Sun Sentinel: Boating industry targets growth from U.S. Hispanics March 11, 2015

The boating industry wants to see more Hispanics enjoying the waterways.

Boat manufacturers, dealers and suppliers know their future depends on boosting business among the country’s largest minority group, at 17 percent of the population. By 2050, Latinos will double in number to 106 million, or nearly 27 percent of U.S. residents, the census projects.

Yet today, Hispanics go boating — whether owning, renting or chartering — proportionally less than other groups. For power-boats, just 4.9 percent of Latinos nationwide go, compared with 7.5 percent of all others, according to research from the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation of Arlington, Va.

Even in South Florida, a hub for Hispanic entrepreneurs, only 6 percent of Hispanics go power-boating. That compares with 9.7 percent of all others and 14.3 percent of non-Hispanic whites in Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, the research shows.

“If this industry wants to continue to grow, they have to look to the opportunity that the Hispanic consumer offers them,” Frank Peterson, the foundation’s chief executive, said in an interview in Miami.

Pablo Mun/oz, an Argentine entrepreneur who runs several marine businesses in Fort Lauderdale and owns boats, sees a clear reason why U.S. Hispanics lag in recreational boating: too little time (or too much work).

“Many Hispanic immigrants work so many hours that at the end of the week, they don’t have time to go boating,” Mun/oz said. And that includes many of his own Hispanic employees who paint and service mega-yachts. “And boating can involve work, too.”

Many Hispanics also see owning, operating and maintaining boats as too expensive.

The thought that boating isn’t affordable ranks as the biggest obstacle for Hispanics nationwide to go boating, the foundation’s research found. That includes the costs for docking and insurance.

More than 25 percent of Hispanics in the U.S. were impoverished in 2012, compared with 16 percent of the overall population, the census found.

But Hispanics vary widely. And in South Florida, many are successful entrepreneurs with roots in Caribbean nations and South American port cities, where boating long has been popular.

“You need to separate the demographics of the Latino community into those with money and those without,” said Brian C. Bohne, general manager of Inflatable Services and 84 Boat Works of Fort Lauderdale, which sell boat safety equipment and inflatable boats used as tenders to yachts.

“Of those with money, I’d say the percentage of boaters is greater than non-Hispanics in South Florida,” Bohne said. “A lot of Americans who are wealthy choose to go skiing or do other things. In the Latin American community with money, they really embrace boating.”
Indeed, Bohne estimates that about 20 percent of sales from his two companies come from Hispanics, both U.S. residents and buyers from Mexico, Dominican Republic and other nations who take purchases overseas. That’s up from less than 5 percent in the 1980s and 15 percent in the 1990s, he figures.

Still, those numbers trail even the share of Hispanics living in South Florida today. Latinos make up more than 60 percent of residents in Miami-Dade County, 23 percent in Broward and 16 percent in Palm Beach counties, according to the 2010 Census.

What’s clear is that exposure to boating at an early age, especially with family, weighs heavily on who continues boating as an adult and who buys boats, research shows.

Roger Rodriguez, 27, whose Cuban immigrant father developed a successful business providing flooring for commercial buildings, grew up fishing and boating in greater Miami with his dad, relatives and friends. Their family owns a 34-foot center console and is looking to upgrade to a 39-foot SeaVee.

At a Broward marine store, he was surprised to hear that Hispanics lag non-Hispanics in boating locally.

“Every time I go to the Bahamas or any fishing tournament, it’s mostly Hispanic,” Rodriguez said. “I would think that ‘Americans’ are in the minority.”

To encourage more Hispanics in boating, the foundation is investing more than $1 million this year alone in marketing. That includes ads in Spanish-language media in Florida and other states and in its Spanish-language website,

The group also is sharing customized research with marine retailers on how to sell to Hispanics, an art that goes beyond Spanish to underscore that Latinos generally place greater focus on family and relationships.

Family emphasis means, for example, that sales staff at boating stores would be wise to explain to Latino shoppers why a purchase would be good for the husband, wife, children and other relatives — not just the dad. And staff should expect more visits from Hispanics, with family members, before a purchase is decided, said Hispanic specialists from Lopez Negrete Communications of Houston.

Even the timing of a sales approach to Hispanics differs. While many non-Hispanics prefer space to browse on arrival at a store, Hispanics tend to like an earlier approach and more time to build a relationship. Leaving them alone too long may make Hispanic buyers feel unwelcome, according to Lopez Negrete, a consultant for the boating foundation.

“Sure, they want the right boat and the best deal. But they are also looking for an education and a relationship,” Ed Cantu, director of consumer insights and planning at Lopez Negrete, said in an interview in South Florida. “They want a connection, not just a transaction.”

Local groups also are trying to boost youth exposure to boating for Hispanics and others.

The West Palm Beach Fishing Club, for example, offers a summer program for low-income youth that has mobilized children of Hispanic migrant farmworkers from the county’s western reaches, many for their first experience at sea, said club president Tom Twyford.

“It’s not uncommon for us to have kids who live in Palm Beach County who have never seen the ocean,” said Twyford, “never mind being escorted onto a big boat to maybe catch a bonita or blue runner.”, 305-810-5009, @dhemlock on Twitter

Who goes power-boating?

Non-Hispanics nationwide: 7.5 percent

Non-Hispanic whites nationwide: 8.4 percent

Hispanics nationwide: 4.9 percent

Non-Hispanics in South Florida: 9.7 percent

Non-Hispanic whites in South Florida; 14.3 percent

Hispanics in South Florida: 6 percent
Sources: Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation; Experian Information Solutions, Spring 2014 NHCS Adult Study 2-Year. South Florida includes Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties 

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