11 Observations On The Classic Boat Culture!

Art - Ham Smith

Storm Ahead! – Ham Smith

Today’s story may be a bore fest to some, and a real eye opener to others. For us here at Woody Boater we wanted to know more  about what was going on in the classic boat culture, so we did some digging around and have come to some off the cuff thoughts. This time we have charts and graphs. mmm So it must be real!

According to these charts that we see here, we can deduce that the classic boat passion is on a downward trend. This is not anything new of course, but when you see it all together, it tells a bigger story. We looked at Google Search trends, Coast Guard registrations and also compared classic boats to all boats, even classic cars.. The results are eye opening, comforting and opportunistic, all in one story.

Screen grab from Google Trends. This is not the traffic count, but an indication that the popularity of the search term is down.

Screen grab from Google Trends. This is not the traffic count, but an indication that the popularity of the search term is down.


Registered - recreational boats.

1980 -2013 Registered – recreational boats. Note the same decline in 2007.

Turns out Boating in general is down.. way down, in about the same rate as Classic boats.. And Classic cars I might add. So it may not be the boats, expense, or age.. Maybe its Mr Maslow. OK, OK, you say, who hell is this guy Maslow and where can I find him? Cause I am gonna give him my piece of mind!

Same chart for Classic boats

Same chart for Classic boats


Classic cars trending down as well.

Classic cars trending down as well.

Well.. You have seen the charts, but this one may tell us why all of the cool stuff is down.. Turns out.. according to Maslow, that we buy stuff, classic cars, boats jewelry, European jeans when we feel confident. And after taking a pounding like we all did the past 7 years, its still a little raw in the wallet area.. Look at our parents who would eat one grain of sugar at a time.. Thats us now.. Boats are fun, but eating and paying the mortgage is better. This is at least our me search here and a conclusion we have come to..  Now, 99% of solving a problem is understanding the problem. So in our mind, we are not alone and its a mind set issue, not a youth, age issue. Or at least as much as we thought.. It’s about confidence, and money.


Maslows Hierachy of needs. Basecly. Classic boats are at the top. Food at the bottom.. Not at my house.. But in general!

Maslows Hierachy of needs. Basecly. Classic boats are at the top. Food at the bottom.. Not at my house.. But in general!


So what do we do about it? Can we buck the trend? YOU BET! Alright I will admit I am a romantic and glass half full person. But think.. If the concern is confidence and fear.. Then we can market the classic boat culture to address those issues.. For example.

It costs less to classic boat than new boat! Really, think about it. You can buy a nice classic boat for in the $10-$30K range and go boating in style. Try that in a new boat. Sure you can get something, but for the cool factor, a classic boat is far far better, and in a couple years, has a resale..

Maintenance fears.. With a properly done boat, your cost of maintenance is not that bad, no worse than if you took care of a new boat in the same way. New technology in restorations makes classic boats very easy to take care of. And don’t even bring up classic plastic stuff. You can go cool boating under 10 K all day long! Go to the Cobalt dealer and offer 10K for a boat! Your gonna get a turd, but focus your search in the classic boat area, and you can be styling..

Are you being cheap? Yes and no. Classic cars, hot rods, all of that stuff was all driven by the cool, to value ratio. Think back, you bought a used something and tricked it out. Same with classic boats. You can fix them up yourself, and go boating.. So its doable!

He's 22, and will own one one day!

He will own one one day! Just not now trying to pay off school, then a house, then a boat..

Talk were they are listening and reading! This may be the one area that can be changed easily. For example, while the trend for classic boating  is down, Woody Boater is up.. That’s right, UP.. Why? We are daily, free, online and about the fun of the culture. We are online and target boaters and future boaters in the age of 25-60 .


Woody Boater traffic.. those spikes are disasters and lake Dora! The drop is the day it all melted down! On average we get around 4,000 visitors a day and around 18,000 – 22,000 pageviews a day. The growth in traffic is slowing down, but still growing.

Reaching new boaters! Its gonna happen online and through an experience. Like Bill Baldwins great article in the latest issue of the Brass Bell. Taking folks out on a ride and drive is a sure bet. But for folks still thinking about a classic boat, they are googleing stuff. They are looking around online. You can find anything online now. 10 years ago, not so much, 20, forget it. But here is the thing, many of the shows and way we market the culture are 20 years old. We aint reaching anyone anymore the old way.. Trust me, as a 55 year old advertising professional, I feel this every day. My income and carrier depend on this stuff. If you are going to see growth in anything, online and digital is the way to go.. And the fastest growth part of all that is mobile.. Is your website mobile friendly? If not, sorry, change it! Are you talking about entry to the culture stuff on your website? The perfect first boat! This boat is ready to go, all fresh and guaranteed to go!

The story in the Brass bell. Great read!

The story in the Brass bell. Great read!

Is it to late to grow the culture? No.. The thing about timeless design is that it will always be rediscovered by future generations. But the issue at hand is a transference from memory to art. Thats the issue we face today. Boat shows are for memory, boat trips, are for the joy! And owning a classic boat is more like owning art, curating art, than it is preserving a memory. no one under the age of 50 recalls owning a boat like ours.. maybe a Donzi, or newer classic boat.. but we can not depend on that. We MUST bring it all to life!

Yes thats fun!

Yes thats fun!

Change your show to a tour! That’s right. Got a dying show on your hands? How about making it a fun two day tour! Sell the weekend as a tour of the history of the area..The show is a by product of everyone docking at the same place. Awards can be for things related to the using of the boats. Sell your destination on its reason to visit. The show, will sell to locals cause its there, but to bring new life to your event. Change it!  This historic tour! This may be to radical to do for a local chapter.. But these times, we need to try new things. Get folks out on the water, be a living show.. And for the folks that want to come but don’t bring a boat. Fine, they can buy rides on a boat.

Embrace Change! Its a funny thing, change needs to happen in a culture of preservation. Change goes against everything we are hard wired to to think.. The boats can stay, but how we talk about them, sell them, buy them, show them and use them needs change!

Change! Did some one say change?

Change! Did some one say change?


Thanks for listening, of course your opinion here counts big time. I have found for every good idea there is another good one. The difference is we all need to try new stuff. Maybe just maybe, something fun will happen! So do your math and speak up!

33 replies
  1. Troy in ANE
    Troy in ANE says:

    I still don’t get the whole concern over trends and involvement.

    If someone doesn’t want to play in my sandbox, what do I care.

    I guess if I made my living from involvement in the sport/hobby/lifestyle it would be different.

    GO BOATING while you can!!

  2. m-fine
    m-fine says:

    The trend you are seeing has nothing to do with the hobby and everything to do with a mega recession followed by a historically slow if not non-existent recovery.

    The cost of gas and wood and other essentials to our hobby have gone up while disposable incomes have declined in terms of real purchasing power. Many of those who still do have money are less secure and less willing to spend on luxery items.

    The future owners in the 20 something crowd are starting way behind past generations, coming out of school with more debt, fewer jobs, lower incomes, slower income growth, and less opportunity for advancement and promotion. It will take many of them until 45 or 50 to get where many of us were at 35. They may never be in a possition to own a boat.

    • Dennis Mykols
      Dennis Mykols says:

      I have to agree. being retired, I find the costs for my hobby/ lifestyle of classic boating has taken a hit in the last five years since we started going to Classic events. So much so, with gas for the track, hotels, any work done on the boat, food, and costs to register at major events have priced me out of half the events we went to in 2010 and 2011.

      And now that we put our toys away for the winter, the gas prices drop almost a $1.00 per gallon! Go figure…

  3. Wilson
    Wilson says:

    Well Troy, as a former marque club manager and Brass Bell editor, I wanted everybody to play in my sandbox. The more members and readers the more advertisers and sponsors ( more of them in the sand box too) and the same goes for the shows. Matt’s right, we have to appeal to a younger generation and get them in our sand box…and the more we get in the sand box, the more that will want to play in our sand box. How we do it is the challenge.

  4. Dan
    Dan says:

    Being 37 and just buying a 1960 lyman runabout this article makes great sense. My wife and I are involved in the culture of the boat shows but normally are the youngest in the crowd. Friends of ours laugh that we are members of the ACBM, but its what we enjoy. There is no younger crowd or approach to a younger crowd unless you were raised around them.

    It took us almost three years of searching for the right boat. There are not many websites offering older boats and what we found is most older boats for sale are past the point of restoration, owned by a bitter old marina keeper, or restored and over priced. We got very lucky finding ours on an “Want Ad” site and the family appreciating what our plans are to restore and RUN it every chance we get!!

    PLUS the biggest issue is most people our age think that its WORK and a “MONEY PIT” not a good a investment. They don’t understand the joy of being on the water and turning everything off and cruising.

    This is the first website that I actually go to every morning to read the articles and to see the pics!

  5. John Baas
    John Baas says:

    Welcome Dan. You and your wife “get it”. These old boats need TLC from the next generation of caretakers. You fit the job description to a Tee.

  6. Sean
    Sean says:

    I think our audience potential is just showing that it is maturing. Those (keeners) that want to pursue our hobby on-line have done so and we have spread the interest some others as a secondary group.

    These numbers do not indicate that the size of the hobby is growing or reducing… Just the number of inquiries is. In other words most of us inclined to do so have already found what we’re looking for.

    Now, the boating hobby may be declining and the economic reasons would be right up there but, as a percentage of overall boaters our Classic boater number is small which leaves plenty of potential for growth.

    Growing interest from current (other) boaters is not an easy task. This especially true as this group is also 40 – 65 year olds that resist change in their lives. However, I believe the things we need to do to attract current boaters to classics are the same things we need to do to attract new people to classics when boating is once again in a period of growth.

  7. Cliff
    Cliff says:

    I would love to see the the breakdown by age in five year blocks. DAN! Send your picture again of your Lyman. I wonder how many more Dans there are out there. If there are hey join ACBS AND A LOCAL CHAPTER. Make friends and they will help you get started in the hobby. Not that anyone cares but I’m 42 and have been a member of ACBS since 1996? 1995?

  8. randy Rush Captain Grumpy
    randy Rush Captain Grumpy says:

    Too much thought going on here. I think its the sum of the parts, people get old , young people are not interested in unobtainium, Glass is what they remember, and boy money still is tight for a recovered economy.

  9. Kerry Price
    Kerry Price says:

    Another factor to consider when looking at the decline of boating in general is the effect of the devastating drought that has taken a grip on many parts of the country. Lake Travis, just outside of Austin, TX and the areas largest recreational lake has suffered over the past four to five years to the point where some people cannot launch or retrieve their boats as the water line has receded so far. Many of the feeder creeks that were shallow water to begin with are now bone dry with people’s docks now sitting on dry land! The low water has meant less boating and as a result several lakeside businesses, restaurants and boat rentals have gone under making it less desirable for those to go boating since there are fewer places to go. Even once the lakes get water the businesses will not likely reappear very quickly if ever.

  10. randy Rush Captain Grumpy
    randy Rush Captain Grumpy says:

    Matt: How long did it take to put this together? I would think your head would have exploded. Go take a boat ride and relax.

  11. Dennis Mykols
    Dennis Mykols says:

    Matt, thanks for all you and your team do for our hobby. This kind of info and the past week of posts do a great service for all of us, one way or another.
    Keep up the great work…

  12. Steve Moreau
    Steve Moreau says:

    Good morning I think there are many ways to get other folks involved. Shows I believe is just one. This problem I’ve found lies in every hobby that I’ve been involved with. Hunting, camping, fishing, and hot rodding. In my case I grew up with fishing and water sports, and I remember wooden boats being on the rivers/lakes until the mid 70’s. My father never owned a wooden boat we always had glass and aluminum boats. How ever a good friend of my fathers had a wooden boat which was used for fishing and water sports he even used to go shrimping down here in south Louisiana, which is hard on a boat of any kind. So I grew up on the water. I raised 4 children on the water, all of them were exposed to may hours fishing, and water sports. All still enjoy the water but only one is involved in it on a regular basis. We have 4 grandchildren and all of them love the water and boating (even though they are very young).

    I have always been aware of the old wooden boats of the pass and wanted to own one but I just though it didn’t fit into my boating and fishing activities. Well at the point in life that I’m in now, I have the means to own a wooden boat and have been looking forward it make it happen but have had way to many irons in the fire to be dedicated to the hobby. So about a year ago I started to getting things together at home and work to make it happen. Also been looking for a boat but wanted to have my act together before purchasing one. well two months ago on the New Orleans Craigslist I found a 1960 Higgins 17′ and with the local history and the fact that my grandfather worked for the company post during and pre war, it fit the bill but still about 6 months early. So it sits in storage for a few more months but the shackbully and I are getting itchy!

    Anyhow sorry for being so lengthy but want to relay the our involvement has and will be a calculated and deliberated one. And I think that is the subintimal hobbyist that make we should be looking for. The boat show speculator my just be a family that is out for the weekend for the event, and we need to be open to that and attract them as well. I have never been to a show! I plan to make a few but it is not the formant in which my wooden boat will be used. I’m not forsaking the show but as I stated we are a user couple. So We’ll do our best to promote the hobby but mostly out and about in the rivers and lakes down here. Boy I would love to see some wooden boats on the river! We’re in our late 40’s early 50’s

    Thanks Steve and the Shackbully

  13. Troy in ANE
    Troy in ANE says:

    Let me see if I can put this in clearer terms!

    I understand if you are the editor of a Great Magazine and an Advertising Guru this is very important stuff.

    If you are the end user (AKA Me and the people you are trying to attract) reading about how our hobby is declining is about as exciting as watching varnish dry, or standing on a dock looking at boats you can’t climb on or ride in.

    I love this blog, but lets get back to some of the fun stuff and leave the boring statistics to the brain trusts behind the scenes.

  14. Dan Kimball
    Dan Kimball says:

    An interesting read. I’m 32 years old and have owned a wooden boat since I was 29. Not an ACBS member, but I am a member of the Century Boat Club. We all know that the cost factor is a huge issue, and not just for the wooden boat hobby but for boating as a whole. For example, the new 45 Hatteras that is debuting at the Lauderdale show next week will set you back $1.5M! For a 45 footer! I truly believe that the entire boating industry and hobby is going to have to go through a major change in the next 15-20 years if they want people to keep spending money on boats, storage, maintenance, etc.
    I think the other issue we face is a lack of free time – people just seem to be busier and busier. Kids are involved in many activities, people are working longer hours, and sometimes it’s tough to find the time to take the boat out. For the modern day boater, it needs to be made easy and convenient otherwise people start to come up with excuses not to go.
    Boating and the wooden boat hobby is something I’m very passionate about, and I do have several friends my age that love it as I do. To be honest, we’re more interested in taking friends and family on a ride than loading up the boat and taking it to a show. That being said, when you’re in your late 20s and early 30s, it’s tough to find the time to work on the boat and use it when you’re starting a family, have both spouses working (including weekends), and have a lot of obligations that take up a lot of your time. If it were up to me, I’d have a barn full of wooden boats in various states of restoration and repair, but I’ll never have the time (or likely the money) to do so until I’m 60. I’ll never be able to justify having a wooden boat, but I always will.

    • Dane
      Dane says:

      Great comments Dan. You obviously have a stake in the future of this hobby and the passion to want to see it continue. I’d encourage you to join a chapter of the ACBS and start some simple activities. You could have a low key cruise night mid week once or twice a month. Maybe meet at a restaurant for dinner as part of the cruise. Promote the event on Facebook or whatever other social media your friends are using. You might just find more of your friends interested in picking up a boat to join in on the fun. Take some pictures along the way and send them into Woody Boater. Some of the simple activities are the most fun and don’t take a bunch of planning to pull off.

      And please tell us about your Century.

      • Dan Kimball
        Dan Kimball says:


        Great ideas!

        I will make it a point to join ACBS in 2015.

        I have a 1966 22ft Century Raven. I’m very loyal to the brand, as my grandfather Bill Stanley handled their advertising/marketing account in the 1950s and came up with the “Thoroughbred of Boats” slogan.

        The Raven is a little too big for what our current lifestyle requires, and I have an agreement with the previous owner to buy it back in the spring…..at which point I’ll likely begin the search for a small 1950s Resorter.

      • Dave Nau
        Dave Nau says:

        No question it’s difficult to find time. I’ve owned 6 different boats over the years and my current boat, my first classic, is number 7. Time and money are the key factors. My dad had several boats, and each time he sold one, it was because it was tough to find time to use it and my mom would complain it was tying up too much money. It’s been similar with me over the years with my own family of my wife and three kids, what with sports, band, Scouts, church, college costs, and lots of other things

        Even now, with the kids grown and married, employed and not likely to boomerang back home, and with me retiring at the end of this month, time and money are still considerations. There are so many things I want to do in retirement, and while classic boating is key part, it’s not the only part.

        I’ve found a good compromise is to focus smaller classic outboard fiberglass boats. Lower costs, both initially and for maintenance and insurance. I can keep it in the garage, work on it when I want, and it’s easily towed by any vehicle with a 1000 pound tow rating. It’s initial cost was under $3000 a year ago, and required no restoration to speak of. My 1966 MFG Niagara (Little Blue) with a leftover (back then) 1963 Mercury 350 was initially sold in 1966 as a entry-level family boat and it serves as an entry-level classic boat today that I plan to keep forever.

        Joined ACBS, both National and local chapter, entered it in the local show, had fun, and I still have it as a great user boat. If it gets a little banged up, that’s OK. Our grand-kids will love it.

  15. Sean
    Sean says:

    I never had a cottage or upbringing on the water but, bought my first woody at 43 years old. With that boat I was $crewed over big time by a respected “professional”, and finally got out from under that situation in 2008 (after 5 years). I immediately bought my second project and finished it in 2013 at age 53.

    I am an ACBS member but, by far the most fun we have with our boat is with our independent boat club. It is geared for participation on the water and with workshops (winter) in a friendly, inviting social environment. Costs are low, morale is high and the pot-luck dinners are amazing! I recommend any club with a mission like this 🙂

    My point is that it took me 10 years to become an active member despite being a member on paper. During that time I also coached soccer and basketball while playing hockey myself. Not to mention spending a lot of time on the road as a field sales person. Add to that the costs of my “lessons” from the pros and realize it has taken an effort to do this. So, you can’t expect younger members to be actively immersed in any club all at once…. But, you gotta stick that toe in the water first. 🙂

  16. Martin
    Martin says:

    I agree with Chad about on Golden Pond. That movie was a huge boost the hobby years ago. It got people thinking about that old boat in the barn or in the garage at the lake house and they got motivated to fix it up and go use it as they did in years past.

    Younger people in the hobby should be more of a priority. Matt made a great point a few years ago that younger people get involved with something like this when they are out of school, have a home and a few bucks in their pocket and are looking for something to take up some of their extra time.

    The ACBS I think is deaf to this and I think that they should take notice of some of the younger people in the hobby. Chad, Matt and the mechanical staff at antique boat center are all in the age range that are needed to keep the spark alive.

    After a resent Cincinnati chapter event a few weeks ago and talking with Jeff Funk. I believe that he has a good frame of mind of the younger people in the hobby and how they have been shunned by the ACBS in the past. Some of the old heads in the hobby need to mentor some of the younger people and it will pay off ten fold in the long run.

    • P Stephens
      P Stephens says:

      Chad,Sean, Dan, Martin (where do I stop?) all have great points and have not gone unnoticed by ACBS. M-Fine is also spot-on in his economic analysis. ACBS is NOT deaf to the youth/generational issue and it is a major point that is being addressed for the good of the hobby.
      My complements to Matt, the WB team and the readers! Last week’s debates and today’s mind-numbing charts created a lot of great discussion and, most importantly, great feedback that will help ACBS…and the hobby.
      We are at a defining point in our hobby. We are running the risk of becoming irrelevant to succeeding generations unless we allow ourselves to be more open and inclusive no matter what social format we use. The future for this hobby may lie less in its traditional show format and more in an open, “let’s go for a ride & have fun” format. Who knows? But unless we open that door to welcome new classic boaters, especially fiberglass (lower cost to get into the hobby), it could be a very challenging future. The very things outlined in this column are the basics for maintaining the interest level in our hobby.
      I believe there is some logic in the thought to leveraging the “classic boating is cheaper than purchasing a new boat” logic but, in the end, this is a social hobby and we need to remember that this about family, friends and fun!

  17. Kentucky Wonder
    Kentucky Wonder says:

    Interesting day here in WoodyBoaterVille. The topic changed to something outside the norm, and I am seeing names not normally seen in the responses. I wonder if the classic boating hobby will be that way – put out the Welcome Mat for something other than wooden runabouts, and new people will appear. I read something earlier tonight that made lots of sense: The ACBS should celebrate an era of boating, not the material with which the boats were built. I could not agree more.

  18. Wilson
    Wilson says:

    Speaking of the expense of it all, BoatUS has a story today on it’s site about a fellow who equipped a jet ski-ski for fishing…Perhaps a less expensive way to get into boating………And if the Hatteras at $1 mil plus is too much check out the cover of the current Boating magazine and look at the new Chris Craft 36′ for a mere $350,000…Seriously there are good user plastic and woodies out there for less than $10,000 and with any kind of credit, banks and credit unions will help with financing….Hopefully the Feds will kick the interest rates up in the next 6 to 9 months and that should provide more job opportunities and better incomes for lower and middle class (younger) families

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