IBI magazine editor Ed Slack

We’ve forgotten the journey. Destination has become our only goal. At least that was the thrust of veteran designer and marine engineer Augusto (Kiko) Villalon’s message to delegates at the IBI/ICOMIA workshop at METS (see pg54 in IBI magazine) in November.

Villalon, who designed motorboats for numerous US builders and ran his own tooling company, was citing this as the major reason why the mid-sized family yacht market has stagnated.

He has a point. Somewhere along the way the boating ‘lifestyle’ morphed into something very different from simply being out on the water. Somewhere along the line it was decided we needed life aboard to be a home from home complete with the kitchen sink and the creature comforts our cosseted lives have made us accustomed to.

Boating for many stopped becoming an escape from daily toil to an extension of that drudgery, a race to keep up with the Jones’ in the marina, and that came at a price. As Villalon points out, a typical 27ft family cruiser sold for US$58,000 in 1984. Taking into account inflation that would be around US$124,000 in today’s money. The reality, however, is said 27-footer is more likely to cost close to US$200,000.

It’s a theme Dusty McCoy touched on in his METS keynote address the day before. Real market pricing is going up dramatically faster than inflation. The impact is already being felt – consumers are weighing up the pros and cons and the majority are figuring that the boating ‘lifestyle’ comes at too heavy a price. Of the minority that take the plunge, their heads are inevitably being turned on the dealership floor by last season’s models at knock down prices.

The biggest threat to new boat sales, is used boat sales. Our industry is eating itself. The solution? We need to re-calibrate. Innovation and product development is vital to tempt consumers into buying new; manufacturing efficiencies need to be maximised to rein in cost; dealers need to diversify so they can thrive on smaller margins. Above all, however, the industry needs to offer a different message to consumers. Buying a boat shouldn’t be a way of shouting to the world that you’ve arrived, nor should it be about how quickly and sumptuously it gets you to your destination. Boating primarily needs to be about getting safely out on the water and the simple pleasures of the journey.

It’s a message humans are hardwired to understand, and an experience they crave. It’s about time we started reminding them.