More than 250 individuals from the boating industry descended on Washington, D.C., last week for the 2017 edition of American Boating Congress, the industry's annual legislative conference.
ABC 2017 featured a full three-day lineup of speakers, hill visits and networking events. This year, industry stakeholders took part in approximately 185 meetings with legislative and regulatory staff, more than ever before, said Nicole Vasilaros, NMMA's vice president of federal and legal affairs.
Those meetings play a key role in advancing the industry's issues, making a bigger impact than NMMA's government relations staff can, Vasilaros said.
ABC is organized by the National Marine Manufacturers Association and co-hosted by 25 organizations, including Boating Industry.
The other co-hosts include American Sportfishing Association, Association of Marina Industries, BoatU.S., Boats Group, Center for Sportfishing Policy, Connecticut Marine Trades Association, International Yacht Brokers Association, Lake Erie Marine Trades Association, Marine Industries Association of South Florida, Marine Retailers Association of the Americas, Marine Trades Association of New Jersey, Michigan Boating Industries Association, National Marine Distributors Association, National Marine Lenders Association, National Safe Boating Council, National Yacht Broker Certification Program, Norman-Spencer Marine Insurance, Soundings Trade Only, States Organization for Boating Access, The American Boat Builders and Repairers Association, The Boating Trade Association of Metropolitan Houston, U.S. Superyacht Association and the Yacht Brokers Association of America.
“The American Boating Congress would like to thank all of our co-host organizations for their efforts in making this year's event such a success,” said NMMA President Thom Dammrich. “With our co-hosts' help, ABC has evolved into the marine industry’s premier political and legislative event, effecting positive change in Washington for recreational boating.”
This year, the Connecticut Marine Trades Association received the ABC Co-Host Marketing Award, which recognizes each year an ABC co-host who promotes the conference through various marketing initiatives.
“We’re proud to bestow this year’s Co-Host Marketing Award to the Connecticut Marine Trades Association,” Dammrich said. “Their outstanding marketing efforts and achievements greatly contributed to raising awareness of the 2017 American Boating Congress, building enthusiasm for boating advocacy and driving attendance to this year’s conference.”
Grady-White Boats was also recognized at ABC with the BoatPAC Champions of Growth Award, for the company's efforts to promote BoatPAC, the industry's political action committee.
Scott Deal of Maverick Boats received the inaugural Hammond Marine Industry Leadership Award. Dammrich presented the award, recognizing Deal for his efforts as a boating and fishing advocate, most notably his co-chairing of the Commission on Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Management.
Dave Pfeiffer of Shimano received the Eddie Smith Manufacturer of the Year Award, named for Grady-White chairman and CEO Eddie Smith. Jeff Angers, president of the Center for Sportfishing Policy, presented the award.
"Dave Pfeiffer is committed to sharing his passion for fishing with others and ensuring recreational fishing exists for future generations," Angers said. "Dave serves as an example of a true leader in conservation, and we honor him for playing an important role in the battle for access to America's public fishery resources."
The award was established by the center to honor extraordinary commitment to conservation by manufacturers, Angers said.
New to the 2017 schedule was "'Inside the Beltway' Republican and Democrat Insights" delivered by a panel from Forbes Tate Partners, a D.C. lobbying firm that works with NMMA.
George Cooper, Rick Murphy and Frank Steinberg talked about the current climate in Washington and the challenges facing any industry looking to advance its issues. Most notably, there is an unpredictability as newcomers to Washington especially in the Trump administration, try to change the way business is done in the capital. What was once thought of as unbelievable is now reality in Washington today, Cooper said.
"We are living in a world of no nevers," he said.
This year's ABC also included several elected and regulatory officials who addressed the conference. The speakers repeatedly emphasized the importance of being involved in government issues and lobbying for the industry's concerns.
Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., kicked off the lineup of legislative speakers, and talked about the importance of boating not only to his home state but to the nation's economy as a whole.
"I'm grateful for the strength and jobs you bring our country," Donnelly said.
He also discussed the role boating can play in cutting through partisan politics, talking about how a bipartisan group of senators will spend time on Sen. Joe Manchin's boat and "find common ground."
"It's good to get away from the building," he said. "That's what your industry does for our country."
Rep. Tom McArthur, R-N.J., said the boating industry is important for its role in creating American manufacturing jobs and that the industry should be sure to push its agenda in Congress and deliver that message.
"You are building goods that are uniquely American," he said. "In the end, your business is about that."
Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., sounded a similar note about the importance of the industry, but also noted the importance of protecting access and the sanctity of waterways for boaters.
"Our oceans are strained," he said. "If we don't take action, I don't see any of those trends are going to reverse themselves on their own."
Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., told the audience he was going to be honest with the group, noting that there are serious challenges facing the boating industry under the current administration.
"Many of the programs boating cares about are likely to be decimated" in the administration's budget, he said.
As small business owners, the industry needs to "think beyond the rhetoric of the moment" of getting government out of the way and pay attention to "serious threats" to the boating industry due to programs that are targeted for cuts by the Trump administration.
"You need the Army Corps of Engineers here," he said. "You need environmental protections. You need the Coast Guard."
He also mentioned training programs aimed at training people for manufacturing jobs as a target for cuts.
"This is a complete change in the direction of government," he said.
The audience also heard from U.S Coast Guard Rear Admiral Paul Thomas, who said that despite rumors of cuts, the Coast Guard is "very confident that our value proposition to the nation remains as strong as ever."
He said the Coast Guard remains committed to increasing safety on the water and remains a "mainstream, American way of life."
"There's no question that when it comes to American prosperity, recreational boating plays a big role," Thomas said.