YOUTH AND MARINAS FORUM – Nieuwpoort International Boat Show


Last October’s Nieuwpoort International Boat Show brought together an international panel to discuss how to bring youngsters back to marinas.

TransEurope Marinas Chairman Jean-Michel Gaigné joined fellow CMM (Certified Marina Managers) Oscar Siches and Steven Desloovere, together with local and national youth sailing activity organisers.

The last decade has revealed a major demographical shift in boat owners and also, over a longer period, a substantial upheaval in the traditional use of leisure time, with people less likely to consider justifying the time and resources to the demands of boat ownership.  Further to this, local sailing clubs are finding it hard to maintain numbers outside summer months and so addressing the appeal of boating to our younger generations has become an essential topic for discussion.

Maarten Desloovere, who is part of the VY Nieuwpoort marina team, is running a project in which old unused yachts are brought out of hibernation on the hard and taken on by groups of young people for refit and eventual use on the water. “One of the first issues that was apparent was that we needed to involve millenials and obtain their feedback in order to find solutions. From the outset this means communicating along the same channels using social media and messaging apps.”

Marinas, it transpires, have become places that can hold less and less interest for younger people, there being key years whereby they are unlikely to have the financial means to be able to afford a boat and so if boating isn’t a family pursuit (or they have friends with boats, having perhaps developed skills as a child), it is improbable that they would make use of marinas beyond as a place of work.

Developing a youth culture for marinas

The 2015 Ecorys “Study on the competitiveness of the recreational boating sector”, presented by the European Boating Industry suggests the following:

“The problem for the sector is that if people don’t start young, experience shows that they won’t start at a later age…Today’s users of boats appear to be less willing to accept long preparation of their boating trips, constant maintenance or dealing with upcoming problems, leading to decreasing tendencies to own a boat and an increased growth demand for charters. They want to go to their preferred destination, have a boat ready and everything functioning throughout their holidays.”

Even in the event that younger people have had the opportunity to attend a club with an experienced management that manages to set people on this path, it is clear that even within a successful sailing club dynamic, not all young people will become champions and so their gentle progression through different types of boat (dinghy – keel boat – cruising boat) needs careful facilitating. Financial/time/peer constraints after having outgrown the club dinghy, may mean that is simpler easier to give up and so the fun element is paramount – especially when the complications of adolescence and the pervasive call of online gaming threaten to tip the balance.

Those of us in the sector know from our experience that boating can engender a profound passion and serves to address so many valuable aspects of our lives, such as a huge sense of personal and group achievement, thrilling adventure, necessary physical activity, sporting competition and a beneficial connection with nature. Developing a youth culture for marinas

How then to convey this to younger people? Some of the suggestions that arose during the meeting were as follows:

  • Set up a cooperation network with the schools in surrounding towns.
  • Organise sailing weeks for young professionals under 35
  • Create an experience. Change the image which young people have of marinas.
  • Organise a yearly go-boating day with all watersport clubs
  • Provide boats for people which they can use/rent at low prices. If this is outside the scope of the marinas available funds, seek cooperation from club members or customers who may wish to take new crew out with them.

Inquire with owners of abandoned boats to if they are willing to gift their boat to youngsters with the engagement to restore it.

To attract younger people to the sector, it seems that a fully multifaceted approach need to taken; working with youth to build a local culture based around a variety of fun watersports and events – together with numerous stakeholders, whilst engaging young people on different levels and developing essential maintenance skills for future employment opportunities.

This continues to be a very relevant conversation and a worthy topic for further study; well done to VY Nieuwpoort for addressing the issue!

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