Southern California Marine Association once advocated for regional boaters, but who fills the void now?
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA—Boating season “officially” runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day, but let’s be honest, it’s almost always a good time to crank up your outboard, spread your sails or flip the ignition switch to ‘on’ in Southern California. There is no shortage of boating opportunities south of Santa Barbara and north of the U.S.-Mexico border in San Diego. It’s not all fun-under-the-sun, however. It’s one thing to be able to take your boat out for a spin whenever you want, but who speaks up for Southern California’s boaters at the local city hall or in the legislative chambers of Sacramento?
This Standing Watch column, to be fair, has broached this topic before, such as the “Who’s in charge of the future of boating and fishing” write-up published in March 2018. Other columns discussed transparency at harbor commission meetings and whether boaters had a voice on local city council boards. One strand we have yet to question or scrutinze, however, is the presence (or lack thereof) of a regional boating advocacy group.
Now there are several groups out there who represent boaters, be it in the realms of policymaking or on the day-to-day beats of the local community. Organizations such as the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) and BoatUS regularly advocate for boaters on issues such as ethanol and outdoor recreation in Washington, D.C., for example. Recreational Boaters of California, or RBOC, has representatives strolling through the halls of Sacramento who urge Senate and Assembly members to pass pro-boating or fishing bills.
Also on par with RBOC is the Marine Recreation Association (MRA), which organizes the annual California Boating Congress. MRA, like RBOC, mostly advocates for boaters on a broader, statewide level.
At the hyper local level there are (or were) organizations such as Dana Point Boaters Association and Long Beach Marina Boat Owners Association, which focuses on boating issues at a specific harbor or marina. (Long Beach Marina Boat Owners Association hasn’t posted on its Facebook page since 2012 and its website is currently down, so it’s unclear whether the organization is currently operational.)
But who is advocating for Southern California’s boaters at a regional level? Is there anyone out there willing to take on a leadership role and promote boating? There are various corners of the marine industry complaining and whining about declining boating participation rates, but what is actually being done to get more people out on the water? A regional organization with strong leadership, it could be argued, is what’s necessary to spearhead a coordinated effort to have more people out on the water. It’s not like the current fragmented state of Southern California boating is accomplishing anything, after all.
Seasoned boaters who frequent the waters between San Diego and Santa Barbara might recall the existence of one Southern California Marine Association, or SCMA. The organization has promoted boating activities in the region and organized boat shows. Yet the organization is no more – and nowhere in the Los Angeles-Orange County-San Diego metro is there a group advocating for regional boaters.
The proverbial $64,000 question, of course, is whether such a group is needed in the first place. One could argue organizations such as RBOC and MRA are enough, as they have people who could just as well go to bat for Southern California and Northern California boaters, alike.
What do boaters in San Diego and Crescent City, on the other hand, have in common? A boater in Crescent City’s harbor probably isn’t concerned with the benefits of a tuna fish farm in San Diego Bay. High-end boaters at Fifth Avenue Landing, conversely, aren’t likely to be invested in Crescent City Harbor’s commercial fishery issues.
There are, however, matters similarly affecting Southern California’s various harbors and marinas, such as sea lions and regional sea level rise. What if a regional organization could help coordinate a response to sea lion abatement for all 11 Southern California harbors (as opposed to a hodgepodge, harbor-by-harbor policy)?
A regional boating organization could also ensure Southern California boaters are properly represented in Sacramento (as opposed to being lumped together with Bay Area or Northern California boaters on statewide policy proposals). This organization could also promote or protect marine industry jobs, similar to what Marine Industries Association of South Florida does in the Miami area.
Perhaps a regional organization could promote marine businesses up and down the Southern California coast similar to what the San Diego Port Tenants Association accomplishes in America’s Finest City.
Southern California’s boaters, ultimately, could use a watchdog organization, an organized group who looks out for the collective interests of the region’s boaters. This organization could also promote boating, take a stab at addressing the questions many are asking about declining boating participation. Will anyone step up and lead the charge?