The tired old adage “boats are holes in the water into which you pour money” makes me involuntarily eye-roll. Yes, boating can be an expensive sport, but it doesn’t have to be. We can trick our vessels out with all sorts of comforts, but we can also circumnavigate with not much more than a sextant. Sailing, at its core, is a sustainable and affordable activity: As long as there is wind on earth, our boats will sail, and we will be moved.
I suppose common notions about the cost of boat ownership combined with NPR’s ever grimmer updates about the nation’s economy made me worry the worst for the future of sailing too. Unemployment is rising, homes are foreclosing, and we’re going to hell in a handbasket. But in the midst of all the mayhem, we’re still hauling our halyards. ASA took its first-ever member survey at the end of 2009, and the findings reveal that despite the economic downturn, sails are full and participation is growing across demographic groups.
ASA’s survey showed that 30 percent of the 2300 responders are affluent, with incomes above $150k annually. (Okay so we know those guys can afford to keep sailing.) But notably, a much larger chunk of the pie–44 percent–make between $50k and $149k, a solid middle-class range. This statistic supports the idea that the sailing lifestyle need not be reserved for the wealthy; sailing is still an economically accessible sport. Further debunking the common stereotype of the “wealthy white middle-aged male sailor,” ASA’s survey saw women, and those under the age of 45, emerge as an under-served audience (about 53 percent combined).
The good news for everybody is that ASA is actively responding to our growing member demographic in addition to continuing to provide events that have proven popular in the past. This spring we’re hosting an incredibly adventuresome flotilla in the Exuma Islands, Bahamas, featuring traditional open Sea Pearl 21s, deserted beach camping, cave grottos, and spear fishing. Followed by flotillas in the wild Pacific Northwest and historic Croatia, these major events are geared for the young and young-at-heart.
So in response to those who chide “a boat is a hole in the water into which you pour money,” I say “Psshaw . . . well, perhaps sometimes.” But we know that wealth is not a prerequisite for sailing, and after all, wind is free.
If you’re interested in becoming a member of the American Sailing Association or are in search of a floating adventure, please visit www.asa.com.