Boating as a cultural practice: Exploring the relationship between humans, water and recreation

Forget luxury cars — a sleek, tricked out boat is the new status symbol for Millennials. According to a Forbes report, there has been a significant uptick in boat sales over the last few years as young boating enthusiasts are exercising their buying power. Moreover, seasoned boaters and newbies alike are looking for sophisticated vessels, and 40 percent of Millennials who purchased boats in the past one to three years are intending to upgrade their watercraft soon.

Nowadays, one can scroll on Instagram and see dozens upon dozens of photos of people on boats as many young influencers want to project that old money image related to boat ownership. But how did boating turn into the ideal recreational activity that it is today when it has always been associated with fishing and grandpa-approved pastimes? Here’s what you need to know about boating as a cultural practice, and how it’s expected to evolve in the coming months.

The history of recreational boating
For centuries, people used small boats as a way to earn a living or provide food for their families, while ships were the sole means for intercontinental travel or trade. In the mid-1600s, Charles II of England saw the potential of boating as a recreational pastime and is considered by historians as the world’s first yachtsman. He is said to have spent time sailing on the Thames, and it was estimated that the royal built 20 yachts throughout his lifetime. His passion for sailing also resulted in the creation of the first sailing club, which was formed on the southern coast of Ireland.

Recreational boating gradually made its way to the United States, with boating clubs formed in Detroit and New York between 1839 and 1845. Up until this time, crews were hired to row the boats, until the invention of the motorboat in 1886 by engineer Gottlieb Daimler and shipbuilder Friedrich Lurssen. By 1910, owning a boat had become more accessible, thanks to the invention of detachable motors.  

Boating as a lifestyle
After World War II, boat ownership became synonymous with wealth and prestige, as personalities such as the Kennedy family famously owned multiple sailing vessels at that time. Men and women alike were enchanted by photos of President John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jackie, lounging glamorously aboard their yacht in matching nautical attire while watching America’s Cup races.

To this day, yachts, motorboats, and sail boats continue to be highly appealing to those who aspire to a luxurious lifestyle. Due to the wide variety of vessels in the market, more people are able to afford boats and use them to bond with family and friends. Since a lot more individuals are spending time on the water, observing water safety at all times should be a priority. Whether you’re fishing, partying, or are just out on a cruise, remember to wear a lifejacket and follow all the boating rules in your area to stay out of harm’s way.

The future of recreational boating
These days, it seems like you can’t go on social media without seeing pictures of young people sunbathing on yacht decks, steering (or pretending to) steer a boat, or lounging aboard while gazing at the sunset. As a result, seasoned boaters think that Gen Z aren’t really looking to live the boating lifestyle beyond their Instagram feeds. However, more individuals from this demographic are expected to dive headfirst into yachting as boating companies are gearing up to market to younger generations. Instead of the stacked designs favored by older boaters, yacht designers for Gen Z buyers are creating slick, futuristic vessels with an open air feel. Paris-based architect Joseph Dirand has designed one such vessel called the Celerius for a Gen Z client, saying that “Young owners’ preferences are honed by hospitality and a knowledge of architectural trends.”

Apart from new designs, experts are also predicting more expedition trips to adventurous locations on superyachts or privately chartered vessels. For these trips, expect to see yachts fully equipped to venture into frozen waters, plus a range of facilities that include helipads and submersibles. Moreover, as sustainability becomes a main priority among boaters, we can expect eco-conscious watercrafts with hybrid engines, green materials, and alternative energy sources to be launched within the upcoming months.

Boating has become the pastime of choice among the young and old. As more yachting and boating trends emerge, we can expect to see more innovations integrated into vessels, as well as younger generations investing in a watercraft for their own enjoyment.