Boom in new boaters: survey reveals British boating highs

three paddleboarders on the beach

British Marine has issued the latest Boating and Boat Ownership survey, for the period 2020-2021, where nearly a quarter (24 per cent) of participants taking part in boating-related and on-water activities in 2020 did so for the first time.

The report shows this trend was particularly pronounced in ‘gateway’ boating activities such as paddleboarding and kayaking, with nearly a third of respondents (31 per cent and 28 per cent, respectively) starting within the last 12 months.

Covid-19 had a profound effect on the UK’s relationship with the outdoors with visits to ‘blue spaces’ (canals, rivers, lakes and the coast) increasing in popularity, from an 18 per cent pre-pandemic to 49 per cent in 2021.

Approximately 58 per cent of participants took part in an activity using their own craft, with other forms of third-party rental experiences accounting for most other experiences.

The influx of new boaters also had a knock-on effect on boat sales, with sales estimated to have increased by nine per cent in 2020 and then a further two per cent in 2021, with first-time buyers favouring paddleboards (58 per cent), canoes or kayaks (36 per cent) and narrowboats (40 per cent). This trend continued in 2021, with an increase in the share of first-time owners across almost every type of boat and watersports craft.

In the boating survey, 23 per cent of respondents indicated that they were likely to purchase a new boat or watersports craft within the next 12 months, with most interested in sailing yachts (32 per cent), motor cruisers (25 per cent) or trailerable powerboats (19 per cent). According to respondents, attending industry exhibitions like Southampton International Boat Show has the greatest influence on their purchasing decision (69 per cent).

British brands dominated the style of boats that consumers were interested in purchasing, especially in the UK’s traditional boatbuilding niches, such as dinghy sailboats. In the sailing yacht and speedboat markets, however, demand is dominated by European and American brands.

Structured training (e.g. sailing schools) accounted for about eight per cent of experiences on the water and hire, charter and other forms of rental (e.g. peer-to-peer and subscription clubs) made up a third (34 per cent) of excursions undertaken by participants.

Holiday-based hire or charter dominated rental experiences, with coastal and offshore yacht charter accounting for over half (52 per cent) of experiences and inland hire – mainly on the canal network, Thames and Norfolk Broads – accepting a third of participants.

Sponsored by Navigators & General, the survey focuses on a number of key areas including watersports participation trends, attitudes to and resources used for training; the characteristics of different methods of participation, from hire and charter to private boat ownership; and boat purchasing and ownership trends, including the profiles of current and prospective owners.

“The results of the survey really go to show there is a real appetite for people to get on the water in the UK, as an industry our job now is to look at ways we can continue to encourage people to take to the water in the UK and build on the momentum of the previous two years.  However, the survey results are very encouraging with people now making the decision to invest in their own boats, indicating a potential commitment to getting out on the water more regularly,” says Lesley Robinson, CEO, British Marine.  

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