An Eye-opening Boat Show
Posted by By Darrell Nicholson at 11:59AM - Comments: (10)
February 21, 2012
They say a photo is worth 1,000 words, and this one certainly says a lot. On our way to a very serious study of hose clamps at the Miami International Boat Show, the nice sales ladies at the booth of some nameless speedboat showed their appreciation for Capt. Frank Lanier, a retired Coast Guard officer and one of our contributors. It is a standard boat show ploy: Beautiful girls attract men (even those as high-minded as Capt. Lanier), and men buy boats.
For many complex reasons (including the fact that Frank's incredibly supportive wife might one day stumble on this blog post), I hesitated to publish this photo. But it serves to illustrate a point that struck me, more forcefully than it had in the past, at this year’s Miami show: the depth of prevailing sexism in the boating industry. Although the models here are associated with an offshore speedboat—the equivalent of a waterborne lingam—some sailing booths are only slightly better. We are at a time when some of the biggest names in the sport of sailing are women, and a “sex sells” mentality seems to persist like a plague. I can’t help but wonder how long it will be this way, and whether this sales psychology is simply a worthless vestige and the sooner that it is shed, the better off our sport will be.
Women remain one of the largest untapped markets for the growth of sailing, yet few sales efforts in Miami seemed thoughtfully directed to them. In fact, many of them seemed so blatantly male-biased, it is no wonder some men have trouble convincing their wives to join them on a long retirement cruise. I haven’t looked at our own demographic, but judging from the volume of letters I get from women sailors, I think there’s a significant shift occurring—a shift that, for the most part, is being ignored.
Most of the women I saw at this year’s Miami show weren’t poking around the galley or checking out the showers. Some were, of course. How could they not? The salesman—all of them males—deftly steered them that way. But there was the woman on the Seaward 46 RK checking out the keel-lifting mechanism, another on the Tartan 4000 asking about engine access, and I remember one woman in particular taking an electric propulsion enthusiast to task on his claims. Last time I was in a boatyard, there was no shortage of women with rollers, sanders, and grinders in their hands. Practical Sailor's managing editor, Ann Key, has put far more hours into boat maintenance this year than yours truly.
Given their growing role in every other sphere of boating, I think it is inevitable that the day will come when more women will take a dominant role in the business side of selling boats and boat gear. And that's quite alright with me—just so long as they don’t ask me to parade around in a thong.