Darren Vaux opened the 52nd Sydney International Boat Show last week

Australia’s Boating Industry Association (BIA) president Darren Vaux opened the 52nd edition of the Sydney International Boat Show (SIBS) last week by telling his members and exhibitors from around the world that the industry should adopt a universal promotional message: “Boating: The Drug of Choice.”

Noting that 20% of Australians and 100% of attendees at the annual member’s breakfast participate in boating each year and understand that “a weekend on the water is like a week away,” boating’s benefits are more than anecdotal.

Vaux pointed to a United Nations report showing seven of the top 10 happiest countries in the world also have the highest participation in boating – adding the ironic aside that Australia comes in at number 11.

“Those countries have 50% more participation in boating than we do,” Vaux said, asking, “Is it coincidence? Science? It certainly is an opportunity.”

But according to Vaux, “The science is in and the science is fascinating.”

Quoting from The Blue Market, a book by American researcher Dr Wallace J Nichols, the stress hormone cortisone goes down, while the relaxation hormone serotonin goes up when people are on the water.

“So, here’s the thing. There’s a multibillion-dollar pharmaceutical industry that invests enormous amounts of money to try and change people’s behaviour and the way they feel, but at the end of the day, we know that the only thing you need to do is buy a boat.”

Modern life has changed to the point that due to constant connectivity, Vaux said “we’re never, ever off. So boating is more important today than it has ever been and I think that’s one of the key messages that we as an industry need to communicate and I don’t think we’re doing it very well.”

Vaux said the historical model which was set up based on the behaviour of baby boomers, who bought a house, a small boat and then progressively larger boats is seeing a major shakeup. The “sweet spot” for the boating industry, millennials ages 22-37, value experiences over assets.

Millennials prefer to rent over own, and, according to Vaux, in 10 years apartments in Sydney will outnumber homes. “Where are they going to keep a boat?” he asked.

While the share economy of boat clubs and peer-to-peer rentals continue to grow globally, Vaux said “the reality is – and this is one of our biggest challenges – the regulatory framework in this country does not necessarily facilitate in these areas innovation.

“In this country it’s very difficult, because the moment you accept one dollar for any activity on the water, all of a sudden it becomes a commercial vessel,” Vaux told IBI following his presentation, “which means it’s a huge impediment for what is an important pathway for us to bring people into boating.”

Australia, Vaux said, ranks 80th on the World Economic Forum’s assessment of how government regulation is an impediment to business, adding the like-economies of Canada, the UK and New Zealand rank in the 20s.

“There is a recognition in government, at the state and federal level, that there needs to be regulatory change to accommodate the new paradigm,” Vaux admits, “but there will always be that tension between what the industry wants right now compared to when government can deliver it in the future. I think the challenge that we’re faced with is, we need to have a way to keep up with the pace of innovation and the regulatory lag of our systems.”

The Sydney International Boat Show runs through this evening at the International Convention Center.

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