We’re going to need a bigger boat: Demand for larger vessels and Brexit prices put wind in marine sector’s sails
PUBLISHED: 08:38 17 January 2018 | UPDATED: 11:02 18 January 2018
Copyright: Archant 2018
While many industries are fighting their way through choppy seas, there are calmer waters in the boating sector, helped by exchange rates and a desire among buyers to upgrade.
With both the coast and Broads within reach, East Anglia’s boat-builders and leisure craft hire firms are well positioned to claim their share of the £3.12bn UK industry, which assembled last week at the London Boat Show.
The industry appears to be riding high, with revenues increasing by 3.4% in 2017 - the best since the financial crisis - and the sector estimated to have contributed £1.3bn to the country’s economy between March 2016 and April 2017.
David Talbot, vice-chairman of Norfolk and Suffolk Boating Association, and head of business services at Norwich financial firm M+A Partners, said a trend for boat-owners to upsize to bigger models was keeping the market buoyant.
“On the private side people are moving towards bigger boats,” he said. “There is an ageing boating population and those who own their own are tending to move towards larger models, which supplies the second-hand market as well.
“There is a challenge in getting young people into the sport and about accessibility, with a lot of people moving towards a pay-to-play model so that they don’t have to make a large investment.”
Mr Talbot said, particularly with the rise of staycations, there was more demand for luxury both in the private and hire markets and clubs he was involved with had seen demand grow for larger moorings.
He said: “About 10 to 20 years ago there was a lot of demand for smaller boats but now I think people’s expectations of what they want to be comfortable has changed.”
The weaker pound has helped both at home and abroad, with exports rising 4.7% to £924m as British prices become more competitive.
On the domestic front, firms such as Stalham-based Richardson’s Boating Holidays have been bolstered by Brits deciding to stay at home rather than face currency costs abroad, with more than 60% of marine tourism operators reporting increased sales this summer, according to trade body British Marine.
Richardson’s managing director Greg Munford, who is chairman of the London Boat Show, said: “Last season was certainly a fantastic year for domestic tourism, and for us here at Richardson’s 2018 is already looking to be another record breaking year.”
There are some 4,500 marine businesses in the UK with the full-time equivalent of 33,000 employees.
Haines Marine: A changing demographic
Like many local boatbuilders, Catfield-based Haines Marine is starting the year with a near full order book and director Justin Haines said the firm was receiving interest across its full range.
He said: “Our demographic of customers is changing a bit. We are getting younger people coming in for the smaller boats which is definitely encouraging for the future. If we sell people smaller models then perhaps we have the chance to sell them a bigger model in the future.”
Mr Haines said the last 18 months had seen a steady stream of sales with the Brexit-hit exchange rate helping make prices more attractive to continental buyers and a UK market which seemed to have been galvanised by the EU referendum result. “Last year we made three sales out of the show and I would expect to do the same this year,” he said. “If we do we will probably have to take on another two people to fulfil the orders. I expect us to make about 15 boats this year.”
OneSails: Shorter show proves popular
Ipswich sailmaker OneSails took a break of several years from the London Boat Show before returning this year as part of Suffolk Yacht Harbour’s multi-pronged exhibition.
Owner John Parker, who has another business, Evolution, which sells rigging and deck hardware and was also at the event, felt it had been a success.
“We went there with a completely open mind,” he said. “We were pleasantly surprised.”
The shortening of the show from nine days to five made it more feasible, he said.
“If you talk all day long you have had a good day. This year at the London show we did a lot of meeting and greeting.”
Mr Parker, an industry veteran who is a regular at the Southampton Boat Show, believes that there should be one major industry event rather than two.
“As a businessman, I don’t care where the show is, but could we please just have one?” he added.
English Harbour Yachts: The money is there
Brundall-based boat designers English Harbour Yachts enjoyed a busy London Boat Show and the company is preparing to set course for Dusseldorf to see if demand has increased since Brexit.
Director Adam Greenwood said: “In the UK we seem to be attracting people who are perhaps ex-sailors, middle-aged customers who are retiring early and wanting to enjoy their retirement.
“The geographical spread of customers is anywhere from the Broads to the South Coast and further afield such as Scotland and the Channel Islands.”
Mr Greenwood said the firm had found people were more willing to make investments in the past year or two after a long road back from the financial crisis.
He said: “There is still a lot of money out there. People had become a bit more cautious but a lot of these individuals are viewing life as too short and are deciding to get on with enjoying it.”
Fox’s Marina: Positive feeling at show
Fox’s Marina & Boatyard in Ipswich has not attended the London Boat Show for a number of years, but revisited it this year, sharing a place on the Yacht Harbour Association stand.
Managing director Will Taylor-Jones said it had been a worthwhile exercise.
“I think it went well,” he said, adding that he felt the industry should back the event.
The reduced five-day format had worked particularly well, he felt.
“Saturday was really busy and positive for us,” he said. “I think everyone agreed it was positive and the reduced format was good.”
He also met up with a Norwegian customer who was pleased with their work and wanted to put more work their way, and it was a chance to highlight the many facets to their business, including stainless steel fabrication and rigging, he said.
“We are not very good at shouting about that,” he said. “That business-to-business thing was very positive.”