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Hope for the Future of Boating: 'Uber-Influencers' Recruiting Others


We all know the type. Outgoing, gregarious, passionate boaters who always seem to be getting new people out on the water. They’re the ones making things happen at the marina, the anchorage, the sandbar. They know everybody, and their energy is infectious.

To borrow a term coined by writer Malcolm Gladwell in his book The Tipping Point, they are the “pollinators” of the boating world, the passionate uber-influencers who introduce a disproportionately large number of people to the water.

They might also be one of the keys to growing our industry.

The first phase of a new industry growth model commissioned by the Marine Industries Association of South Florida has identified the potential importance of these so-called “social animals” — relatively young, socially engaged leaders who introduce more people to boating than any other single group.

“Leveraging their influence has great potential for growing boating participation among adult participants,” according to the study done by RRC Associates, of Boulder, Colo., which has done similar work for other industries, including skiing, golf, tennis and baseball.

The initial findings were announced at a media breakfast on the opening day of the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show by Efrem “Skip” Zimbalist III, chairman and CEO of Active Interest Media, whose Marine Group participated in the study.

“It’s in all our interests to grow and bring in new blood,” Zimbalist told the audience.

The boat show is owned by MIASF and produced by Show Management, which is part of AIM’s Marine Group (which includes Soundings Trade Only and PassageMaker). The goal of the MIASF is to promote and enhance boating as the “lifestyle of South Florida.” The goal of the growth model that RRC Associates is developing is to come up with strategies for turning boating participation into engagement, and eventually boat ownership, during the next 10 to 15 years.

Nate Fristoe speaking to media members at FLIBS.

Nate Fristoe speaking to media members at FLIBS.

Moving the dial on ownership “will involve extremely targeted marking efforts informed by primary research,” according to RRC Associates director Nate Fristoe.

“What are the levers that that can drive growth in the industry?” he asked.

The first phase drilled down into national and Florida boating data and demographic trends as it looked at both obstacles to growth and potential ways to increase participation and ownership. This initial work also identified the most likely prospects for boating, as well as the potential size of the markets nationally and in Florida.

In addition, primary research conducted on about 3,500 readers of AIM’s boating magazines provided key insights into who most strongly influenced the initial exposure to boating for powerboaters and sailors. (The titles include Power & Motoryacht, Sail, Soundings, PassageMaker and Yachts International.) Prior to age 10, for instance, parents and grandparents are the primary source. Starting in the early teens, friends become extremely important influencers. And for adults with no boating background, friends are the main pathway.

To identify the best “evangelists” for boating, the AIM Marine Group’s readers were asked a series of questions about their personality and relationship to the sport. Four statistically relevant “psychographic groupings” emerged from the research.

  • One is a family-oriented group that the researchers labeled “Families First.” It’s made up of owners who care about passing down boating traditions within their own families. They make up about 35 percent of boaters. More than 50 percent are between the ages of 55 and 69.
  • Another group, called “Modest Mates,” consists of boaters who have lower incomes, are less socially active and tend to be followers rather than leaders in boating. They make up about 20 percent, with the average age falling between 55 and 64.
  • The so-called “Autonomous Upper Crusts” have the highest incomes and net worth and are typically the oldest, with 50 percent being 65 or older. Interestingly, they also tend to be unconcerned about the participation of family or friends in the sport, perhaps because they are winding down their time on the water. They made up about 21 percent.
  • Lastly, there is the 24 percent of boaters who fall into the category of “Social Animals,” boating leaders who are passionate about sharing their love of the sport. They are the youngest of the groups, with 44 percent between 45 and 59 years old. They are the most likely group to be single and without children. And here’s the kicker: Social animals are more than twice as likely as boaters in the other categories to have introduced 35 or more people to boating. You can understand why they stand out in any deep dive into the growth issue.

As the study authors point out, for adults with no prior experience in boating, their friends are the most likely source of introduction to the water. So leveraging the influence of the most passionate, socially connected boaters — those uber-influencers or social animals — is expected to be an important growth strategy as the work moves into its next phase.


The study findings now will be reviewed with key stakeholders; the next phase will further refine the model and focus on key leverage points. A definitive action plan will then emerge from that effort.

This piece originally appeared in William Sisson's A View From Here blog at our sister publication, Trade Only Today. Look for a full report on the Model for Growth study in the December issue of Soundings Trade Only.