Press "Enter" to skip to content

Older Boaters

By the year 2030 the US Census predicts 20% of us will be 65 or older. The New York Times is worried about the prospects of the financial challenge of so many of us living longer. If you look around your marina you’ll probably find some of these over-65s enjoying their boats. They seem to have figured out the economics of aging. There are now books, blogs and websites that address boating and fishing issues for seniors. Paul Keller’s “Cruising for Seniors” teaches the reader how to set up the boat to accommodate the slowing down and loss of strength that come with advanced age.
Proving that there are no age limits to cruising, Herb Weiss and his wife, Ruth, bought a new boat recently. They were sailors and bought their first powerboat when Herb was 95. They thought it would be the right boat but the new 41-foot model American Tug seemed even more right. Quick decisions have always been part of Herb’s lifestyle. When he took Ruth out the first time he asked her to marry him. They got married three weeks later. Herb is 103 and Ruth is 96. Herb thinks the most important thing he learned as a student at MIT was how to sail.

The blog written by Carolyn Shearlock, wwwtheboatgalley, spells out six considerations older boaters might want to think about. Her husband is 81 and she is 59 and very practical people. Some of her observations, all based on their experiences, are good, interesting reading and thought provoking, especially the boat choice and reasoning behind it.
When not cruising, most of the couples and families that were regulars at Babylon’s Cedar Beach retired when they got older, sold their boats and houses and moved to Florida. When they got to Florida most were out of boating, a few bought small outboard runabouts and one took his boat along. It was a time of change – fiberglass was what people bought when they got a new boat. Joe and Olga Brosch loved their 35 foot wooden Chris Craft and planned to have it trucked to the west coast of Florida. Their decision prompted low-key eye rolling. When within a month Joe’s crew – his wife and her brother, Willi, who kept the engines going, were no longer available, nothing changed. Olga died and Willi’s health declined and he went into a nursing home. Beyond eye rolling, a few of us tried to tell Joe about what lived in Florida waters that wanted to eat his Chris Craft’s bottom. He had already talked to a marina in the area where he planned to live to see how often he’d need to have the bottom looked at and the discussion was over. I got a postcard after Joe moved to a condo on the water. He pointed out the window where he could look at his boat in its slip. Every morning he’d make lunch, take it to the boat along with paint, varnish, brushes, sandpaper and turpentine. He started in the cockpit and within a week he had met several of the neighbors. Periodically one of our group would go down to Florida and visit and we realized when we saw how happy he was just maintaining the boat, that he made the right decision.
Joanna and Paul Tunnicliffe grew up sailing in England and now, in retirement, live in the US on a big, heavy, slow boat that has a washer and dryer and room for two big dogs. The Tunnicliffes have been cruising along the east coast of the US and the vet bills for the dogs document their trip as the move up and down the coast.
The collective advice from older people who are actively cruising or are living aboard and cruising in retirement, is to spend time trying it out before you make the commitment and to downsize at home, getting rid of the excess stuff most of us accumulate. You need to sell and donate your way to being clutter free and then the sense of freedom overcomes the sense of loss of all the stuff.
How have marinas and other boating services accommodated older boaters? By offering dockhand services to everybody at the Town of Islip Atlantique Marina, the combined Strong and Grover group helps and supports older boaters without making them feel old. Strong and Grover have put in place the kind of support system residents and even non-residents who pay more, have noted in their reviews, calling the staff helpful, attentive, friendly, noticing how neat and clean the staff keep the place and the high level of customer service.
At the Camden Harbor Marina in Maine, Harbor Master Steve Pixley went out to greet Ancient Mariners II, the new Weiss American Tug. Dockhands took their lines and tied up the boat that Herb Weiss had neatly put into the dock space. The marina receptionist came out to greet them – another place older boaters would feel very comfortable.
There are marinas that offer amenities for handicapped and older boaters in the way of extra railings, wheelchair accessible ramps and plenty of willing and capable dockhands to help with arrivals and departures. Management at Fisherman’s Village in Punta Gorda, Florida know how important it is for a boatman to easily get off and on his boat and how that can be a key factor in the boatman selling or keeping the boat so they work with their boatmen to keep them safe and happy.
The Banana River Sail and Power Squadron set up a class for over 50 boaters to help seniors and their family members stay on the water safely. The class covered how physical and mental changes can be mitigated to build on their strengths. They also covered accidents and how to avoid them.
Boating and fishing are the largest outdoor recreational activities in the US. When the fisherman thinks about his or her loss of mobility, decreased hand and finger strength, the first response may be to think, “it’s over, sell the boat,” but there are options. If the boatman goes a distance offshore he or she may want to hire a captain for a day’s trip. Maybe it’s more fun to do it yourself but when you feel less capable, it might come as a relief to turn the keys over to a responsible captain. In Florida there are websites for captains for hire. If you just want company or don’t feel comfortable going out alone, there’s to find a fishing buddy.
If you are an older boatman and going a distance offshore alone, you would feel better and so would your family if you had a better understanding of the systems on your boat, how they work and how to fix them when they break down. Even if you have a good mechanic and never need to deal with the repairs, if you are offshore and something breaks down that keeps you from coming home, just knowing more about your mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems might mean you’d bring the parts along that are most commonly needed to repair the systems. An easy way to start is David Kroenke’s “Know Your Boat.” He calls it a guide to everything that makes your boat work and has some really good illustrations.
From 1997 until the pandemic, the age of the average new boat buyer increased from 45 to 53. Info-link tracks boating industry sales and this was not good news if you sell boats. During the boat-buying spree of the recent pandemic, the age of the new powerboat buyers brought the average down to earlier levels. The base is back in the low 40s. Maybe the younger boat buyers that have school age children that had freedom from team sports practice on weekends allowed families to reunite and do something together. Americans spend 49.3 billion dollars on boats, marine products and services every year so the downward movement of age will make a big difference in the boating industry economy.