New Research on Boater Trends Shows a Shift in Priorities and Expectations

Current industry research shows that the next generation of boaters are different than today’s. Your marina may need to adapt.

This season, the National Marine Manufacturers Association and the Marine Retailers Association of Americas, the organizations driving the national Discover Boating initiative, teamed up with research partner Cutwater to conduct a survey to better understand the average boater today and how the mix of boaters may be evolving in the coming decade.

The data shows that the boating population is changing. As a marina operator, be ready to flex to meet the demands of these new boaters. They are more active, more digital, and more environmentally conscious.

The research intended to provide a better understanding of three boater segments, which the report identifies as Traditional Boaters, the Growth Segment, and the Emerging Segment. 

“Growth Boaters” are those who have bought a boat in the last couple of years and "Emerging Boaters" reflect people who have yet to buy a boat but are engaging in adjacent recreational behavior that could feed into the growth boater category in coming years. 

Let’s take a look at each segment. 

Traditional Boaters

The study found that traditional boaters, making up the largest portion of the boater base, are (as one would expect) older with a median age of 58. They are mostly male (88 percent) and married (71 percent). They have been boating for an average of 25 years and their primary boat is used for fishing (41 percent) or watersports (40 percent). Their net worth  and income is higher compared to the average American.

Growth Segment

Some of the strongest growth in new boaters, however, is coming from a wider array of backgrounds and these new boaters are less likely to come from boat-owning families than previous generations had.

The study found that the growth segment is generally younger, with a median age of 43. They are better educated, with nearly half (49 percent) holding college degrees. And they are more ethnically diverse than traditional boaters, with non-white respondents comprising 30 percent of growth boaters.

Emerging Segment

This segment was an interesting category identified in the research. In addition to studying first-time boat owners and heavy boat users on the path to boat ownership in the growth category, the research analyzed adjacent fields of recreation for trends that could signal where future boaters will come from. 

According to the NMMA, “This group is a large, dynamic, and affluent segment of the potential future boat owner population. In their daily lives, while they are not pursuing the outdoor activities predictive of future boating, they are doing those activities on vacation with a potential ‘pull’ via rental activity. They are the most diverse, most affluent segment."

How Marina Operators Can Use This Data

This data gives a sense of how the demographic and psychographic make-up of your average boater guest will evolve in the coming years. These are not rapid, season-to-season changes requiring knee-jerk reactions; but they should factor into your long-term marina management strategy. Take a look at some of the behavioral call-outs the report made about the new boating cohorts:

  • Likely to attend events like auto shows, food/beverage festivals, and music festivals.
  • Consider themselves more environmentally conscious.
  • Are heavy users of social media including Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn, and TikTok.
  • Enjoy foreign and domestic travel.
  • Participate in outdoor recreation activities, including golfing, cycling, running, playing tennis, and yoga.
  • Watch sporting events online.

From Digitally Savvy to Digital Demanding

The emerging boater segments plan much of their lives online. They are heavy users of social media and use services like Airbnb and OpenTable. They are more likely to prefer to use credit cards or touchless digital payments than cash. 

Your marina should be prepared to meet these demands with a modern website, online reservation system, and social media presence. You should also have a way to take contactless payments at your docks.

A Green Marina is an Attractive Marina

Boaters are increasingly holding themselves and the companies they buy from to higher environmental standards. In a study by the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation, 43 percent of boaters said they were more likely to boat with companies that are environmentally friendly and that have sustainable practices. If you haven't already, consider getting your marina certified as a Clean Marina. This voluntary certification is available through state boating agencies and there are courses available from the Association of Marina Industries

Event Driven Boaters

Boaters in the growth segments skew younger and are very active in events and festivals.

Shake up your quieter seasons with programming to draw boaters in. 

If you are in a traditionally tough spot for attracting boaters, consider place-making by partnering with nearby restaurants and other marinas to create a new annual event bringing boaters to the region with purpose.

If you want to attract emerging boaters, consider hosting movie nights or beer tastings, being active on social media, and having a modern website. If you want to attract young families, consider partnering with local high-schools to offer babysitting services or kid’s water-sport activities. 

Host interest nights for boaters with dogs, fishermen, or other affinity groups. With an active boater segment coming off of several years of pandemic related gaps in activity, you could spike your marinas reputation with this new cohort.

Next Steps for Your Marina

So we know that today’s boaters are more active, more digital, and more environmentally conscious.  

A direct way to meet the new-boater preferences is to get a digital booking form up on your website and start taking wallet-less payments on your docks. 

To learn more about how Dockwa can help you with both, request a walk-through here.

For more information from this year’s Discover Boating/NMMA/MRAA research, including a link to a downloadable info-graphic PDF, click here

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