Trade Wars

Improving access in a post-pandemic world


Over the past year, we’ve all been sailing uncharted waters and dynamic changes at almost every turn. It has touched us as individual leaders, employees and consumers. These ever-changing conditions are almost certain to continue as the world redefines how it works, lives and plays. Through it all, we’ve learned that leadership matters and that staying intentional in setting strategic direction will be more important than ever in the days to come.

One of the ways the NMMA leads is through our programs and services, which are carefully designed to serve the best interests of our members. We remain rooted in our mission – to ensure the growth and success of the boating industry – and our vision that boating is America’s # 1 leisure activity, with a focus on creating transformational experiences for all. And like many who have successfully overcome the pandemic, we are rooting in our most important and integrated areas of strategic focus: advocacy and market development.

Regarding these two priorities, the 2021 US Nautical Congress at the end of April could not have come at a more critical time. There is important work to be done at the state and federal levels to advance our industry’s priorities, including expanding access for boating and outdoor recreation, rescinding retaliatory tariffs damage left by the last administration’s trade wars, conserving our nation’s land and waterways, and addressing supply chain and workforce disruptions.


With advances in immunization and pandemic mitigation efforts, we are slowly starting to see positive signs of what post-pandemic life could look like. It’s a world where Americans will work from anywhere, prioritize health and wellness, and enjoy life on the outside. It is a world where boating can and should thrive, provided there is adequate access.

Boating participation and sales have seen explosive increases in 2020. We have also seen a massive migration to (and millions of new home purchases in) regions favorable to boating. Once a family moves to a boating and fishing community, we can safely assume that the acquisition of recreational equipment that allows them to participate in the lifestyle will soon follow. These ongoing, consumer-driven behavioral changes, along with the sustained increased interest we’ve seen across dealerships and on the Discover Boating social platforms, indicate that the industry is well positioned for growth.

However, there are some important elements to attracting and retaining more consumers into the nautical lifestyle, including building more access points and keeping the access we already have. Last year, at the height of political wrangling and the global pandemic, NMMA and our coalition partners at the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable led the way by passing the Great American Outdoors Act. This law injects $ 6 billion in federal spending into overdue maintenance projects that will modernize aging recreation infrastructure and $ 900 million a year into the creation of new access points, such as boat ramps. essential water. We continue to promote market expansion efforts with the new administration by advocating to direct GAOA’s historic investment towards the specific needs and priorities of the boating industry.


These investments have obvious advantages. Outdoor recreation, especially boating and fishing, played a vital and prominent role in sustaining the national economy during the pandemic. It’s also noteworthy that boating and fishing account for the largest portion of the $ 788 billion outdoor recreation economy. And while our industry saw its highest sales volume in 13 years last year, these long overdue infrastructure investments are desperately needed as so many new consumers come to us. Expanding access and infrastructure means retention of these new navigation participants, more future activities and a stronger overall economy.

This message is heard. In early May, the Biden administration announced a rule that would allow a massive expansion of recreational access to the U.S. wildlife sanctuary system – great news for anglers and boaters. The administration also announced that access for boating and fishing would be preserved as part of its proposal to conserve 30% of U.S. lands and waters by 2030.

We are also heard at the local level. This year our members have faced dozens of national and local attempts to severely restrict access for boaters, and we have defeated them all. These threats still exist, but collectively we are moving forward and leading the charge proactively.

If the boating lifestyle is to grow, we must continually evolve and expand our current customer base. It means providing equitable access to boating for all Americans. And as we all know, there remains a tremendous opportunity within this industry to build a more diverse workforce and consumer base. Increasing our efforts in various regions to promote easily accessible boating and fishing opportunities will only bring more diversity to our industry and the boating lifestyle.

It’s been a year for the history books. The one who has certainly tried us all. But there are huge signs of hope and opportunity for all of us on the horizon as the country moves towards recovery. Together, we can help families, communities and political leaders discover and continually rediscover the health benefits and economic value of access to boaters.

Frank Hugelmeyer is president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

This article originally appeared in the June 2021 issue.