Ride Smart from the Start Program Answers Burgeoning Need for Personal Watercraft Safety Training

Article excerpt

Last summer a unique team of partners initiated a joint safety venture under the auspices of the National Recreation and Park Association. Ride Smart from the Start is an innovative new public education safety campaign that targets the burgeoning Personal Watercraft (PWC) market. The program's success--since its 1996 debut at the National Safe Boating Council Conference in Corpus Christi, Texas and its national public and media launch--has been phenominal.

The need for PWC safety awareness training is critical; sales figures tell the story. In 1988, PWC sales accounted for only 2.5% of overall boat sales. By 1995, this figure had grown to more than 30% - an increase that caught the entire boating industry by surprise. These new boats were selling so rapidly that training programs, legislation and public education were lagging far behind. Amid growing controversy over PWC use, there was one common area of agreement: safety. But who would take the lead role?

Through early 1996, NRPA emerged as a strong candidate to champion a PWC safety initiative. Recognized as the agency whose members manage many of the nation's beaches, marinas, boat launches, and waterways, NRPA observed the challenges first hand and its members called for assistance from the trenches. But it took the financial support of three leading edge companies tied to the marine trade--Bombardier Motor Corporation of America, the world's largest manufacturer of PWCs; VDO Instruments, a premier manufacturer of the marine instruments for Sea Doo, Scarab, Viking and Ocean Yachts; and Mustang Survival, the foremost manufacturer of military, emergency services and personal survival products, including the Sea Rider PWC suit--to get the program off the drawing board.

Even so, implementing and gaining visibility for a trend-setting national program was no easy task. Ride Smart from the Start was designed to compliment existing safe boating programs and to help PWC owners become more knowledgeable and more responsible boaters. The program message addressed key PWC issues such as operator recklessness and inexperience, disrespect for other boaters and waterway users, disregard for boating rules and regulations, and noise and pollution.

The marketing strategy relied heavily on producing resource materials for PSA use by both electronic and print media from coast to coast. As NRPA Executive Director R. Dean Tice wrote to the media in soliciting their support of the campaign, "It's said that safety begins at home. The Ride Smart from the Start messages must be seen and heard to be effective."

Ride Smart from the Start received a substantial boost, both financially and credibility-wise, midway through the summer when a grant application for support was approved by the U. …