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Sail group ponders sustainability

More than 200 people turned out to brainstorm on how to draw more people into sailing

Since taking over as executive director of Sail America, Jonathan Banks has sought to redefine the organization’s mission. As part of that plan, Banks decided to revamp the format of Sail America’s annual general membership meeting.

For years the event featured a series of Power Point presentations by industry leaders and experts. Banks says even he found that a bit boring so he decided a panel discussion, moderated by sailing personality Gary Jobson, would be more interesting.

“My thought was that our annual meeting was getting a bit stale. I wanted to spice it up a bit and make it more interactive,” Banks said.

More than 200 current members and prospective members showed up to hear six panelists discuss a range of topics related to the industry.

“This is definitely the best turnout we’ve had in years so I’m extremely pleased. It’s affirmation that our membership appreciated this different approach and I thought the meeting went very well,” Banks said.

Jobson, ESPN sailing analyst, welcomed the standing-room-only crowd at Phillips Annapolis Harbor Restaurant by cutting straight to the heart of the matter. “We’re here today to hear some diverse thoughts and hopefully spark some feedback about the most pressing question facing the sailing industry: How do we get more people out on the water and therefore help all of our businesses?”

Banks was first to take the microphone and discussed his goal of making Sail America a more powerful and influential organization, and thus more valuable to its members. Sail America, established in 1990, is the trade association for the United States sailing industry and represents all companies that provide sailing-related products and services. Based in Newport, R.I., Sail America now has more than 500 members.

Sail America is working to improve its market intelligence and research, Banks said, including putting together an annual sailing conference that will bring industry leaders together for an exchange of information and ideas through seminars and symposiums.

Kevin Murphy, national show manager for Sail America, confirmed the Strictly Sail show in Philadelphia would no longer take place because it was not financially successful, and the venue is no longer available. He also said the future does not look good for the Strictly Sail show in St. Petersburg (Fla.) because it also does not sustain itself monetarily. On a more positive note, the inaugural SailFest, held in Norfolk, Va., was a success and could serve as a model for similar events elsewhere, Murphy said.

“We are casting our net wider in an effort to get more people to the shows and thereby introduce more non-sailors to our sport,” he said.

Jobson, who peppered the panelists with questions in order to keep the discussion lively and informative, asked Wayne Burdick, president of Beneteau USA, what could be done to keep high school and collegiate sailors interested in the sport.

“That is an area to which we have paid increased attention because those people are the most likely candidates to one day own a large sailboat,” said Burdick, pointing out the cost of owning a 30-foot sailboat is disproportionate to owning a 50-footer.

Banks said the overall idea of the meeting was to tap into the various successful strategies companies have used to remain viable in a down-market. He hoped the meeting ultimately achieved its primary purpose of community the benefits of Sail America membership.