By Bruce Claflin –

We’ve seen it on the news and heard it over the airwaves, 2018 was the year of the woman. It really is about time to ramp up the recognition and give women the equal footing they deserve in all things, and that includes the boating world where our voice carries some resonance. Recently I had an opportunity to attend a conference in Duluth, MN. that was held by SOBA (States Organization for Boating Access). One of the featured speakers there was Joanne Martonik, who is a marketing program manager at the Recreational Fishing and Boating Foundation (RBFF) in Alexandria, Virginia. The RBFF is an organization that spends its time promoting recreational boating and fishing.  Since RBFF was founded in 1998, the organization has been hard at work drawing fishing and boating participants to the water. The RBFF leverages its national Take Me Fishing™ and Vamos A Pescar™ campaigns, as well as its many state agency and boating and fishing industry partnerships to entice its target audience to spend more time on the water boating, fishing, and conserving our aquatic resources. One of their latest campaigns has been to encourage more women into the world of fishing and recreational boating. Martonik spoke about the campaign and provided some of the latest numbers that speak to the effectiveness of their messaging. Somewhere along the way she did one other thing—-she inspired me to tackle the subject of how to encourage more women to boat in the pages of this book.

We’ve seen it on the news and heard it over the airwaves, 2018 was the year of the woman. It really is about time to ramp up the recognition and give women the equal footing they deserve in all things, and that includes the boating world where our voice carries some resonance. Recently I had an opportunity to attend a conference in Duluth, MN. that was held by SOBA (States Organization for Boating Access). One of the featured speakers there was Joanne Martonik, who is a marketing program manager at the Recreational Fishing and Boating Foundation (RBFF) in Alexandria, Virginia. The RBFF is an organization that spends its time promoting recreational boating and fishing.  Since RBFF was founded in 1998, the organization has been hard at work drawing fishing and boating participants to the water. The RBFF leverages its national Take Me Fishing™ and Vamos A Pescar™ campaigns, as well as its many state agency and boating and fishing industry partnerships to entice its target audience to spend more time on the water boating, fishing, and conserving our aquatic resources. One of their latest campaigns has been to encourage more women into the world of fishing and recreational boating. Martonik spoke about the campaign and provided some of the latest numbers that speak to the effectiveness of their messaging. Somewhere along the way she did one other thing—-she inspired me to tackle the subject of how to encourage more women to boat in the pages of this book.

Joanne put me in touch with Stephanie West Vatalaro, who is the Vice President of Communications at the RBFF. Stephanie told me that the RBFF has spent a great deal of time working to understand the barriers to participation. She said, “by understanding the demographics, motivations, and barriers of participants, the industry can better reach America’s youngest citizens (male and female) to nurture a new generation of enthusiasts.”  This thinking has been applied to attracting diversity not just in gender, but in ethnicity as well. I asked Vatalaro to explain a few of the barriers that keep women from the boating experience to me and she quickly replied, “they don’t see themselves in the sport.” I was a little confused, but she explained that when women see images of boating or pick up a boating magazine (like Scuttlebutt), they don’t see themselves there. The RBFF statistics bear that out. While 27.8% of men thought that fishing was for someone like them, only 12.9% of females thought the same thing. That’s when I began to better comprehend the issue. Back at my office I began to look at back issues of our publication. With very few exceptions, almost all of the photos feature a male at the helm. As far as I can tell, the term ‘Captain’ is not gender specific, but I could see that I was unconsciously contributing to the creation of a perception problem.

In my life I have been fortunate to be surrounded by women who needed little encouragement to get out on the water, and we enjoyed many great family memories because of it. My Mother was as proficient at the wheel (if not under the hood) as my Dad, and my daughter learned responsible boating habits at the same time she was learning to drive. Both of them had found their love of the water at an early age. For others who may not have been introduced to boating in their youth, the path to the boating lifestyle may not be as easy. An industry that publishes only images of men out fishing and operating boats needs to begin to push through the stereotypes that exist to cast women in more prominent roles on the water (kudos here to the National Marine Manufacturers Association for providing me with a great cover photo for this issue). It isn’t just recreational boating and fishing either, women need to see a clear path to accomplishment in the marine industry as well. In an effort to illustrate the potential for women in boating and in the marine industry, I’d like to introduce a few women who have found success, achievement, and fulfillment through their love of boating.

Wendy Williamson

Wendy Williamson

Wendy Williamson is a long time fishing guide. She grew up in Hayward, WI., an area well known for its great fishing. Wendy told me that neither of her parents were terribly ‘outdoorsy’, so spent her time following her brothers—-almost always to water and always to fish. In the mid 90’s, Wendy was summoned to Colorado and to the Seven Lakes Lodge. The owner of the lodge apparently realized that he needed a female fishing guide to serve his clientele, a clientele that was predominantly wealthy, celebrity, and a good share female. Her experiences there led her to a career she loves. Williamson still guides on fly fishing trips today, back in her hometown of Hayward. She owns and operates the Hayward Fly Fishing Company and spends her time guiding others and sharing her skills by teaching others the art of the cast. She is also on the board of the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame and Museum, where she now serves as its president.

Michelle Schrider

Michelle Schrider

Michelle found her love of the water at a young age as boating was one of her family’s favorite activities. She says that while family outings were aboard a power boat, she was a sailor at heart. She went on to an education at the University of Minnesota and joined the sailing team there. She received a degree in interior design while at the U and in the late 80’s she found the perfect marriage of boating and design. She moved to South Florida to work on a great project—an opportunity to become part of a team that was doing the interior design work on a multi-million dollar yacht. Project completed, Michelle’s love of  Lake Superior, a place she had worked summers while in college was calling her back. Today she lives in Washburn, WI with her family and manages the Washburn Marina. Michelle is the Board Chairperson of the Wisconsin Marine Association, and is a member of the tech team for the Wisconsin Clean Marina Program.

Kori Derrick Cisewski


Kori Derrick Cisewski

Kori Derrick Cisewski has spent her entire life in communities adjacent to the St. Croix River. She expressed a love of the river during the time we spent together and said that she always felt that ‘riverside’ was a very cool environment. Kori spends her time today enhancing the boating experience for others as GM of the Bayport Marina in Bayport, MN. Bayport Marina has long been considered one of the finest marinas in an area that boasts several of the most well run operations in the state. Kori says that she wants Bayport Marina to be a fun and relaxing place for its members. At the same time, she is committed to the continued growth of Bayport’s reputation as one of the very best Marinas anywhere in the Midwest. The best part for Kori is that she gets to work next to the river she loves.

Kris Symanietz

Kris Symanietz

If you are around Afton Marina with a boat in need of repair, chances are it was Kris Symanietz and her team that got you back on the water. Kris is the Service manager at Afton Marina, a position she’s held since 2010. Kris loves the water, but her biggest joy comes from getting boaters back to the fun they enjoy when boating. Kris understands that with our short seasons here our time on the water is precious. She also understands a boaters angst when unforeseen issues put a boat in the shop and passengers on the dock. She knows as much about boats as anyone, and believes the marine industry is “absolutely suited for a woman.”  She loves the environment she works in and even though some repair issues require time to repair, she handles her position with deft and skill. Kris encourages other women to look at the opportunities in the marine segment and tells me that skilled professionals are in very high demand on the river.

The point here is that most of the barriers to boating, or achievement in the boating industry are artificial. There is perception, and there is reality. Don’t let apprehension stop you from an awesome career, or just the joy you can feel from spending a day on the water. The empowerment comes from jumping into the experience. Every marina in our area can point to women who have successfully achieved a Captain’s license for example. Take a class, rent a boat, take your friends on a pontoon cruise, get involved in the boating lifestyle. Don’t let a perception stop you from enjoying what can be a lifelong love, or a fulfilling career. The resources are out there. For our part, we will keep looking to push women forward in boating. Not only in the images we produce, but also in the stories we feature. Happy boating, EVERYONE!