Keeping The Luxury Boating Industry Afloat

March 23, 2017

Spring is finally here, and with it comes warmer weather which means one thing: more time outside. For New Yorkers, time spent outdoors without snow and frigid wind is a blessing, and for many of us the best way to make the most of spring and summer sun is by hopping on a boat. Sailing and boating give you a bit of a respite from the stifling action of the city, as well as a new perspective on many of the city’s landmarks.

There is also an undeniable sense of freedom that comes from cutting through the waves as you sip on sparkling wine, and watch Lady Liberty pass in front of an Instagram-worthy sunset. The issue with boating is that it gets in you, even after only one jaunt. That unparalleled experience unlocks the explorer buried deep inside you. Questions begin to surface, like, “Should we do this everyday?” Or, most commonly, “Should we buy a boat?”

The answers to these questions, after careful thought, are almost certainly NO. Owning a boat is expensive, time-consuming and, with the exception of those diehard life-long sailors, not as rewarding as one imagines prior to making a purchase. Sure, owning a glistening white vessel has major sex appeal, as does being the captain of your own ship. However, the negatives certainly outweigh the positives. And younger consumers simply aren’t purchasing boats at the same clip as older generations. You can blame a number of factors for their decreased interest in owning boats. For one, younger consumers are by-and-large mired with debt, most of which comes in the form of student loans. Because of their debt baggage, many are putting off traditional life stage milestones – marrying, buying a house, etc. Secondly, with the advent of the sharing economy, many consumers have reevaluated what needs to be purchased. Boats fill a different need in their lives, especially compared with big-ticket necessities like a home, car or dream vacation. With the sharing economy, the ability to rent anything you want or need has really shifted how consumers of all ages are interacting with the world. Want to take a 12-hour sail on one of New York City’s waterways? There are at least 10 businesses that you can contact. There’s no need to take out another loan to purchase a boat when you can simply access one anytime you want. Best of all, you get to avoid all of the headaches associated with owning said boat.

For the latter, consider the real reason why boating is so popular – for one shining moment, you get to any number of romantic, adventurous or swashbuckling personae for all your social media channels. Based upon my own personal experience, boat-related social media posts garner an average of 100x the number of likes and comments v. non-boating posts. So how will the industry adjust to the potential ebb of consumer interest in purchasing boats? It would probably help to see what comparable industries have done when facing the same issue. Take the private jet industry, for instance. As younger consumers have shunned such conspicuous consumption, the industry has accepted ride sharing as the new norm. Sure, owning a jet and living like a rock star will always be the pinnacle of aspiration. But getting a taste of that life every so often seems to quench consumers’ desires almost as well as owning the whole plane. The boating industry must continue to make boats supremely appealing while consistently making it easy for consumers to experience life on the high seas. Undoubtedly the experience will resonate with some consumers who, in turn, will decide to purchase a vessel. Keep an eye out for our follow-up piece on the future of the yachting industry.

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