Discover Boating Summit: One Million Boaters Lost from 2005 to 2015

Several associations unanimously agreed this month to continue the industry-funded marketing campaign, Discover Boating, in light of statistics indicating the recreational marine industry is shrinking at a rapid pace. The decision was made during a two day ‘Grow Boating Summit’ held in Rosemont, Illinois just outside Chicago, on December 13 and 14.

Deciding groups consisted of Members of the Grow Boating Board of Directors; the National Marine Manufacturers Association’s (NMMA) boat, engine, and marine component and accessory division boards; the Marine Retailer Association of America’s (MRAA) Board of Directors; and invited guests.

Throughout the two-day Summit, delegates listened to presentations from researchers and marketing experts about new boat sales, the overall economy, consumers’ buying behaviour and shifts in expectations, marketing trends and impacts, and how the Discover Boating campaign has performed during the past decade.

Summit highlights included:

  • Between 2005 and 2015, the recreational boating industry saw a net loss of more than one million boaters. Boaters are leaving faster than they can be replaced. At this pace, by 2025 it’s believed that the number of boat-owning households will diminish dramatically. (Source: Info-link)
  • Fifty-four percent of first-time boat buyers in 2005 are already out of boating. (Source: Info-link)
  • Between 2000 and 2015, the number of first-time new boat buyers dropped from 175,000 to 69,000. (Source: Info-link)
  • Tomorrow’s boaters will be very different than they are today, with vastly different buying behaviors, education, income and interests. (Source: Info-link)
  • Two out of three first-time boat buyers say they will not leave their personal contact information until the point they purchase the boat. (Source: 2016 Discover Boating/Olson First Time Buyer Research)
  • Consumers choose to go directly to a manufacturer’s website versus filling out a lead form on by 1,000 to one. (Source: 2016 Discover Boating Web Referral Study)
  • Discover Boating is the #1 source of third party website traffic outside of search engines, for many boat brands. (Source: 2016 Discover Boating Web Referral Study)

Industry Reactions

Industry leaders on hand for the summit were quick to comment on the shared statistics.

“One of the more staggering insights shared by Info-Link is that we are losing boaters faster than we can replace them and if we don’t bring in more first-time buyers – and market to them in an effective way – our industry is facing a dramatic challenge that could negatively impact everyone’s business,” says Joan Maxwell, President of Regulator Marine.

“Consumers’ shopping and buying behaviors have changed dramatically since Discover Boating launched more than a decade ago,” says Carl Blackwell, President of Grow Boating. “They’re less interested in providing their personal data in a lead form and they’re hungry for information, doing extensive research before considering or making a purchase. One of the key takeaways from the summit is that Discover Boating needs to do a much better job helping the industry navigate consumers’ changing behaviours and understand the value of the referrals Discover Boating is sending to their websites.”

Discover Boating has been directed to focus on the following three steps for its campaign, with support from a group of Summit attendees who agreed to participate in the process.

• Focus more on the experience. Future first-time boat buyers are expected to seek an experience. The group believes it must evolve the campaign from promoting the lifestyle to promoting experiences on the water.

• Improve industry and boater education. Discover Boating believes it can help the industry market to the referrals it’s sending to manufacturers as well as improve how it educates the consumer by providing more balanced information on the rational and emotional aspects of boat buying.

• Conduct research to help the industry understand what’s causing attrition, focusing on why first-time boat shoppers are dropping out of the buying process and what is keeping lapsed boat owners from getting back into boating.