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Whither catamarans?  Bottom

  • This is a big question, and I don't know whether anyone has an answer to it. I'm raising it because I had a reason about a year ago (that I won't get into now) to think about the size and state of the market.

    What has become of our sport, and where is it going? There's no question that the market is "mature" and either still in or nearing the end of its decline to a "long tail", small but steady state. Forty years ago the market for new boats was into its peak and still raging, but over the past fifteen or so it's contracted sharply. The big dog of the industry now only builds its fiberglass flagship - the H16 - and the rest of its cat product line is the far less demanding, more "casually recreational" rotomolded boats. What percentage of Hobie's business is still cats, and what is now their broad range of kayaks, would be very revealing (I haven't looked to see what fiberglass boats Hobie Europe is still building, but whatever they do they're probably not doing in big numbers either). Just about every new boat you see is now a Nacra instead of a Hobie, and with pretty steep price tags, esp. in North America where they're hit with transport costs and import duties. There are, and always will be, the small/specialty/boutique builders, and a used market in which boats will continue to get cheaper and cheaper as they get older, as it's unlikely prices will ever reverse the trend as "antiques". And Hobie alone put something like half a million boats out there over the years, so that used market will persist.

    The nearest analog would seem to be windsurfers. They exploded as a huge fad in the late 70s and early 80s, thanks not only to their novelty, but also to relatively low cost, easy transportation, and low complexity that (arguably) reduced the demands on buyers in terms of knowledge and skill. And because (I suggest) they had a higher "fad factor" than cats, they peaked and died in the market faster (again, to a long tail consisting of a relatively small number of hardcores).

    So this is a common thing and in no way unique to cats; many, if not most products have a market life cycle. I'm interested in "why". I even spoke to a marketing prof at the Uof Calgary and he referred me to a standard text in the field (Everett Rogers' Diffusion of Innovation), and though I ground through most of it (the case studies were interesting, but the rest was repetitive and boring as hell), it focused on the introduction and uptake of new products and techniques, and had nothing to say about the kind of life cycle decline I'm talking about.

    That's about as far as I've gotten. Anyone else ever thought about this?



    Edited by jonathan162 on Aug 09, 2021 - 08:41 PM.

    --
    Southern Alberta and all over the damn place.
    *
    1983 SuperCat 19
    TriFoiler #23 "Unfair Advantage"
    Mystere 17
    H18 & Zygal (classic) Tornado - stolen and presumed destroyed by evil people. Very unpleasant story.
    Invitation and Mistral and Sunflower and windsurfers w/ Harken hydrofoils and god knows what else...
    --
  • Time and money ... mostly time.

    --
    dk

    Blade F-16
    Hobie 14
    Corsair F-242
    Mirage 25 (Sold)
    Hobie Tiger (Sold)
    TomCat 6.2 (Sold)
    --
  • I have no idea what you're trying to say about mature markets.

    --
    Southern Alberta and all over the damn place.
    *
    1983 SuperCat 19
    TriFoiler #23 "Unfair Advantage"
    Mystere 17
    H18 & Zygal (classic) Tornado - stolen and presumed destroyed by evil people. Very unpleasant story.
    Invitation and Mistral and Sunflower and windsurfers w/ Harken hydrofoils and god knows what else...
    --
  • I think that sailing was more democratic in the past, before carbon and modern sail fabrics. Not because of innovation but because of how the market evolved, I guess. The vast majority of options on the market are competitive boats, not many options for recreational sailors, that’s why we get 20 year old boats instead of spending unreasonable amounts of money.
  • First up: bare with me - not sure about "boat economics':
    A lot of this seems to have come about because of the great government push back in the late 80's and 90's to tax and regulate production of fiberglass boats among other markets, as I understand it. NACRA goes "off-shore" outside the U.S. for viability and Hobie adjusts to the dwindling market that has gotten more expensive. Doesn't help that all this starts occurring as the digital age heats up and people go on-line to the "newest thing" in droves.

    I used to be into RC airplanes, since a kid, graduating finally to RC Jets. Same thing happened to that hobby, with government doing a huge stomp on it (didn't like 200+ mph "drones" flying around with 2 gallons of jet fuel I guess), plus people's attention went elsewhere, easier. The hobby essentially has died; still a few die-hards in it, but not like it was when there used to be contests with $50k in prize money.

    Look at what happened during the "lock-downs" - people finally got fed up living lives strictly digitally and finally started a buying binge of boats, etc. to get outside. However, as my wife likes to point out - it takes an hour to set up, hour to take down; not instant fun. Lives are packed with demand, so we tend to think of every minute not being "productive" as wasted. An entire day spent fiddling and playing/sailing? Huh.

    In our curent state, manufacturers have to market "easy, fun, fast and affordable". A used fiberglass cat is not necessarily that, though it can be affordable, fun and fast. If it needs repairs, there are fewer and fewer self-reliant craftsmen to help or buy and sail. A decent, new plastic catamaran is, what? $10k minimum? More like $15k+ for what you want. There's a lot else to play with demanding that kind of cash.

    My daughter has a degree in economics - need to ask her if this is typical in all or many markets.

    --
    Chuck C.
    H21SE 408
    --
  • We don't have the number of youngsters coming into the sport. For youngsters there are many other attractive and easier hobbies from electronic tablets, to kiting, to Sea-Doo's.
    So I would offer that the reduction in sailing is due to the increase in offerings from competition >>> we simply have more choices.
  • A good deal has to do with demographics. Canada is an aging population. Seniors simply don’t jump into new high energy activities such as windsurfing, or kiteboarding, which is even easier to transport than windsurfers.
    For the most part, the younger folks drive these new fads.
    High profile events, like the Olympics can be game changers. Kids see a home Country hero winning medals, (endorsements & face recognition follow), & they say, “I want to be that guy,(gal)”. The sport takes off. Think back to Wayne Wong, skinny onesies banging of the sides of moguls. A new generation comes of age, nobody skis like that anymore.
    The biggest issue with Beachcats is storage. A huge percent of the population simply has no room to keep a Cat. Growing population, with other interests, means increased competition for valuable Cat friendly shoreline. Just look at older Countries, (Europe), sailing is almost exclusively confined to “clubs”.
    Sailing, in various forms, will always be around, & may increase here if our energy prices get to European levels.

    --
    Hobie 18 Magnum
    Dart 15
    Mystere 6.0XL Sold Was a handful solo
    Nacra 5.7
    Nacra 5.0
    Bombardier Invitation (Now officially DEAD)
    Various other Dock cluttering WaterCrap
    --
  • Few to none available soft launch/landing areas for beach cats because they have to be maintained for a very few number of sailors, to the exclusion of swimmers who see a free beach with no lifeguards there to tell them what to do. State Wildlife Resource area concrete boat launches are just for powerboats on trailers, and marina staff don't understand the needs of beach cats or how they are launched. So much waterfront at lakes, estuaries, and beaches have been taken over by private development and the owners don't want sailboats landing on their property and hanging out. Cat sailing is hard to learn vs kayaking or paddle boarding, so it's hard to attract the younger generations who are too busy with social media and being ultra-productive with their time in a competitive workplace.

    --
    High Point, NC

    Exploder A15 A-Class Catamaran
    Hobie FX One Catamaran
    Hobie Tandem Island Trimaran
    Weta Trimaran
    --
  • Not all factors involved in the decline of cat sailing has to do with a "mature" product. Like geepacks says, there are too many other activities that folks can do today and the percentage of the population interested in sailing gets smaller as a percentage of the total population. I also agree with sidecar ... in my early days of cat sailing, I could find a bunch of places to launch from. Today it is very limited and most are not cat friendly.

    This issue is not specific to "mature products". I used to play competitive racquetball in the 80's and early 90s's. One used to fight tooth and nail to get court time and tournaments around the NE had hundreds of entries. Now, I am not sure I could find more than a few courts in a hundred mile radius. Except for a few hold out hot spots and a core of die hards, the sport seems to be all but dead. Sound familiar?

    --
    dk

    Blade F-16
    Hobie 14
    Corsair F-242
    Mirage 25 (Sold)
    Hobie Tiger (Sold)
    TomCat 6.2 (Sold)
    --
  • This is an interesting topic. I'm 71 and have been sailing for 40 years and I too have witnessed the decline in this sport. I don't get out that much anymore because of health reasons but when I do I'm usually the only small catamaran out there. I think part of it, as mentioned before, is lack of good access, a place where you can beach launch and park a trailer. Here on Sarasota Bay it's all private property, some homes have their own beach and a perfect set up for beach cat sailing but no one sails. I've been sailing this Bay for 20 years and there's only one Hobie 16 I know of behind someone's home. There's a sailing club here in town with several catamarans but they never go out, most have mold growing on them. But lack of access has to be only part of it. I say this because I was in San Diego a couple of weeks ago and played tourist and took a harbor cruise on San Diego Bay. I didn't see one beach cat. Cool air, bright sun and lots of wind. A perfect So Cal day. I went over to Mission Bay, one of my favorite places where they have acres of hard packed sand and lots of parking right on the beach. It's perfect! I only saw 2 Hobie 16's. I started sailing in CA and beach cats were everywhere. I guess I'm one of these old guys that talks about "The good old days." but I'll keep sailing until I can't step the mast anymore.

    --
    Bill Townsend
    G-Cat 5.7
    Sarasota
    --
  • Some of all the reasons posted above, plus the rise of PWC and travel sports for kids that consume more and more of the year/weekends/finances of families. And those sports are also touted as the "path" to college.
  • I see a lot of H16s on Craigslist - and it seems that none of them move. Except the ones I've bought.

    --
    Bryan in Poplar Grove, IL
    Supercat 17, unknown year. Future project
    Hobie 16, 1977 - died a spectacular death https://youtu.be/Y7O22bp2MVA
    Hobie 16, 1978 - current boat
    --
  • Competition from other sports, availability of cheap _and reliable_ powered boats and jetskis, time pressure against anything that might a "whole day" commitment. More people living in apartments. Etc.

    People in Sailing Anarchy dissect this to death. It is real, the reasons are probably many so everyone's theory is right to some extent.

    I do my part -- sail the wheels off the boats I have, invite friends to sail with me... try to get them into it... "sell" them a "share" on my boat to get them to sail it (and use the money to spruce up the boat)... post videos about sailing... help organize races and get-togethers when I can... post in internet forums nobody reads...

    At the end of the day, big trends are big trends. This is the sport we know and love, I'll keep sailing with ... or without company.
  • I have wondered about this topic a lot. I believe that we love the hobby so much, that it is hard for us to figure out why more people don't get into it. I think that hobbies appear and are perfect for a particular demographic, and the appeal fades over time. Then, a new hobby appears that is right for the times and a new demographic. Rinse and repeat. However the love for any particular hobby stays imprinted onto the original demographic. (Cat sailing was big when I was a teen but I didn't sail my first Hobie until I was in my 50s)

    A few hobbies are timeless and appeal to every generation: Surfing is one that comes to mind. Another is playing golf. Why have these remained "cool" while other hobbies have not?

    Had to laugh at the Wayne Wong and the Racquetball comments. But I think you guys are spot on. Not enough room or time plays a big roll in why more people don't go for the space and time consuming hobby we all love.

    I think that most of the people we would "expect" to be involved in this hobby are all kite surfing. A new hobby for a new generation.

    --
    G-Cat 5.7
    Sarasota
    --
  • shortyfox ...I was in San Diego a couple of weeks ago and played tourist and took a harbor cruise on San Diego Bay. I didn't see one beach cat. Cool air, bright sun and lots of wind. A perfect So Cal day. I went over to Mission Bay, one of my favorite places where they have acres of hard packed sand and lots of parking right on the beach. It's perfect! I only saw 2 Hobie 16's.


    You were there the wrong weekend. I keep my H18 at Mission Bay (Fiesta Bay area), usually see at least a couple H16s any time I take it out. If I go to the part of Mission Bay set aside for unpowered or sub-5mph use (Sail Bay), I often see a couple of Nacras as well. It's nowhere near the heyday, but there's steady interest.

    Now, if we could only get rid of the Jet-skis....

    --
    Tony H
    Hobie 18
    Sailing Mission Bay and nearby CA
    --
  • Not to get too OT here, but I now find myself in the uncomfortable position of having to defend those awful things - for a specific purpose. I've never owned any boat with a motor and had every intention of keeping it that way, but, you know, "kids". They played around a few years ago on a borrowed ski and had a lot of fun, so what am I gonna do? Force them to sit on shore when there's no wind and be miserable along with me, like I have for most of my life? So we bought a pair of old cheapies ('95 Sea-Doo GTX and SPI) on a huge trailer and I added "jet ski mechanic" to my resume.

    Then I realized (having watched "Riding Giants", about Laird Hamilton and the guys who invented tow-in surfing) that I could turn to this to my advantage, and my devious plan kicked in. I'm constantly scouting and trying out new lakes, and with the TF I face all kinds of problems with regard to low/no wind (or impossible directions), difficult ramp and beaching situations (think: a beachcat with a 26' beam when the main foils are raised), etc. So I'm figuring out how to make the trailer convertible between two jet skis and one jet ski + TF, and building a 22' gantry for swapping these things around. Hope to have it functional before the end of the season. If it works out, no more getting stranded out on the water when the wind dies, or not going out because the wind is blowing perfectly 90 degrees onshore and I can't get out because of the risk of the boat drifting around while I'm climbing in and burying the foils on the bottom and standing the entire goddamn boat up on the sensors and breaking a sensor arm (again - a $500 boo-boo each time) and god knows what else (again), or not being able to get from the ramp to the beach or off of the beach because they're completely sheltered i.e. zero wind. We can't wish jet skis out of existence, so we just have to figure out how to turn them to our advantage.

    [/rant]



    Edited by jonathan162 on Aug 24, 2021 - 10:35 AM.

    --
    Southern Alberta and all over the damn place.
    *
    1983 SuperCat 19
    TriFoiler #23 "Unfair Advantage"
    Mystere 17
    H18 & Zygal (classic) Tornado - stolen and presumed destroyed by evil people. Very unpleasant story.
    Invitation and Mistral and Sunflower and windsurfers w/ Harken hydrofoils and god knows what else...
    --

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