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North South Yachting dealer principal BOB MULKEARNS says sailing is a sport and leisure activity for everyone


Sailing is often confused with being an elite sport, or a sport that is male-selfish adventure. Other leisure activities have suffered similar misconceptions in the past, needing a marketing campaign to perhaps explain the wonderful benefits of the leisure activity. Snow skiing had similar perceptions and for those who have embraced it as a family-based activity have discovered a wonderful outdoor winter pastime that can be enjoyed by all generations and all ages. Both sailing and skiing are core health and environmentally low-footprint activities, but not always understood.

I recall about 10 years ago it was predicted that sailing could be the new golf, but it never achieved that status, and we need to understand why it isn’t reaching the available mass market. With all the coastal populations, it would appear on the surface to be achievable, but for some reason it is not attracting the patronage it deserves.

Perhaps we need to look at the market between 35 and 55 to better understand what motivates these generations’ leisure needs. They say they are time poor, very busy, and families are attracted to all inclusive interests of both partners and their children.

Sailing is perceived to be a difficult sport, where parents watch children learn separate to their enjoyment, a bit like the Saturday soccer match only longer. Training needs to be a more inclusive activity, where parents can learn the basics with their children, the start of sailing as a family activity. The challenges are to provide a learning environment for children too young to be allowed on the water by themselves.

This is not so difficult if you ask the families who most enjoy sailing. They will tell you they were introduced by passionate sailing parents at a very young age. The solution: provide that same passion in the sailing club’s training sessions, i.e., like personal sailing trainers for parents, more individual family training and coaching. If not on their own boat then use a hired boat that best suits their needs and make it comfortable and easy.

Let’s draw a picture of what the new, young family can expect from sailing as a leisure activity.

First, sailing is an outdoor, low-energy consumption activity. The wind indeed is free, and not dissimilar to surfing. These sports need to apply for carbon credits, they are so low on energy consumption, and as such are true ‘green’ sports. Unlike surfing, all the family can be on the same wave, in the same yacht, plus they can eat and sleep aboard.

Second, a sailboat is an alternative to the beach house, the weekender, because every weekend you can enjoy a different location, either close to friends or secluded, the choice is up to the family.

Thirdly, sailing is an all-weather activity. Yes, it can be enjoyed in all conditions, which is not always appreciated. If the forecast is lousy then the marina-based activities can be as much fun as the day out on the water, but more relaxing. I know some sailors who make the yacht a Sunday activity away from the house, and if it is raining or too windy, the marina is full and just like an anchorage.

Good marinas know how to cater for inclement weather; good food, pools, children’s activities — it’s not unlike a day at a golf resort when it’s raining. The marinas need to cater for poor weather to attract the new-age boating family that demands more marina-based activities.

Fourth, learning to sail is no harder than learning to ride a bike, and as simple. A little bit of balance, a feel for the conditions of the water, some simple rules of the sea, and all at a pace that suits conditions and ability. With the assistance of a personal sailing trainer, the basic level of competency needed is easily achieved. Most sailing is done in mild conditions, as is snow skiing (blizzards create indoor activity). The most important concept to grasp is that sailing is about the journey not the destination.

Ways to begin appreciating sailing are to join a club or group that espouses the above points, and learning how to slow down and enjoy the simplicity and relaxation of the sport. Charter a few yachts first, and get the assistance of a personal sailing trainer to get you started even with the first charter. Learn about the enjoyment of sailing from an expert, and with the whole family, make it a sailing adventure. It should be compared to a family skiing instructor, where you get to experience the whole mountain (read bay), and includes meals and terrain that suits all the family.

When it comes to buying a yacht, some of the pitfalls to be avoided are the same as learning to sail. Before you buy you need to be able to know what your whole family wants to achieve, and hire before you buy where possible to gain experience. Old yachts can be like old cars, at first they seem cheap, but can end up a maintenance nightmare, costing in the end more than a new one. There is nothing more annoying than an unreliable car — the same applies to a yacht.

Look at the younger generations, how many are renovating houses, or cars, and if they are, do they want to repeat this with their leisure activity? Old boats suit the retirement home older owners, not younger families. If a used boat is applicable, it will be a boat that is in as-new condition with maintenance issues minimised. Service contracts to maintain older boats are perhaps a way of bridging the lower upfront capital with higher maintenance needs.

Sadly, sales of secondhand yachts do not come bundled with maintenance. It is a bit like asking a real estate agent to do your after-sale upkeep. Property maintenance groups do exist, e.g. strata, and there is a market for a similar service to the marine industry. Until that develops, the new boat with manufacturer’s warranty and service will likely be the safest solution.

Another myth is that yachts are expensive and can only be afforded by the super wealthy. New ways of owning and enjoying yachts are emerging, though, like pay-by-the-month for club boats, and managed syndicates emerging to augment the traditional hire/charter market.

Holiday homes are expensive real estate investments and at times have some of the shortcomings of older boats. These days, however, the manufacturing of a lot of yachts is now undertaken in high-volume factories, the price of boats, like cars, dropping dramatically over the past 20 years. A yacht fits between an onsite caravan at a beach location and the beach holiday unit. Costs of monthly ownership are all very similar, but the benefit of the yacht is it is like a motorhome, the locations of enjoyment can be constantly changed.

Keep the initial yacht within a family leisure budget. Go for the boat that suits the finances, better to compromise on the size of a smaller, new yacht rather than the problems and challenges of an older, larger yacht. Trading-up of branded yachts is really no harder than automobiles, and the depreciation is much lower. Remember to keep to the volume brands as this makes the trade-up easy using the same logic as selecting a car make.

Armed with the above advice, the first step is to get out on a yacht on a nice day with all the family, and look for ways to make the first day enjoyable. Try before you buy, and get advice from families who are together on a dock or at an anchorage with smiles on their faces.

Sailing is a family activity that can be enjoyed by all ages, and is a lifelong activity. With the wonderful weather and waterways in Australia, if we are not attracting new families to sailing, it can only be we have not marketed or delivered the activity correctly to the general public. This is indeed the challenge. In Australia, boating and water activities including sailing should be more attractive than golf, surfing and skiing, appealing to the mass coastal population.


1). North South Yachting represents big-German boat brand Bavaria, the above entry-level Bavaria Cruiser 32 at around $156,000 in standard form is a great way to introduce the family to the joys of sailing.

2). Bob Mulkearns sings the virtues of sailing.


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