Time for a Get-Together

Summer is here in many parts of the world, the water is beckoning, and people, including myself, remain keen to get out on it.

And the recreational boating industry is still enjoying fairly strong demand for new and used boats, and most are continuing the third year of a seller’s market. At the same time, many marinas are renovating, reconfiguring, and/or expanding where possible to accommodate the changing trends in customers’ boating desires. This is great news for marinas and boaters alike.

But we must also remember that the industry has traditionally been cyclical, and there are certainly expectations that the tightening of credit and other efforts to take some of the heat out of the economy will have an impact, and there are some signs that this is starting to show up. So far it seems to be showing up to a greater degree in the RV market, where inventories are building and sales mostly slowing.

Themed parties or sponsored events allow the marina to serve as the host and encourages boaters and members of the community to visit the facility

There is also the reality that the recent boom years for recreational boating were driven by folks seeking to find an escape from the world of potential contagion to the relatively open and uncaged isolation offered by being out on the water. As described by one such escapee back in 2020, “The boat is like having my own private island, where I can go with my family and just forget about everything else.”

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But after years of being on that island, some have developed island fever, and as the long shadow of COVID-19 further fades, the good parts of “everything else” have come back into view. Many people are in a mood to be social and not be stranded on that island.

The good news, of course, is that when your island is your boat, you aren’t stuck, and as much as boating can be about getting away from it all, it also has a long history of camaraderie, of bringing people together.

Host an Event
So now seems like a perfect time to emphasize that camaraderie, particularly as some folks may be a bit out of practice. With so many new boaters not having had the chance to fully experience it, now might be the time for marina owners and operators to host a get-together to help sustain and build upon the recent boating interest.

The most obvious get-together is to throw a party. What boater doesn’t love a good party? Okay, there may be a few. What kind of party will depend greatly on your facility and what your customers would appreciate – and there’s no reason why you can’t throw more than one to make everyone happy – or stage things to cater to kids and families earlier in the day and those without kids later in the day. Hosting a customer appreciation barbecue is a sure winner. We know of customers who have driven two hours to the marina to enjoy a free hamburger or hotdog! Or maybe a clambake is in order. These can be great ways to thank your customers and, more importantly, give your customers the chance to be together with other boaters, exchange stories, ideas of where to cruise, and so on.

Bringing in specialized acts, like mimes or balloon artists, establish a family-friendly environment so all ages feel welcome.

The parties don’t necessarily have to be free or funded entirely by the marina. Don’t automatically dismiss the idea of organizing a potluck. Or maybe you can provide a band or some other form of entertainment and arrange for food trucks to come by. People enjoy food trucks, and they are used to paying for what they order at events.

While it may not necessarily sound like a party, some marinas host or participate in a blessing of the fleet at the beginning of or some other point in the boating season. The tradition goes back centuries, though originally not geared to recreational boats, but often tied to a festival of some sort. These days fleet blessings cover a full range from low-key affairs to elaborate boat parades to full-scale festivals with the parade/blessing as a major component.

The Provincetown Portuguese Festival & Blessing of the Fleet in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, comes to mind as a good example of the latter.
Of course, you can have a boat parade or similar event without the blessing, often tied to a holiday and often with prizes for different categories. The creativity and length some boaters go to in dressing up their boats is mind-boggling – and it’s a fun approach for the boaters, the spectators, and all involved.

Sponsoring an Event
Participating in and/or sponsoring fishing tournaments, regattas, and rafting or overnight adventures are additional ways of bringing people together and continuing the increased interest in boating in meaningful ways.

A fleet blessing, like this one at Little Traverse Yacht Club in Harbor Springs, Michigan, is a great way to bring boaters together.

A coastal marina I’m familiar with recently decided to sponsor a fishing tournament and partnered with a local fishing club. They chose a date and posted some simple rules and a modest cash prize along with an entry fee, with the culmination being an awards ceremony at the marina at the end of the two-day tournament held over a weekend. They had anticipated up to 30 participants. They put it in their newsletter, posted a few flyers around town, and put it on the web. Word spread and it went viral. The marina got calls from numerous people who wanted to launch and haul and keep their boats at the facility for the tournament. Their transient dock was full, and they made room wherever else they could. The fuel dock was busy, and the ship’s store enjoyed a lot of customers. The event was so successful that the marina has now made it an annual event, and has related that, in addition to the immediate benefits and ship’s store sales realized during the tournament, they have gained permanent new customers for dockage, storage, and service.

Racing and regattas have long been mainstays in the yacht club world and have served to recruit young sailors, keep people boating, and inspire boat owners to invest more time and money in their boat. Races also serve to draw people into the boating world when captains go recruiting their friends, coworkers or maybe even random strangers for crew. And who knows how many boaters were motivated to get out on the water themselves by the sight of a fleet of sailboats with their spinnakers flying on the downwind leg of a race.

There are a lot of new boaters who really want to enjoy the boating experience, but many are not quite sure how to accomplish that. Rafting rendezvous for an afternoon or a destination overnight are great avenues for expanding the boating experience and, especially for new boaters, to make new friends and provide a comfort factor for using the boat around others.

With a few raft-ups under their belt, some may be ready to consider a longer group cruise, further building their knowledge, courage, and confidence.
Speaking of raft-ups, a small marina I know started a movie night not long ago. They would set up a large screen in the middle of the marina where people could sit in their berthed boats or come and raft up in the fairways. It became an overnight (pun intended) sensation. It started as a lark for the owner’s daughter’s birthday celebration, but so many customers, non-customers, and neighbors liked it and kept asking the marina to continue it that they now run it once every two weeks.The marina’s out-of-pocket cost is less than $100 for each movie night. The owner offers free popcorn, which has impacted soft drink sales at the ship’s store. The owner said the increased sales from the snack bar and ship’s store more than cover his costs and he has gotten new customers. Neighboring delis, restaurants, and the ice cream parlor applaud the events as they too are experiencing additional business.

On a different note, another facility partners with a local environmental group and the town to bring people together on Earth Day for a waterfront cleanup. It too has grown and the facility, which has also enhanced its own green marina activities, now has a community-wide reputation for being environmentally conscious and an advocate for clean water.

Boater Engagement
The bottom line with most of these gatherings comes down to the fact that the more that boaters are engaged, the more actively they will boat and promote boating to others, and the more likely they will continue to choose boating over everything else. During the depths of the pandemic the relative isolation that boating can offer was clearly a major strength. But, barring the rise of a new variant, most people seem to have had quite enough alone time. It’s time for some togetherness.
Happy boating – together!

Dan Natchez, CMP, is president of DANIEL S. NATCHEZ and ASSOCIATES Inc., an international environmental waterfront design consulting company specializing in the design of marinas and marina resorts throughout the world. He can be contacted by phone at 914/698-5678, by WhatsApp at 914/381-1234, by email at or online at