The Four Ages of Boating

Originally published 2/16/90 in several Maryland newspapers

The Four Ages of Boating

by Tom Dove

Boating is a sport for all ages but it is not the same to all ages. At different times in our lives we draw different things from the boating experience.

I can identify four ages of boating: youth, young adult, family and mature. Some would look at me and chuckle at the euphemism “mature”, insisting that “old crank” or something worse would be appropriate, but this is my story and I will define my own terms.

Young boaters enjoy the sensation of being on the water with a delightful newness. Whether boardsailing, water skiing, buzzing around in a runabout or racing in a one-design sailboat, young skippers find freedom and self-determination that is missing almost everywhere else in life. These kids have better things to do than hang around shopping malls.

Young adult boaters, say 20-30 years old, have a bit of money and few family ties to hold them away from the water. They may buy runabouts or small powerboats and do some weekend cruising as well as day tripping. Sailors often belong to yacht clubs and enjoy the cameraderie of handicap racing on their own boats or those of friends.

The family years often bring boating to a halt. It takes determination to pack up two kids into a floating space the size of an apartment kitchen for several days. Those who persevere and cruise with their children find it more than worth the effort.

Family boaters must watch their finances closely. Still, boating is affordable as long as the crew is satisfied with a used boat instead of a new one.

Mature boaters have both the time and money to indulge themselves and to get out on the water and do what they have always wanted. With a bit of luck, the kids are gone so weekends and vacations are more leisurely than before. Retirement approaches and the mature couple thinks about cruising away from it all.

Mature boaters may buy trawlers or cruising sailboats and spend plenty of time poking into anchorages or traveling north and south with the seasons. It’s an appealing lifestyle for folks who have finally managed to find the off-ramp from society’s fast lane.

That tumultous demographic bulge we call the Baby Boomers has moved out of youth and young adulthood into the family-rearing age. We should not be surprised that powerboat sales have dropped off – Yuppies have other commitments now.

When this group was young, Hobie Cats and sailboards were the rage. When they became young adults, they leaped at performance powerboats. After they raise their kids, they will be back.

In the meantime, what about those kids? Will today’s parents realize what discerning mothers and fathers have known for a long time – that a small boat is the very best educational tool ever made?

Today’s parents will have to make some sacrifices. The BMW will give way to a minivan. The expensive restaurants will be replaced by barbeque grills..

I hope that today’s young parents will set aside enough money to buy a little sailing dinghy, rowboat, or canoe so their offspring can learn something about the outdoors, about Nature’s intolerance of fools, about the necessity for self-reliance in life. The children won’t get that from team sports or MTV or flipping hamburgers.

I hope that these parents will invest some of their own time in community and yacht club sailing and boating programs. Those who do will discover that they can keep boating through their family years and have some wonderful times.

They will discover that in boating as in many other fields, they can do very well by doing good.

— The End —