When asked about the trends in sailing, the obvious answer is that new boats are not being sold like they once were and there are fewer boats on many starting lines. Okay, agreed, but Sailbuzz decided to dig a little deeper. Predictions are always tricky but two essential elements stand out.  First, we’ll do well to embrace the sailing’s diverse offerings rather than over generalize and, secondly, focusing on industry strengths, rather than the weakness move us to the favored tack faster.

There are bright spots among the numbers:

Grandparents are introducing their grandchildren to sailing and the kids love it. Schools, clubs, and charter companies who market to this unique demographic will find happy takers.

  • Sailors are environmentally consciences creating a natural fit with millennials. If they find a path to a sailing venue, they will make a lasting home.
  • Team racing, with shared boats and low costs, will continue to attract sailors in their 20s and 30s because it is both affordable and a familiar format for those accustomed to working in teams at work and school.
  • Clubs, schools, and other organizations that embrace millennial values including hard work coupled with humor, team work, fun and diversity will do well. Clubs that greet sailors with a wall of dead commodores at the front door will struggle to replace their aging demographic.
  • Passionate individuals who are actively reaching out to minorities are ahead of the curve and on the right route. Unfortunately, thus far national leadership organizations are behind this trend.
  • Smart clubs are opening their doors to paddle boat enthusiast as they have similar values and interest. From there, using wind power is a hull away.
  • Catamaran sales remain strong as they are now leading the industry in new boat sales and charters.

As current business owners age-out, they will bring aboard a new generation of leadership.  New owners will have a long first tack but their enthusiasm, viewpoints and communication networks will raise sailing’s visibility. The cadre of small businesses that comprise the industry’s backbone reflect the epitome of the American dream and the independent spirit of sailors.  As an industry, recognizing and supporting this, rather than bemoaning the lack of large companies, will keep us afloat.

Cruising boats evolution into floating condos with home-like amenities and ideal entertaining trappings will continue. Innovations that accommodate shorthanded sailors and retirees will change the boats more than sail rating rules. Eventually smaller, more affordable boats sporting the upscale features of their larger sisters will gain market share. This mirrors the housing downsizing and the growing popularity of tiny living.

Foiling catamarans proved tricky for the average professional sailing jock and thus dashed the hopes for the rest of us.  While interest will continue, only the agile and strong will fly.  Aspiring Nacra sailors will master it and skiff sailors seeking an adrenaline boost will try it out, but most will find our foiling fix by viewing YouTube crash and burn videos.   The Moth class is not destined to become sailing staple and foiling will assume its place beside disciplines like kiteboarding, which has already embraced it.  With a little luck, foiling will catch on with extreme sports enthusiasts who have a media following.

Catamaran’s may be the new popular kid on the dock but monohulls will always consume a greater ownership percentage.  Some revered venues are impractical for catamarans and they’ve yet to make inroads in places like the Great Lakes.  Not all sailors enjoy their motion on the ocean and their flipability gives ocean voyaging sailors pause. Lastly, traditionalist who prefer the look and simplicity of one hull remain committed to their views.

Catamarans already comprise the bulk of the charter business in popular destinations but power cats are closing in on them especially in places like the Caribbean.  Again, it’s best to remember this is one picture but not the view from 10,000 feet.

Outsourcing hull and sail production overseas is a cost reduction measure which mirrors manufacturing trends and like the rest will follow cheap labor around the globe. That said, builders and entrepreneurs who remain in this country will earn the loyalty of engaged sailors who appreciate fine craftsmanship and want a say in the design-build process.

Winning Olympic medals will be a continued struggle for the US as the pool of young, talented sailors with enough time and money is small.  Fundraising will improve the situation, but real question is whether the top-down approach to developing strong athletes is the correct course.  Growing it from the grassroots-up provides more options.

The Annapolis Fall show solidified its place as the not-to-be-missed sail show.  This proves that the sailing industry shines brightest when the relationship between the show producers and community is strong and the formula is absolutely repeatable.

Who will lead the growth effort remains to be seen. The door is wide open.