So, where are all the boaters your age?” asked a 60-some- thing-year-old, at a patio bar on Gabriola Island in British Columbia. “When I was your age, we all had boats and had great big raft-ups out on the water.” Our group of under- 40 sailors was on a weekend cruise and digging into steaming plates of fish and chips. “I’m not sure,” I answered. “Are there fewer? Maybe it’s because they can’t afford it?” “Nah,” he said. “It’s those iPads. My grown kids have no sense of adventure, happy to sit around ‘twitting’ all day.” My husband, Robin, and I had often discussed this question. Having become first-time boat owners only five years before, at ages 24 and 29, we were often the only
identifiable 20-somethings at our silver-haired yacht club. Over the next few years, as
we immersed ourselves in life on the water, we began to meet other millennial boaters,
a handful of young salts who shared our passion. We discovered popular vlogs, short
for “video blogs,” starring young cruisers; heard stories about the gatherings of young
powerboaters congregating on Miami sandbars; and the young go-fast boat fanatics who
lived for the season on Lake Havasu. We met those who were adamant that millennials
were boating like never before, “I see more young people out sailing than ever! It’s not
just an “old boys” game anymore,” one of our friends, Jesse Matthewman, recently told us.
In short, it wasn’t clear. Were there
fewer young boaters today than 10, 20, 30
years ago? Or were we now experiencing
some kind of millennial boating wave? To
find out, I interviewed industry analysts
as well as millennial boaters across North
America. What I found was at first surprising but ultimately encouraging.
One of my first conversations was
with Jack Ellis, managing director at
Info-Link, a market-research firm that
tracks boat ownership statistics in the
U.S. According to Ellis, boat ownership
has seen a steep decline in the 20- to
39-year-old age category, with approximately 41 percent fewer 20- to 39-year-
olds owning boats in 2015 than in 2005.
In 2005, 4 percent of American males
ages 20 to 39 owned a boat; but by 2015,
that number dropped to only 2 percent.
Of course, the numbers surrounding
boat ownership don’t paint the entire picture. Lost in these figures are the young
boaters who use their parents’ boats, charter a boat for the day, or ride-along with
friends. The number of young people
participating in boating hasn’t been consistently studied over time, though one
study, conducted by the U.S. Coast Guard,
found that 27 percent of 25- to 34-year-
olds in the U.S. participated in boating
in 2012 versus only 23 percent of 55- to
64-year-olds. This suggests that, in 2012
at least, younger people were out on the
water as much or more than their parents.
So where are all the young boaters?
One possible explanation is that young
people are not giving up on boating,
just going about it in a different way:
chartering, borrowing, and riding along.
Where are all the yo
A BoatU.S. Special Report