Power boat grab: Is sailing lifestyle sailing away?

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The pursuit of sailing is fighting head winds.

Beyond the blow from the Great Recession, sailing faces pressure from aging baby boomers turning toward powerboats and millennials enjoying broader leisure options, industry leaders say.

The number of U.S. residents who sail has been roughly flat for a decade, with about 3.5 million to 4 million people going at least once per year and 1.2 million sailing at least seven times per year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau and research by industry groups.

That’s despite a rise in U.S. population and trends for the affluent to seek “special experiences” like sailing, Sally Helme, publisher of Sailing World magazine, said during the recent Strictly Sail boat show in Miami, the largest sail event in South Florida.

Richard Jordan feels the strain at his Jordan Yachts brokerage in Dania Beach, which specializes in pre-owned sailing yachts and employs five brokers.

His company’s revenues tanked during the Great Recession, recovered slowly from 2010 through 2012 and stayed flat in 2013 and 2014. They’re still roughly 20 percent off pre-recession levels, he said.

Yet even before the recession hit, the sailboat business had been declining.

Baby boomers are turning to less physically demanding powerboats, while millennials are less exposed to sailing than earlier generations that had fewer options for leisure, Jordan said.

At the Gulfstream Sailing Club in Fort Lauderdale, membership is down to about 90, off half of its peak decades back. And most members are older, even though the club welcomes sailors without boats and offers programs to teach children, said commodore Mike “Mick” Sazak.

“Millennials really aren’t taking up sailing now,” said Sazak, noting that some are put off by the cost of dockage and insurance for larger boats. “I see them up and down the canals in kayaks.”


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