As the average age of new boat buyers continues to rise, the industry needs to focus efforts on bringing young people into the boating lifestyle. Most people in the industry agree the best way to encourage an adult to buy a boat in her or her lifetime is to give them a positive experience on the water as a child.
Non-profit youth boating programs already have the understanding for how to reach out to these kids and get them involved, but often what they need most is the industry’s support. One local initiative is aiming to help its area kids boating programs and bring that model to the national level.
Randall M. Lyons, business manager at Newburyport Marinas, started a regional task force in Massachusetts, the Merrimack River Youth Boating Task Force, to talk about how to get more kids boating in the local community and what programs and events were already in place.
“I started thinking what can I do to make a difference to try to help this overall goal of getting kids on the water and ultimately help the stability of the business,” said Lyons, “because if we keep going at that rate, we’re going to age right out of [business] and it could become a major problem in the future.”
Lyons invited local harbormasters, Coast Guard personnel, marina operators, dealers, youth boating program officials and some state representatives.
“The best part about it, as far as I’m concerned, was the communication standpoint,” said Lyons. “A lot of people in that world didn’t know about the kid’s boating programs that were in place and the kids boating events that were coming up, so we were able to talk about that and they hopefully brought that information back to their database and sent out the information about the kids events.”
One event discussed was Merrohawke Nature School’s “Touch a Boat” event, held on June 4 and organized by Merrohawke’s Co-Founder and Executive Director Kate Yeomans. The task force members supported Merrohawke’s event once they were made aware of it through the meetings.
The local paper was invited to the first task force meeting, and ran a story afterward that included information about upcoming boating events in the area.
“It’s free marketing to get information out there,” Lyons said, “and hopefully that will improve the numbers for these events going forward.”
Lyons is also involved with the Recreational Boating and Leadership Council (RBLC) task force of youth boating representatives. As a member of the task force, Lyons and other members will be evaluating in 2016 if there is an avenue to hold a National Kids Boating Day in 2017. More information on National Kids Boating Day will be forthcoming as those efforts develop.
The goals of this day would be to challenge marinas, boat dealers and marine trades associations to take an active role in working with kids programs and support existing non-profit kids boating programs.
“These programs … already have the education there, they have the know-how to get kids out there,” said Lyons. “They’re non-profit youth boating programs that could use industry help. They could use help from their local communities, but they can also use help from the larger scale national communities and national for-profit boating industry businesses.”
One national program Lyons has spoken with is the Spirit of America Foundation, a 22-year-old youth boater education foundation that works with schools to offer recreational water-based programs.
“I think the most important thing is to provide some sort of initial education, and not just out [kids] on the water. I think that we forget sometimes what it felt like to be that six-, seven-, eight-year-old first timer on the boat, and sometimes they don’t want to verbalize or are embarrassed to say that they might be fearful, and we don’t want to frighten away young people from boating because we haven’t given them some type of education,” said Cecilia A. Duer, executive director of Spirit of America.
Spirit of America began hosting a National Take Our Youth Boating Week in 2014, which surrounds July 4 and has been acknowledged by Congress. Ultimately, Lyons hopes to eventually combine or support Spirit of America’s efforts with this youth boating week, along with other non-profit initiatives like it.
“They’ve got the same ultimate goals and passions of getting kids out there and creating and building safe boaters for the future,” said Lyons.
It’s not easy to see the direct return on investment of working with kids programs and businesses may be concerned about having enough time to focus on youth boating efforts. However, the sustainability of the industry should be a pressing concern for all.
“As far as I’m concerned, if you’re invested in the future of the boating industry, it’s a necessary thing that people need to be paying a little bit more attention to going forward,” said Lyons. “These youth boating programs have the knowledge and understanding to do it and they’re doing it today, so I think by supporting them it ultimately supports the future of the industry.”