to be.”

Gruhn said sometimes it’s as simple as tweaking the marketing collateral.

“Inviting other ethnicities and diverse cultures into boating and, some of it’s as simple as showing diverse audiences that people like them go boating and showing images of them in boats and on docks and so forth,” said Gruhn.


The focus of the education group will be to rally the industry around Welcome to the Water on National Marina Day events and other educational opportunities.

“The lack of knowledge of how to drive a boat, we believe, is a barrier to entry,” said Gruhn. “If you walk into the Minneapolis Boat Show and you walk into a sea of fiberglass where the average boat is $60,000, are you willing to invest $60,000 in that beautiful brand new boat if you’re afraid you’re going to smack it into a dock or drive it into another boat?”

Creating opportunities for prospective boaters to learn more about boating is a key focus.

“How many people are out there that are afraid of it so they won’t even consider it?” pondered Gruhn. “So we want to create educational opportunities to demonstrate to people that boating can be easy and boating can be easy and safe and it’s easy to get some education.”


The purpose of the affordability committee is to understand buyer habits, explore opportunities for new points of entry (including certified pre-owned), and better communicate the emotional and experiential benefits of the boating lifestyle.

“Affordability is the most difficult component in all of these to talk about,” said Gruhn. “A lot of it is dependent on demonstrating the value of what you get out of boating.”

Teaching dealers to focus on monthly payments, bundled boat and service packages, pushing pre-owned boat sales and showing the real value of boating are a few of the many moving parts the subcommittee covers.

“Boating is a lifestyle choice, you buy a boat and you spend the summer with your family on the water and you grow close to your kids and you spend that quality time with them on the water in some sort of adventure,” said Gruhn. “So it’s a matter of communicating that.”

Stay tuned for more on the individual committees here on

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