Published in the June 2008 Issue June 2008

Boating industry poobahs (not me) held a meeting at the Miami Boat Show in Florida this past February, and I understand the hot topic was women.

It's not what you think.

My source told me the industry association described many things it was doing to promote the sale of more boats. They announced a new section on the website dedicated to spousal conversion.

Male and female laughter rippled through the room. One person was overheard telling a friend it would be nice to convert to an 18-year-old. But the real point they were making is that boat sales have never been as good as they could be because many times the wife tells her husband "no."

 I'm sure some women-and who can blame them?-have been put off by that long and unfortunate habit in the boating tradition to assign the role of captain to the man and the role of first mate to the woman. That is a thing of the past. Good riddance.

 But the main thing the marine marketing experts were saying is that many boat sales never occur because many women, married and single, lack confidence in their own boating abilities and also are apprehensive about boating safety issues.

I believe there's something to this.

I recently read the first person account of a woman who learned the hard way of the importance of training. This was written by Robin Freeman, Chief of the Department of Education of the Coast Guard Auxiliary:

 "It was during one of our first few trips offshore that Rick asked me to stand by the wheel while he went aft to tie some fishing jigs. Suddenly I heard a gurgling, choking sound. I whipped around to find Rick doubled over, his face bright red! I feared it was a heart attack. Three horrible thoughts struck simultaneously: I don't know where I am. . . I don't know how to call for help. . . Please don't die!"

It wasn't a heart attack. Her husband was choking on a piece of fishing line. He coughed it up and he was okay. But that didn't minimize this woman's feeling of helplessness while her husband gasped for air. And, in retrospect, she wished that she had learned how to operate the boat and use the marine radio before her scary incident. 

That would have been before they started taking out the boat.

Boat sellers have been very good at selling the fun of boating. Now there is recognition that sometimes boat sellers need to adjust their sales focus to address safety and operation, especially among women, even to the point of offering boat courses.

 Learning from a textbook won't cut it, in my opinion. Real learning and confidence only comes with hands-on instruction, in a boat. You can study it, but you also need to do it. That's what we do at Florida Sailing & Cruising School, our liveaboard yacht school.

Our instructors positively, absolutely do not assign the male to the helm and the woman to handle the dock lines. Each student, male and female, spends the time he or she needs to be proficient at all responsibilities-operating the vessel, navigating, docking, anchoring, communicating on the marine radio, even lighting the stove.

I hold this truth to be self-evident: The safest vessel will be the vessel on which everybody knows how to do everything. Sometimes the wife will be at the controls and the husband will be applying sunscreen to young faces and arms. And sometimes it will be the other way around. Management consultants call this redundancy. I rather like spousal conversion.

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