May 26, 2020
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada has mirrored countries around the globe in shutting down large parts of the economy. Public gatherings are banned or strictly limited; parks and outdoor amenities have been shuttered; and non-essential workplaces ordered closed. As elsewhere, Canadians are being told to stay home and ‘flatten the curve’.
In the recreational boating sector, this has meant a near-blanket closure of marinas and retail showrooms. Manufacturers and distributors have had to scale-back their operations and furlough workers. The effect on our industry has been dire: according to a survey done last month by Boating Industry Canada, nearly three-quarters of respondents reported a sales decline of at least 30 percent, and 45 percent had laid-off staff. The seasonal aspect of outdoor recreation and associated revenue has also made it harder for many of our members to qualify for government aid, and NMMA has been advocating for policy reforms to better reflect the needs of our sector.
However, recent events give cause for optimism. Successive provinces have announced plans to gradually reopen the economy and ease restrictions around outdoor activities. For example, following joint advocacy by NMMA and Boating Ontario, the Ontario government has allowed marinas and boat clubs to reopen to the public; boat, watercraft and marine supply dealers can also open their doors to customers, with enhanced sanitation and physical distancing. These meaningful steps are a welcome relief to businesses in our sector that earn the bulk of their income in a relatively short season. Most provinces have also begun to reopen public parks and boat ramps, and sportfishing and hunting seasons are starting on schedule.
As warm weather approaches, Canadians will be venturing outdoors and looking for safe ways to spend time with family and friends. Our sector has a huge opportunity to present recreational boating as a fun and affordable activity that can be enjoyed while socially distancing. The mental health benefits of being on the water are well-known. Boating provides the means to get outside of daily routines, and promotes physiological and psychological improvements to health and wellness, creativity and play, happiness and relaxation.