Are we really going to lose sailing?

Like most outdoor activities, sailing is competing with the online world and the ‘comfort of the couch’. Not only for teenagers but for adults too, the struggle to motivate oneself is becoming harder. But does this mean that sailing is on the decline?

Read anything to do with sailing’s popularity, and you come to the conclusion that it is a sadly ebbing sport. But maybe people just don’t want to hear about how great it is all the time. In terms of search trends, ‘sailing’ is Googled 550,000 times a month. This, although not as frequent as ‘The Kardashians’, is a promising number since the intent behind most of those searches is informational.

People who sail already or know a bit about the sport will search for a more specific term such as ‘Hallberg Rassy’ as they know where they want to end up i.e. a specific site. But those who search for such a broad term as ‘sailing’ are likely new to the sport and wish to know more about it.

So sailing is alive?

In fact, over five years, the searches for ‘sailing’ are pretty consistent:

With peaks unsurprisingly during the summer, and a massive spike of interest during July 2016 (The Rio Olympic Games), the overall popularity seems steady. So it would be easy to assume that sailing is still alive, no?

Certainly, when reading Business Cornwall’s interview with Dave Cockwell (of Cockwells boat building), it would be easy to assume a booming industry as he talks of how busy the trading is. Interestingly, a lot of his thanks go to his wife for helping him start-up the company, “…my wife worked so relentlessly on marketing…hundreds and hundreds of hours of work in the background and we still do that as much as possible.” This is an overlooked sector of a business.  Knowing how to operate behind the scenes, is very important to attracting consumers in the industry. Cockwells is testament to this.

People aren’t adventurous…

During the buyers’ journey with the sailing industry, potential consumers research and test-pilot their boats- hoping to spend a lot of money they need to ensure they’re receiving exactly what they require. However, despite buyers identifying that they have a goal or challenge i.e I’d like to buy another boat, if they don’t buy one, there is no overall change. No disastrous consequences will follow aside from not winning the next local regatta. This means that the consumers hold all of the power and the industry businesses rely on the buyers’ pure desire to purchase.

Outside of purchasing, buyers need to make additional preparations, such as buying harbour space/club membership, getting yacht training, buying gear/equipment. This is where they become dependent, one cannot sail without the correct apparatus.

Moreover, the searches for ‘life jackets’ are increasing year on year:

This potentially means that people are becoming more safety-conscious as they wear buoyancy aids whilst kayaking and even when SUP boarding. Adrenaline junkies are a thing of the past and as people don’t dare risk bungee jumping anymore, nor do they risk sailing. Therefore, an increased transactional search in ‘life jackets’ but a decrease in ‘yacht’ searches over the past year, makes sense.

So are people more interested in yachts?

Searches for ‘yachts’ over the past five years:

Here you can see the popularity of ‘yachts’ during summer months, and the spike of interest during the January World Sailing Show. Ignoring the obvious fair weather sailors, people seem to show informational intent when searching for yachts as they are exposed to them or demonstrated to.

So, this could mean that if the industry shows people exactly what they’re missing, they’ll realise they’re missing it. Here’s hoping we can save the sport.


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