Join Date: Feb 2000
Location: Annapolis, Md
Thanked 215 Times in 166 Posts
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I have been hearing about the decline in participation in sailing since the 1980''s (The 1970''s is generally quoted as the peak in participation in sailing). The decline always seems to get blamed on a lot of things. I think that the peak itself was a little artificial since a lot of people got into sailing during the fuel crisises of the 1970''s who then left the sport pretty quickly in the 1980''s.
If I had to look at some causes for the decline I would say that primary are cost, comfort expectations, specialization, and the time committment that sailing requires.
On the cost issue, there has been a steady increase in the price of boats in excess of inflation. In the 1960''s you could buy a 32 foot Pearson Vanguard for roughly 75% of the average U.S. household income. By the early 1980''s, a reasonably well equipped, reasonably high quality 27 footer cost close to the average U.S. household income, and today an average value oriented 27 footer costs roughly 2 times the average household income.
This increase in cost is partially the result of expectations about what a boat. As in so many other areas of our lives, (Homes, cars, computers etc) as there have been advances in things that make our life more comfortable, as a population we expect to find every new advance present in the boats we sail. We want more volume down below, more performance, more motion comfort, diesel inboards (or 4 stroke outboards), rated offshore seaworthiness, sophisticated electronics, higher standards for electrical and plumbing, refrigeration, 110 volt on the anchor to operate microwaves, features and details that cumulatively add the cost and complexity of the boats that we buy. It makes owning a boat a bigger committment.
This is compounded by the specialization that has taken place in boats. It used to be that you could buy a coastal cruiser that was suitable for coastal cruising, occasional jaunts offshore,as well as racing. There was a whole lot that you could do with one boat. Today, race boats, coastal cruisers,and offshore cruisers have become so speciallized that they really are not suitable for other uses limiting the use of any specific boat.
But also there is the committment of time. More and more prople are over committed in their schedules. My family typically spent weekends together. There were not the kinds of child sports and activities that make a weekend an exercise in stratigic planning. There were not the assumption that adults would spend a portion of a weekend working. There was not the heavy devotion to spectator sports. There were not all that many two income families. There was not the kind of instant gratification, short attention span mentalities that other forms of entertainment these days seems to breed. People were willing to commit the time to learn to sail well and work their way up through a kind of apprenticeship working their way up in boat size as skills developed. There was an understanding that cruising was less comfortable than being at home and that was okay given the rewards of being out on the water.
Cumulativelty it has made those of us who are willing to be sailors a bit more ideosyncratic and exclusive but sadly perhaps an endangered species.