The longer term view of sailing does not look good, which is a puzzle. More people are enjoying outdoor recreation than ever. Participation in outdoor activities continues to increase. Powerboating is on the rise – but sailing is getting smaller. In fact, year over year sales of sailboats continues to go down in spite of a very strong economic climate.
What gives? You’d think sailing would be growing among outdoor activities because it’s more green and has lower operating expenses than powerboating. Regardless, boating business is shifting its attention away from sailing and toward power boating.
Beneteau Group is pushing harder into motor yachts. Catalina Yachts recently acquired powerboat maker True North Yachts. Powerboat company Brunswick earned the most money in 2018 since 2006 – a peak pre-recession year.
The sailing industry must evolve or the next recession will be even worse than the last one. Some are doing something about it – like Australian Sailing, the governing body of sailing in Australia. One of their goals is to get more women into the sport of sailing. That’s an awesome goal, but is it enough to turn the tide?
At Boatific, we believe that technology can go a long way to helping the sailing industry turn things around. Why? Because technology makes sailing easier, safer, and more fun. Innovation and technology have opened up the sport to far more people. VHF, Radar, AIS, GPS, solar power, wind generators, and more have made sailing better. Witness the sailing channels on YouTube with young couples with little experience heading over the horizon.
Today we are on the verge of even greater innovation that affects all of boating. Augmented reality will simplify understanding what’s around you by overlaying information on the view ahead. Within the next couple of years, a simple pair of glasses will replace many boat screens.
Autonomous innovation continues to take the stress out of simple things like docking. Thrusters and sensors can remove what for some is the most harrowing aspect of sailing. AI innovation will help sailors make better decisions, which will include real-time weather routing, accident avoidance, and MOB, and more.
Today’s technology in sailing is only scratching the surface of what is possible. To start stemming the negative tide in sailing, the industry needs to re-imagine the future. Innovation at scale will enable sailing enjoyment across broader populations if it becomes a priority.
Key to this new vision will be a re-imagining of what it means to learn how to sail. Today sailing students must learn obscure facts in order to gain certification. You memorize hundreds of things and forget them within 48 hours of a test. It’s similar to the early days of driver’s licenses when you were tested on all the parts of an engine.
Education in sailing needs to bring in exciting, innovative forms of technology like virtual reality. While today’s VR headsets seem a bit cumbersome, future products will feel lighter and easier to use. These devices will enable students to see and feel sailing unlike any book, magazine, or powerpoint presentation. Virtual reality can also simply inspire people to want to sail.
Many sailors today don’t want more technology in their boat and they can simply choose not to use it. If you care about the future of the sport and want to encourage future generations, embracing technology will be essential.
Power boating naturally puts technology at the center because the boat fundamentally revolves around it. There is very little resistance to technology as a result. Growth in powerboating appears directly linked to increasing ease of use, which enables more people to enjoy boating. Today a couple can leverage technology to easily handle a 50′ to 60′ power boat.
Power boat companies embrace technology to the point that they are now referring to themselves as technology companies. That’s exactly how David Foulkes, CEO of Brunswick Corporation refers to his company. Brunswick encompasses many brands, including Boston Whaler, Bayliner, Mercury, and more.
In an interview with the Trade Only, Foulkes says “Consumers’ experiences are informed by everything in their cars, with touch-panels, remote monitoring and other advances. We want to provide a contemporary experience in our boats, especially as we attract younger boaters to our industry. Mercury has wonderful propulsion systems in their boats, and we’ve seen technical developments over the years like SmartCraft, joystick docking, and Sky Hook . . . Automatic docking will be more than a gee-whiz feature and we expect it to come to market very fast.”
On his view of Brunswick, he states “I think of Brunswick as a combination of a technology and lifestyle company. The innovation and inspiration sides are equally important.”
We completely understand why some sailors resist having more technology in their boats. That’s fine because they know how to sail and probably have the skills they need to enjoy the sport. If you care about the sport in general, we believe looking beyond personal preferences is essential. It’s what will keep sailing alive, and thriving for younger adults, their kids, and their grandkids.