An Eye-opening Boat Show

Posted by By Darrell Nicholson at 11:59AM - Comments: (10)

A man who looks just like contributor Capt. Frank Lanier enjoys the Miami International Boat Show.

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.

Managing Editor Ann Key wields a mean paint-roller, drill . . .

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.


Comments (10)

It's society as a whole - not just the boat industry. I've never forgotten going to a plant in rural Maryland that had mostly black women working on the line, and telling the manager (from NY) that he had to train all his workers in emergency procedures, and having him say 'Even the women?' And totally not understanding that I was offended by that comment.

They do the hot chick thing with cars as well (But the reason that you don't see bikinis at northern winter car shows and at the Annapolis sailboat show is that it is too COLD.) I think the auto people may be waking up a little.

As far as anchoring. Bob pulls the anchor and I am at the wheel. He uses hand signals. That way works for us. Even if he yelled I couldn't hear him and he couldn't hear me. We tried headphones and that didn't work as we are both partly deaf.

In our case, the boat is Bob's thing. I participate, but I won't be that sorry when he decides that we have gotten too decrepit to sail anymore. I am already at the point where I can't walk all the way out the dock to the boat and am unable to really help with putting the sails up or anything that requires strength or stamina

Posted by: RosalieB | April 10, 2012 10:23 AM    Report this comment

Managin Editor Ann Key should be wearing a respirator or mask.

Posted by: Breakaway | February 29, 2012 5:40 PM    Report this comment

Shopping for any large cost item such as a boat or rv can be amusing, but also rather disheartening for a woman. I bought a Pacific Seacraft a few years ago...the salesman thought I was a Pac Seacraft "groupie" just looking. He said that when I asked him to leave the boat, so I could examine her alone, he knew I was serious. The same happened when i was looking for an rv. I just wasn't taken seriously, in fact ignored. When I look for a car or other expensive item, I now preclude my discussion with a salesman with the statement that I am to be taken seriously...crazy!

Posted by: Nancy N | February 25, 2012 6:36 AM    Report this comment

I think a lot of us in the sailing community will find the photo of Ms. Key (above, with the roller) "sexier" than the photo of the four models with the Captain. I would much rather have a sailing partner who knows the difference between a halyard and a thru-hull. Thanks for the continued good work with this magazine!

Posted by: RICHARD D | February 24, 2012 5:27 PM    Report this comment

It is truly sad that so many men can't get beyond make sex objects out of women. When men are the consumers, industry just seems to think it's cool to put scantily clad women in the picture. And some sailing magazines, such as Latitudes and Attitudes and Latitude 38, often put tantalizing pictures over substance. I wish these guys would grow up, but I doubt they ever will.

And, Kent, just because the woman is on the bow should not lead you to jump to conclusions. My wife hates to be at the helm and would rather deal with the anchor in any conditions. I suspect there are lots of other women who feel the same.

Posted by: James W | February 23, 2012 2:11 PM    Report this comment

It isn't just the sailing vendors who are guilty of chauvinism. My wife and I have cruised for the last 4 years full time in the Caribbean and the Med and I am constantly amazed to see the women out on the fore deck wrestling with a 50 lb anchor or fending off boats on either side while the "Captain" pushes levers and yells from the cockpit. On our Bristol 45.5 Destiny my wife does all the steering when we anchor or dock and I do the "muscle work". It is well known that females often have a "gentler touch" and that is often just what is needed when a 20 ton sailboat and a stone wall are in close proximity.

Posted by: KENT B | February 22, 2012 5:39 PM    Report this comment

Hi Darrell,

You make a good point. Sex is still being used (mostly in association with powerboats, megayachts, etc). There are also a lot of men working the shows, but for the most part, I have never felt disrespect(except at one yacht brokerage with a lot of back pedaling when they learned I owned one of their yachts). In fact, as I do most of the data gathering and cost-benefit analysis, I have a USCG captain's license, and we cross oceans short-handed, I have found the salesmen refreshingly accommodating (not at all like used car salesmen!).

Some women have been making a dent for quite some time. Beth Leonard comes to mind. Some of us have even written somewhat technical books on the subject. Not that "Happy Hooking. The art of anchoring" was intended to use sex to sell books or anything. It's an appropriate title and memorable. The new edition just out has received excellent reviews from OCC and CCA among others.

You must have missed the excellent seminars put on by Kathy Parsons and Pam Wall in Miami. Check out their website (Women & Cruising) and you'll see that women are out there making a vast difference in sailing. They just may not be doing it where you expect. (A lot are out there sailing rather than dreaming about it.)

Yes, there are many places where women are underrepresented. Board rooms are at the top of the list. And yes, marketing to women would be reaching an untapped market as women make 80% of all household purchase decisions. There are 7000 members in SSCA and less than 4000 boats. Hmmmm.


Posted by: CruisingKitty | February 22, 2012 12:07 PM    Report this comment

I agree that sailing is better than other boating realms (and Annapolis is a different world from Miami), and the elitism isn't helping much either . . . but I'll save that for another day.

Posted by: DARRELL N | February 22, 2012 11:47 AM    Report this comment

My wife wants nothing to do with my sailboat, and it has nothing to do with bikinis. I'd say the auto industry is just as guilty. Granted, the women at the Washington Auto Show were wearing more than bikinis, but there were plenty of attractive "booth babes" and I didn't notice too many Chippendale guys leading suburban moms through the minivans. I think you're being too hard on the sail manufacturers. While I wasn't at the Miami show, I did go to the Annapolis Show in October. I don't recall seeing any scantily-clad women there either. I was more bothered by the pretty but snobby girls (yes... girls, not women) at the Oyster Yachts display who could barely be bothered to look up at me, since I didn't have $100 bills poking out of my zipper.

Posted by: THOMAS M | February 22, 2012 9:08 AM    Report this comment

Good article

Posted by: Tim D | February 22, 2012 9:05 AM    Report this comment

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