Boat-share models see surge of women at the helm

Traditionally, leisure boating has been a heavily male-dominated domain. But, according to new figures from a global boat club operator, more women appear to be taking the helm via boat-sharing models.

In figures shared to coincide with Women in Maritime Day (18 May) Freedom Boat Club (FBC) confirms that over 35 per cent of the international club’s 90,000+ members are women, and 33 per cent were new to boating before joining the club.

Compare this to an estimate from the Australian Gender Equality Council that only two per cent of boat owners are female. Separate data collected by the US market research firm Info-Link shows men outnumber women by seven to one when it comes to registered boat owners.

The lack of women in boating has traditionally been attributed to factors including the gender pay gap, estimated at around 20 per cent globally. The trend also extends to the industry, with a disproportionate workforce gender balance in sectors including marinas and maritime.

But this is now changing. Boat club and boat share models such as Freedom Boat Club, owned by Brunswick, are helping remove barriers faced by women who want to enjoy leisure time on the water, judging by the numbers.

Meanwhile, peer-to-peer rental platforms also report similar trends. At Boatsetter, a platform with 10,000 listed boats, 32 per cent of renters are women.

“Besides removing the economic barrier, Freedom Boat Club is also able to instil confidence in female boaters with unlimited on-water training and support,” says Patrick Edwards, Freedom Boat Club Gold Coast franchisee. “Members can access unlimited instruction from certified captains to gain their boat licence and to continue to build on their skills. This continued, high level of support makes new female boaters feel comfortable at the helm.”

FBC has over 5,500 boats at 400 locations worldwide. Its members pay a one-off joining fee and then a monthly membership fee to use boats as much as they’d like, paying only for fuel on top. This makes it a good option for people who don’t own a boat or can’t afford the hefty upfront cost of purchasing one.

The club, which maintains the fleet of boats and handles storage, insurance, boat maintenance, cleaning, and berthing, says this ‘appeals greatly to female members’ by creating a walk-on, walk-off experience.

Freedom Boat Club Savannah

“Once I worked out the numbers, the subscription was pretty much the same as it would cost on marina fees alone,” says Alejandra Tinoco, who works in real estate investment and was considering taking a personal loan to buy a boat before she heard about FBC. “Plus, I had to do none of the work, including towing and parking a boat or maintaining it.”

With her boat licence in hand, Tinoco says she enjoys booking a boat at a moment’s notice and enjoy a beautiful day on the water. Even if her husband is with her, she still takes the wheel. “He’s usually just in it for the ride,” says Tinoco.

Sanctuary Cove resident and businesswoman Anna Cardno agrees.

“[FBC] gave me the confidence I needed as a woman to captain a boat. Since then, I have taken my sisters-in-law on a girls’ day out where we cruised around the channel and everyone had a blast.

“She has also enjoyed exploring the incredible waterways around her home, either boating solo or with her husband. “You feel phenomenal just stepping onto the boats because they are all prestige models shined to perfection,’ said Ms Cardno.

“It’s about creating beautiful memories without having to worry about mooring fees, insurance, maintenance, refuelling, cleaning, and all the things that take up time and money.”

Cardno adds that while she was steering the boat, passers-by often did a double take. “I have a big, blonde ponytail, and when they see me and realise it’s a woman at the helm, they usually grin and wave,” she says. “Being at the wheel is such an empowering thing.”

Edwards says it is rewarding to see a shift from the typical male boater demographic to a more diversified playing field. “Instead of a blokes’ day out, it’s women on the water,” he said. “It’s definitely time and I’m thrilled that the club has been able to make it happen.”

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This article was written and/or edited by the UK-based MIN team.

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