Participation in boating activities hits highest levels since 2002

Watersports participation increased by 3.4% on last year, reaching the highest volume since this survey was first undertaken.

According to the latest research, a record 3.96m UK adults (7.4% of the UK adult population) participated in one or more of 12 core boating activities in 2017, the highest volume recorded since this research initiative was first launched in 2002. And despite challenges to consumer confidence and an unsettled economy in the wake of Brexit negotiations, boat ownership has also increased, with more than 690,000 boat owning households in the UK.

Canoeing and motor boating saw the largest increases in participation, with increases of 345,000 (a 0.6 percentage point increase in the share of UK adults) and 186,000 (0.4 percentage point increase) respectively. The other core boating activities remained steady. The popularity of stand-up paddleboarding is also holding strong, with an additional 190,000 participants (0.4 percentage point increase) over the last year.

In total, over 16.3 million people (30.6% of UK adults) participated in any water-based leisure activities. With an increase of over 2 million more participants in 2017, it is the highest volume of participants recorded since the survey began in 2002. It includes participants of the 12 core boating activities and growing watersports activities, as well as activities such as sea angling and coastal walking.

The research also saw the proportion of ‘enthusiasts’ has continued to increase over the last year. This is excellent news for bodies like British Marine, the Royal Yachting Association and British Canoeing, which are working to encourage more regular participation in on-water activities. The volume of those adults participating in one of the 12 core boating activities six or more times in a year has increased again since 2016.

Howard Pridding, Chief Executive Officer at British Marine, commented: “It is really encouraging to see this level of growth in boating and watersports participation and our members will particularly welcome the increase in the proportion of boat owning households.

“There are so many great ways to get out on and enjoy the water in and around the UK. The continuing popularity of activities like stand up paddleboarding and canoeing are proof of just how easy it is to get involved in on-water activities. And the growth in sailing, motor boating and canal boating is excellent news for our boatbuilders and hire boat companies.

“Like all recreational sectors, the boating market does face challenges from an ageing population and growing competition for people’s time and finances. But these latest statistics give us some real optimism that with the right support, boating in the UK has a great future ahead of it.”

The Watersports Participation Survey is conducted annually by a consortium of leading marine bodies including British Marine, Royal Yachting Association, Maritime and Coastguard Agency, Royal National Lifeboat Institution, British Canoeing and the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science. The survey and report provide these organisations with wide ranging information and statistics to support the development of measures to encourage greater participation in watersports, to monitor on/in water activity and safety, and the impact on the environment.

Key findings:

The impact of an ageing population:
It is well documented that the UK’s population is getting older as people live longer. The survey shows that the peaks between the different age profiles are getting smaller year on year. 2017’s survey highlights a trough between the age of 10 and 15, meaning there are fewer children to get into watersports than there were 10 years ago. This could have implications for participation levels in future years. At the upper end of the age spectrum, participation rates for over 55s have returned to the 2014 high of 4.3% of UK adults (over 55 years old) and the volume of over 55s participating is the highest since the survey began (758,000).

Domestic participation still reigns vs. abroad:
With the exception of ‘Using Personal Watercraft’, participation levels for all activities are greater in the UK than abroad. The UK share of participation in power boating saw a 4.5 percentage point increase on the previous year and the popularity of canal boating in the UK remained strong, up 0.1 percentage point on 2016 and up 4.5 percentage points on 2015’s figures. Yacht Racing abroad has seen a significant jump in participation rates over the past two years, with the overseas share of participation increasing by 19.9 percentage points since 2015.

Boat ownership on the up, but more boats being kept abroad:
After a downward trend in the number of households owning a boat, 2017 saw an increase. More than 1.18m boats were recorded per year on average for the years 2015 to 2017. A small, but welcome increase of approximately 38,000 boats on the earlier three-year period (2014 – 2016). While the majority of these boats (94.9%) are being kept in the UK, this is down on the previous three-year period (95.5%). Small sailing boats (-4.0 percentage points), sailing yachts (-3.6 percentage points) and RIBs/Inflatables or sportsboats (-1.1 percentage points) all saw a decline in the share of these boats being kept in the UK. The impact of Brexit negotiations and Sterling depreciation has led to an increase in brokerage sales to the EU, which is the main reason behind this change.

An executive summary of the report is available to download here:

The full report is available to download for British Marine member companies from the British Marine website.

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