Puget Sound Sailing Renaissance formed in the spring to get more people involved in sailing and in the process, help boost the struggling boating industry.
“It’s a venue where people involved in the sailing business can get together and put the competitive piece aside long enough to talk about what we can do for the good of the sport,” said Greg Norwine, CEO of Windworks Sailing Center in Seattle. “That’s really the goal.”
To that end, the group teamed up with the Northwest Marine Trade Association to offer free sailing rides at the Seattle Boat Show at Shilshole Marina in early August. Using boats provided by local brokerages, loaned lifejackets and volunteer skippers, the group took 170 fledgling sailors for cruises on Elliott Bay and plans to also offer free rides at the upcoming Lake Union Boats Afloat show in September.
Group organizer Michael Collins said the rides generated interest from a broad range of participants, from powerboaters curious about sailing to parents who had enrolled their children in sailing programs but never sailed themselves. “The boats all went out full,” said Collins, co-publisher of 48° North magazine. “We were turning people away, though not a huge number of people.”
Puget Sound Sailing Renaissance arose from a realization that the boating industry needed to do something to help pull itself out of a lasting economic slump, Norwine said.
“We need to reach farther than we’ve ever had to,” he said. “Boat sales are in the tank, obviously. The only way to really grow sales is to get more people involved.”
The Seattle effort is part of a broader coalition of similar groups that have started up around the country. The first was launched last fall in the San Francisco Bay area by John Arndt, associate publisher of Latitude 38 magazine. Since then, groups have started up in Southern California and the Chesapeake Bay area. Sail America, a national trade association based in Rhode Island, is providing marketing materials and other support to the various groups.
Jonathan Banks, executive director of Sail America, said though the Sailing Renaissance movement was prompted by economic need, it makes sense to promote sailing on a local level.
“In the absence of a well-funded national marketing campaign promoting sailing, these groups have the opportunity to make a difference,” he said. “One of the challenges that a national organization such as Sail America would have is, how do we reach individual sailors? We can reach them through boat shows but we’re not reaching all the markets.
“By helping form and energize and support regional groups, we can get the word out to a broader audience.”
That’s needed, Banks said, since national participation in sailing has been steadily declining over the past decade. He attributes the change to several factors—increased demands on time, the perception that sailing is difficult and expensive, competition from other recreational activities and overindulgent parents who arrange their lives around their children’s pursuits, leaving little time for family activities.
“When I grew up, sailing was the family activity and that’s what we did,” Banks said. “There was no debate or argument as a family. We were going sailing. That doesn’t happen so much now.”
Collins said sailors have inadvertently helped along the sport’s demise by portraying it as difficult and technical. “Sailing has done an incredible job of turning people off sailing for decades. We always talk about how hard it is, how much you have to know to be a sailor,” he said. “No wonder there are so many powerboaters out there.”
But boats have changed tremendously in recent decades, Collins pointed out, with improved handling, more reliable engines and features such as self-tacking jibs and in-mast furling that greatly reduce the work involved with sailing.
And sailing doesn’t have to cost a fortune, Banks said. Community sailing clubs offer the ability to rent boats at reasonable rates and organizations such as Seattle’s Center for Wooden Boats put sailing within the reach of middle-class individuals and families.
“Lots of messages people hear are from companies trying to sell new product, and of course new product is expensive,” he said. “But sailing can be done inexpensively.”
Puget Sound Sailing Renaissance so far includes yacht brokers, sail makers and representatives from industry associations, sailing clubs and marine-related businesses. The group is working on additional promotions and getting more industry people involved. Norwine said there’s great potential to attract people involved in other sports to sailing simply by offering them an opportunity to get out on the water and try it.
“What we need to do is reach the golfers, the skiers, all the active folks who are doing things and may not have thought about sailing before,” he said.
“That’s the goal of the group, not just to talk about the marketing of sailing but to give people a hands-on experience. Because once you go sailing, you’re hooked, right?”
To get involved with Puget Sound Sailing Renaissance, contact Michael Collins @ firstname.lastname@example.org