Tapping Millennial Wisdom to Broaden Boating Public at Providence Boat Show and Beyond

It’s no secret that our industry needs to attract a more diverse pool of consumers, as well as younger workers to replace our graying workforce. The average age of new-boat buyers is early 50s, and according to Info-Link, a company that tracks sales data for the boating industry, each year that average age inches up by six months. In terms of our workforce, many RIMTA members’ skilled employees are aging out without enough young workers to take their places. The Baby Boom generation may be largely fueling our industry today, but what about tomorrow?

RIMTA places a strong emphasis on this issue with its training programs. Entry-level tradesmen and women are trained in the Marine Trades & Composites Pre-Apprenticeship Training Program, and in 2014, RIMTA launched a Summer Marketing Program for Millennial-aged individuals with support from the Workforce Partnership of Greater Rhode Island.

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The summer program draws individuals interested in careers in marketing, communications and event planning in our industry—but built into the program is a double bonus. Not only are we attracting bright, motivated individuals to the marine trades and offering them a fast track to careers; we are also learning from them about how to attract a new generation of boating consumers.


According to Jim Blair—marketing PhD candidate at the University of Rhode Island who served as instructor of the Summer Marketing Program—the six-week Summer Program started with core marketing concepts and graduated to a specific goal: create a marketing plan to draw more Millennial-aged individuals to this winter’s Providence Boat Show and further engage those show-goers in boating.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, this year Millennials will surpass the Baby Boomers as the largest living generation. There is a ton of data on Millennials’ behavior and habits, but Blair challenged his students to be laser-focused on specifics in their boat-show project and create a value proposition. “If that person is going to invest their time, energy and money in an experience or a product, make sure the product is of value to them—then figure out how you can sell that value.”

Students were divided into three teams, and each put a high degree of inventiveness into their plans to present to a panel of judges at the program’s end—from staging scavenger hunts, to a boat-show passport to ensure show-goers travel through the show and get strong exposure to boating, to using a large electronic tag board to share social media posts at the show. Every plan incorporated a robust use of social media.


The teams’ ideas were so strong that RIMTA has hired several of the program’s graduates, along with two other students, to create a strategy for leveraging technology to draw a larger pool of consumers to this winter’s Providence Boat Show.

According to Sam Handy—who graduated from the first Summer Marketing Program in 2014 and now works full-time at RIMTA managing this program and serving as marketing coordinator for the organization—the team is currently ironing out their plans. Their goal is to incorporate new technology to engage more show-goers and give them a better experience at the show, whether that is a new app, enhanced show website, a tag board, better integration of social media, or all of the above.

The end goal, according to Handy, is “the development of a platform that allows us to engage with consumers, provide them a more complete experience at the show, and be able to capture data on who our attendees are and how we can better tailor the boat-show experience to them.” The project is not a one-time exercise, but something RIMTA can build on in successive years to engage more people in boating.


Several members of this new advisory group worked with Freedom Boat Club at the Newport International Boat Show to test ideas, including Roger Williams seniors Paulina Foley and Rachael Lemmler and Salve Regina senior Ryan Walsh.

According to Foley, their goal was to increase the Boat Club’s social media reach, which they were able to do through a coordinated effort of taking photos at the show and leveraging them on social media to draw more individuals into the Freedom Boat Club community.

Millennials well understand why the demographics of new-boat buyers skews older, but, as Ryan Walsh points out, there are ample opportunities to engage his age-group in boating through organizations such as Freedom Boat Club and Sail Newport and events like the Volvo Ocean Race. “You can get involved without owning your own boat,” says Ryan, “so showcasing events and organizations like these is vitally important.”


Sam Handy knows that RIMTA is onto something through its Summer Marketing Program. When he attended the first year of this program as a student, their final project was more open-ended. But this year’s final project had a defined target in mind, and it’s a challenge that is inspiring this new team of advisors and the peers they socialize with.

“The team we’re working with is extremely driven,” says Handy. “They are all still in school—with some of them already working in the industry part-time. They continually exhibit the kind of work ethic and excitement that can help move the industry forward and engage more young people in boating. I am really excited to see how far their efforts are going to go.”