The UK’s marine industry has enjoyed a fourth year of steady growth, with a sudden weakening of the post-Brexit pound helping to drive exports, but an ongoing skills gap and single market uncertainty still threaten future potential

UK overview

On a quest: The RS Quest dinghy, developed by RS Sailing and the Sea Cadets with the aim of getting more people onto the water

There’s a bit of a buzz in the UK’s marine industry. With the big decision about Brexit safely out of the way, a complete reversal in the value of the pound has helped to drive exports. In addition, UK manufacturing continues to deliver a raft of cutting-edge products, from new boats to new technologies. For the equipment manufacturers just back from the trade show at METSTRADE, there was a very upbeat message. “This year’s METSTRADE was the best ever,” said Chris Berry of fendering and deck specialists Wilks. “We took three times more enquiries than usual, and there was a really positive atmosphere around the show.”

However, against this encouraging backdrop is the continued unknown of the eventual marketplace for British products, as the CEO of the British Marine organisation Howard Pridding, observed.

“Post Brexit, we’re seeing a lot of short term optimism, but a lot of long term uncertainty,” he told IBI. “We had a very positive Southampton Boat Show in September, where all the exhibitors I spoke to remarked on the high quality of the visitors. We also had a very strong METSTRADE. I think everyone is over the shock of the referendum result, and now we want the government to just get on with it, so we can sort out the various trade agreements we will need in the future.”

The latest figures from British Marine (BM) make encouraging reading, but they don’t tell the whole story because – by the very nature of their painstaking collection – they are always retrospective. As such, the official data is only compiled to January 2016, and a lot has happened since then, not least Brexit and the election of a new US President.

“We will have the 2016 figures compiled by March of 2017,” a BM spokesman told us, “But from all the feedback we’ve had so far, there has been a huge post-Brexit boost in marine tourism in the UK, with boat charter and related activities well up on last year. The weak pound is really helping visitor numbers to the UK.”

The total industry revenue for 2014-2015 was £2.97 billion, up 1.1% from the year before. The domestic market continued to expand, up from 68% of total revenue (2013-2014) to 70% in 2014-2015. As a reflection of the UK’s service sector performance, the marine industry was already particularly strong in boating tourism, brokerage, insurance and financial services. It looks like the weakened pound has expanded this slice of the pie in 2016.

Note: This is an excerpt of the country report published in IBI magazine December issue. IBI Plus subscribers can download the document in full.