Marine Sustainability and User Habits. What is the link?

As we start to engage in a whole series of discussions about sustainability in the leisure marine industry via the METSTRADE Online Community, we thought we would first take a look at how user habits (or demographics) are changing.

Why is this? Because users are always the drivers of change, so as an industry, we need to know what new users will be demanding and how their attitudes will affect future developments in environmental sustainability.

How do we define sustainability?
Let’s first take a look at what sustainability actually means. Here is one definition from a website named,, which showcases some of today’s leaders in the field of sustainability:

“Sustainability means taking the long-term view of how our actions affect future generations and making sure we don't deplete resources or cause pollution at rates faster than the earth is able to renew them.”

Do the next generations hold the key?
Is it a fact that the younger generation is more in tune with these sustainability aims than the more senior members of the boating community? If this is true, we need to harness the energy of youth that will drive changes!  But, how do we achieve this, and what is being done about it? A study by the Finnish Marine Industries Association (FINNBOAT) considered the opinions of a group of 25 to 35 year-olds, who had not taken-up boating.

Two of the most telling conclusions coming from the study were as follows:

  • Leisure time for today’s younger generation is more fragmented, and they do not generally focus on one hobby alone.
  • The required capital, time consumption, and level of commitment, is seen as a disadvantage.

Click here - FINNBOAT study presentation:


‘Grow Boating’ theme in USA reveals more
A recent study by the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) in America, has shown that first-time buyers represent 33% of all boats sold in the country. This indicates a 20% decline from the buying patterns observed in 2005.

The study also identified six types of first-time boat buyers, and the ones that they termed as ‘Water Weekenders’ represented the largest group with 19.2 million people constituting 23% of the total audience.     

For them, owning a boat is driven by their desire to host friends and family, and to indulge in water sports, such as tubing, cruising, fishing, and water skiing.

The complete Grow Boating study by NMMA can be accessed here:

The Dutch identify a generation gap
In what has been termed the ‘grey boating scenario,’ the Dutch Marine Industry Association (HISWA) have established that many of today’s typical  boat owners are in their later years, and therefore likely to discontinue their hobby in large numbers in the coming years. HISWA have therefore launched a campaign entitled, ‘Welcome to the Water’ targeted at compensating for the declining trend, and to attract more and younger water sports enthusiasts across all of the nautical leisure sectors.

More info: (In Dutch)

UK Trends show similar patterns
The Royal Yachting Association (RYA) in the UK, published a report on boating habits and participation levels in 2015, here are a couple of highlights:

  • Participation in all (any) boating and watersports activities showed a steady decline equating to 1.6% overall during the two years preceding the study. In volume terms this represented around 1 million less people enjoying time on the water.
  • Looking at long-term trends in individual activities some clear signs of growth, albeit relatively small ones, are evident:  Canal boating up by 0.2%, canoeing and surfing are both up by 0.8%, and leisure time at the beach, up by 1.5%.

Click here -


Another insight from the USA
Here is an interesting viewpoint from Robert Wilkes, who wrote a piece in the recently published US-based Marina Dock Age magazine. “To many in our communities, the local marina is a distant and forbidding area. From the outside looking in they see security fences and locked gates. The unintended message is, ‘the water is for the privileged few’… but that may be changing.”

Robert goes on to say that human-powered watercraft is the fastest growing segment of the boating industry, and there is a trend developing for marinas to build more facilities for things like canoes, kayaks, and pedal craft. Also that they are encouraging more dinghy sailing clubs and training schools as part of their future infrastructure plans. In other words, they recognise that the future will not be driven by the ‘baby boomers,’ who bought fiberglass family size boats through the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s, and filled marinas with them.

Click here - Link to the Marina Dock Age article pdf

 Marina Dock Age.pdf

So, would you agree that there is a familiar thread running through all this?

Could it be that an increase in human-powered watercraft would have beneficial environmental effects? Maybe they could be constructed from materials that are easier to recycle than fibreglass?

Are fractional ownership, inclusive charter, leasing, and shared boating schemes, the way forward, in order to get people back on the water in a more sustainable way?

What is your opinion, and do you have experiences to share?

We would love to hear from you at the Online Community via the below comment box. Please give us your input!

  • Hi do you see a familiar thread? Would you like to share us your view on this topic?

  • I don't believe human powered craft are a gateway to power and sail boat ownership or use.  If you are suggesting it would be a good thing for younger generations to get on the water with human powered craft and abandon power and sail boats, you are advocating for the demise of recreational boating and the millions of jobs worldwide that depend on recreational boating.  We can make a lot of things sustainable by putting millions of people out of work.  We can also eliminate boating accidents and fatalities by banning boating all together.The challenge is to  find more sustainable paths while maintaining economic activity and growth.  We need a balanced approach.  This industry is a delicate ecosystem.  Fractional ownership, boat rental, boat sharing are all great for our industry in my opinion but not to the extreme of suggesting this be the only path just because it is more sustainable, perhaps.  It is dangerous to look at things through only a single lense.

  • Many thanks Tom Dammrich for your comments, and for taking the time to give us your valued response.  Indeed the leisure boating industry needs to take a balanced approach, one which can move towards a more sustainable and environmentally friendly future, whilst protecting jobs and company revenues/profits.  The point that I personally took away from the article which mentioned human powered craft, was that young people would start out with a closeness to nature, and an important respect for the environment via this route to the pastime of boating.  I personally started off rowing and sculling as a teenager, and have gone on to own several motor boats over the years, with I like to think, a good degree of responsibility and respect for safety and the environment.  

    Congratulations on the NMMA  Grow Boating scheme, and on the comprehensive data that your organisation's study has produced for the benefit of the industry.