By Brandon Butler
For The Republic
Outdoor recreation has experienced an explosion in the past year. People from all walks of life found new ways to enjoy themselves outside during the pandemic. Now, many of them are expanding into more outdoor recreation categories, and boating is no exception.
As many first-time boaters take to the water, education and etiquette are keys to safety and enjoyment for all.
My cousin Jamie is a perfect example. He has never been an outdoorsman. In fact, he kindly gave me a few family heirloom rifles, because he admittedly would never use them. But now he’s a boater. He and his wife Jacquelyn bought into a boat club in West Michigan.
This timeshare-like operation affords them access to a small fleet of different boats in multiple harbors, so now they spend their weekends out on Lake Michigan, which is a big water to learn on.
I joined Jamie and Jacquelyn recently on a boat out of Holland, Michigan, and found them to be what I expected, including competent and safe. It was fun, though, listening to them explain their evolution as new boaters.
At one point, Jamie said, “We know how to use the anchor now.” It sounds funny, but there’s more to properly anchoring than dropping it over the side of the boat. Through trial and error, they figured out how to anchor correctly at the beach.
Experience is a great teacher, but it shouldn’t be the only source for knowledge. The Water Sports Foundation reports 415,000 first-time boat buyers entered the market in the past year. That number includes new and used boats, personal watercraft, kayaks, paddleboards and more.
WSF executive director Jim Emmons is quick to encourage boating education.
“As an industry, we all love seeing scores of new boaters joining our ranks and are thrilled about the diverse and younger audiences coming aboard,” he said. “However, we all want to ensure that these new boaters, and even those lapsed boaters who have returned, are educated and well equipped to operate safely on the nation’s waterways.
“There are a wealth of boating safety and educational opportunities available including both online and live classes; we encourage our boaters to invest time to become educated.”
According to a WSF news release, NauticEd, a leading global provider of charter vacations and the first to achieve national standards in the sailing education segment, offers both online and one-on-one instruction. This past year, it reported a 30% increase in online class enrollments, and since the vaccines have become available, there has been a robust increase in vacation yacht inquiries.
“As a travel and outdoor recreational activity, sailing is on fire right now and the interest and demand is the strongest we’ve seen in a decade,” said Grant Headifen, NauticEd founder and global director of education. “The increase in online enrollment tells us there’s a fresh surge of novice sailors who are pursuing the lifestyle, while increased vacation yacht inquiries indicate sailing veterans are enthusiastically returning to the water. It’s exciting to see NauticEd’s comprehensive e-learning platform and on-the-water instruction help increase access and training for newcomers.”
Boating is a great way to spend time outdoors. Whether you are paddling a kayak solo or are enjoying the pleasures of a pontoon boat, knowing what you are doing is paramount. The WSF has researched and provided a sampling of boating organizations providing information about boating access plus live, virtual and hybrid boating safety educational programs and providers. You can find them at www.watersports foundation.com.
See you down the trail.