Standing Up For Boaters

By Tom Neale, 5/3/2007


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Frank Herhold at MIASF press conference
You and I are in a minority. And the Constitution doesn’t give us the same sort of special protection that it gives to some other minorities or groups. To a large extent we have to look out for ourselves. But that’s shouldn’t be unusual for us because our minority is that of being boaters.

The vast majority of the public are good folks but they seldom have a clue about what it’s like to own a boat. Many think that boat owners are self indulgent rich people with money to burn. These people have their own type of appreciation of nature and that’s good, but it’s usually very different from ours. It’s often keyed around instant easy gratification. It seldom includes anything like busting your knuckles and your bank account to maintain something like a boat. It seldom includes anything like the self discipline of learning the wisdom and skills of seamanship. It seldom matches the sacrifice of time, energy and effort to pursue our passion. It is seldom a passion that is so wholesome and so good for the family. It is seldom such a teacher of self reliance, responsibility and respect for the power and majesty of nature.

Every day, the majority is passing laws, making regulations and building many types of barricades that in one way or another obstruct or completely block our use of the waters. And we, as a minority, haven’t done very well in standing up for ourselves. This is, in part, because we’re so diverse. We are fishermen in flats boats. We are owners of mega yachts. We are live aboard cruisers. We are weekend express cruisers. We are center console fast boats and we are small dinghy sailors. We boat in many different ways and so our interests diverge. And our interests diverge in ways even deeper than our varying types of boating.

We are consumers and we are also manufacturers and service and sales people. As with every other aspect of business, there is frequently a rift of sorts between the consumer on one hand and the industry people on the other. This is because no matter how well a boat or component is built and no matter how well it’s maintained, things are going to break or go wrong in a myriad of different ways. Boats, because of what they are and what they do are especially vulnerable to this. So it’s inevitable that there will be different camps within our minority, often defined by where we are in the broad spectrum of our interests and by what’s breaking down at the time.

Standing Up For Boaters

1. You Boat and You Vote. Let people know, whenever it’s appropriate.

2. Not only do we vote, we are more likely to vote than many other sectors of the general population. This means that we can have serious clout even though the majority of the population may not be boaters.

However, unlike other groups which contain business subdivisions, our minority has something very special. We as consumers, manufacturers, service and sales people often have something in common: we all love boating and being on the water. It isn’t the same in most other business/consumer relationships. While there are some notable exceptions, generally the people who make, sell and service other products are just doing it for a job. It isn’t also part of their passion. But, while there are certainly some exceptions, most people in the business of boats also love being on the water and have a strong good feeling—having nothing to do with finances—about boats. Many own and use one type of boat or another. So you’d think that, even with all of the differences within our minority group, we’d be doing better at holding our own.

But we haven’t been. I can go on forever (and I won’t) about things like loss of launching ramps, unsafe bridge restrictions, outlawing of anchorages, gobbling up of marinas for condos, loss of repair facilities and the daily decrease in places to dock. I could go on forever and I’d hardly be scratching the surface. The news hasn’t been good.

But a few days ago there was a news story that showed that sometimes we can do pretty well at holding our own. It shows that it is possible. It is doable. This news story should make us sit up and take interest.

The story was about a guy named Frank Herhold. Frank is the Executive Director of the Marine Industries Association of South Florida (MIASF). This is an organization that’s been around a long time and which, as its name suggests, is set up to serve the needs of its members who are marine related businesses. And it’s anchored in the midst of a tumultuous sea of problems for boaters.

South Florida used to be all about boating. It was an ultimate destination for boaters who could go there, and it was an ultimate dream for boaters who couldn’t go there quite yet. But then came “the majority” who also liked the climate and the palm trees and the white sand beaches and who are more interested in other things than boats. It’s their right to be interested in other things and their right to pursue those interests within certain parameters. But their pursuit of those interests has often meant loss after loss for the average boater.

Frank has been involved with boating for a long time. We first met him in the early 80’s when we stopped at his marina in Melbourne while on our way south. We bought a Boston Whaler dinghy from him then. A few weeks ago his boat was tied alongside “Chez Nous” and he brought his young grand daughter aboard to visit.

Frank Herhold was recently selected “Citizen of the Year” for Fort Lauderdale. He was selected by people representing many different interests in the city. Insofar as I know, it’s the first time a person with a job like this has been chosen by the community as a whole for such an honor. Frank’s job and passion is and has been to spearhead efforts to enhance the interests of the boating industry. This is difficult enough because boaters are a minority. And it’s even more difficult because the boating industry is far from being a cohesive group. It has many diverse factions, making it very difficult to please everybody all of the time.

Frank on Saturday afternoon cruise in Ft. Lauderdale
The “Citizen of the Year” resolution of the City Commission gave some reasons why this happened. Frank has seen the whole picture. He’s based his stewardship of the MIASF on the fact that it’s not only important for marine businesses to be treated fairly, it’s important for the entire boating community, including the consumer, to be treated fairly. Without the one there can’t be the other. We’re all in it together. In addition, he’s worked to demonstrate to the non boating “majority” that we care for community interests as well as our own. Here are a few examples of some of the things he’s pushed in addition to pure industry goals. (1) Job training for young people who might be interested in working in the boating sector. (2) A weekend of plywood boat building for youngsters. They’re given materials and have to construct a plywood boat and then float in it. Awards are given and it helps get people interested in boating. (3) A huge waterway clean up drive every year when boaters from all around the area get out on the water in their boats and others’ and pick up trash. (4) Various boater education initiatives. (5) Realistic and workable environmental efforts to protect marine life, shoreline, water cleanliness and much more. And the community as a whole has recognized what Frank represents.

I’ve owned many boats for over 54 years. I am a proud member of the minority called, “boaters”. To me this is a significant event and a very hopeful sign. I hope it is to you. And I hope there’s more of it to come.

Copyright 2004-2008 Tom Neale