A downward trend in boat ownership in the US has prompted the board of directors of Grow Boating to vote to continue the Discover Boating marketing campaign. The board is comprised of 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. The board held a Grow Boating Summit on December 13 and 14 outside of Chicago.

The group heard from Info-Link that between 2005 and 2015, the recreational boating industry saw a net loss of more than one million boaters. “By 2025, if we continue at this pace, it’s projected that the number of boat owning households will diminish dramatically,” said a news item from the board meeting. “Fifty-four percent of first-time boat buyers in 2005 are already out of boating.”

The statistics showed that between 2000 and 2015, the number of first-time new boat buyers dropped from 175,000 to 69,000.

“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,” said Joan Maxwell, president of Regulator Marine, in the news release.

The group heard that today’s buyers are different from previous generations. Two out of three first-time boat buyers say they will not leave their personal contact information until the point they purchase the boat. Consumers choose to go directly to a manufacturer’s website versus filling out a lead form on DiscoverBoating.com by 1,000 to one. Despite that, DiscoverBoating.com is the number one source of third-party website traffic outside of search engines for many boat brands. The company said it remains the top of the “funnel” for many people who eventually buy boats.

“Discover Boating attracts and refers millions of potential boaters to manufacturer and dealer sites every year, but to maximise the value of these referrals, we need to find a better way to guide these individuals through the purchase and ownership process in order to convert more of them into lifelong boaters,” said Evan Davis of OneWater Marine Holdings.

Tim Sanders, a “lead marketing expert”, told the group that Discover Boating needs to do a much better job helping the industry navigate consumers' changing behaviors and understand the value of the referrals Discover Boating is sending to their websites.

The group said that Discover Boating needs to focus on three key areas:

Focus more on the experience. “Future first-time boat buyers are seeking an experience. We must evolve the campaign from promoting the lifestyle to promoting experiences on the water,” said the release.

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

Discover Boating must 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.