What Floats the Boats?

Recent study connects fishing and boating. Photo provided by author

We all know what “floats our boats.” It’s America’s waters, from tiny farm ponds and skinny water streams to lakes as large as Lake Superior and mighty rivers such as the Mississippi. The boats vary, as well. From tiny kayaks to yachts, over a third of all Americans hopped on or in some sort of boat last year to spend time afloat.

A comprehensive study just released showed in the neighborhood of 142 million Americans went boating in 2016. That’s a big neighborhood representing 36 percent of all U.S. households are boating families or at least has one boater under its roof. This is according to the 2016 Recreational Boating Participation Study, released recently by the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA), Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation (RBFF) and Discover Boating. When the last comprehensive survey was taken five years ago the participation rate was only 29 percent. This increase is great news to the boating industry showing the affects of the recession on their businesses has taken a turn for the better.

Of the 142 million individuals, half were children (under the age of 18) showing boating is definitely a family friendly activity and 17 million individuals were first-time participants showing an increasing interest by non-boaters to go boating.

The study is interesting to most boating enthusiasts, but important from a business standpoint for marine manufacturers and purveyors of boating equipment. It gives the boating industry a better grasp of the breadth of recreational boating in the United States and the opportunity for ways it can get more Americans on the water and ultimately buying boats. The data in the report will help the marine industry explore emerging markets, demonstrates the need to reach younger boaters and to encourage people marginally active in boating to pursue boat ownership.

The study makes clear one common sense concept: The more time spent on the water, the more likely someone is to become a boat owner. This points the way to the industry’s future success. It needs to help people spend more time on the water and facilitate the boating and boat-buying process-whether that’s through working for improved access and infrastructure, nurturing active boaters through marketing or providing more accessible ways to try boating through such things as classes or rental opportunities.

There’s also a clear link in the report connecting fishing participation, recreational boating and conservation programs. These links reinforce the need for early introduction to both boating and fishing to grow both sports. The insights from this report support a healthy and thriving participation level for boating, creating more customers for the industry, more fishing license and boat registration purchases and increased tackle and equipment sales.

Michigan leads the way in the Midwest as the top boating and fishing state, followed closely by Minnesota and Ohio. (Ohio edged out Wisconsin for the first time.) Indiana and Illinois are in the middle of the Midwestern state pack. Here are some other key facts I found interesting:

  • On average, active boaters spend an average of 71.5 boating hours per season. First-time boaters spend much less time – an average of 23 boating hours each year.
  • Common sense dictates and the survey results agree, the proximity to places to boat and affordable, easy to use facilities increases boating participation. The perceived ease or difficulty of going boating coincides with the number of days active boaters spend on the water. Just 20% of those who said that going boating is difficult spent more than five days on the water during 2016.
  • A large number of Americans boat with friends, families or on rental or chartered boats. Of course the boating industry encourages this, but are hopeful these “non-owner” participants become potential buyers. The survey found families and individuals who considered purchase of a boat during 2016 averaged over 13 days on the water during the year. Those who boated but did not consider buying spent less than seven days afloat and the amount of time spent boating each time out was much less.
  • New potential boat buyers are more likely to be those who participated in active activities while afloat like water sports or fishing than those who boated simply for relaxation, spending time with family, friends or enjoying nature. Especially strong is the connection between fishing and boating. Over 80 percent of active anglers were also active boaters.
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Mike Schoonveld

Mike Schoonveld grew up hunting and fishing in rural Northwest Indiana. In 1986 he piggy-backed a career as an outdoor writer onto his already long tenure as a wildlife biologist with the Indiana DNR. Now retired from his DNR position, Schoonveld is a U.S. Coast Guard licensed boat captain, operates Brother Nature Charters on Lake Michigan and spends much of his time trailering his boat to fishing hotspots around Indiana and the Midwest.

Mike can be reached through his website www.brother-nature.com or visit Mike’s Outdoor World Blog at www.bronature.com

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