Princess's 40M, the largest ever model from the Plymouth-based builder

Princess’s 40M, the largest ever model from the Plymouth-based builder

The UK’s marine industry generated £2.93 billion of revenue in 2014, an increase of around 1% on last year’s performance, with strong sales in the dinghy and small boat sector offsetting reverses in the luxury motorboat market.

The ongoing recovery of the industry is running parallel with the UK’s general economic wellbeing, reflecting the cautious return of business confidence.

A recent survey of 321 members of trade association British Marine (BM) suggests that 1 in 3 reported a rise in employment levels, so now around 36,000 people are directly employed in the UK’s leisure marine industry.

Since the end of 2014, there has also been a significant increase in the investment in new infrastructure, especially in research and development, with 45% of the respondents increasing investment in facilities, up from 39% in 2013.

Global interest in British-built boats of all types shows no sign of diminishing, with a total of 10,120 boats of all types and sizes built in 2014. This figure accounts for 29.3% of the total industry revenue.

Boating lifestyle

The number of adults in the UK that participate in all forms of watersports has remained fairly static, despite the country’s rapidly increasing (official) net migration of 318,000 last year. Research released on 23 March 2015 suggests that 3.5 million UK adults participated in one or more of 12 boating activities in 2014, and this percentage (7.1%) remains similar to 2013.

Participation in ‘any watersports activity’ in addition to boating stood at 13.1m, a slight decline of 2%. The research also suggests that boating activity by people over the age of 55 has steadily increased since 2011, although this could just be a reflection of the UK’s ageing population. Meanwhile, female participation in ‘any boating activity’ is joint highest with the pre-crash figures of 2007.

Economic climate

The period from 2014 to the autumn of 2015 has also been a roller-coaster for the country as a whole, with the Scottish referendum in September 2014 very nearly ending the ‘United’ Kingdom. With such close pre-referendum opinion polls, businesses large and small expressed their concerns.

The defeat of Scottish independence was followed by a general election in May 2015. The results clearly showed that voters enjoyed lying to the exit pollsters, because a much-anticipated hung parliament didn’t materialise. Instead, the right-wing Conservative party gained a clear majority, and divorced itself from a coalition with the Liberal Democrats.

The immediate effect was for high net worth individuals to give a collective sigh of relief and begin speculating on the UK property market again, now free from the prospect of punishing ‘mansion’ taxes. The new government also bought in changes to the pension rules, allowing contributors to liberate large cash sums. This all helped to create more disposable income, which often finds its way into boat sales.

“The year started slowly, but is ending really well,” remarked Adrian Jones of Rustler Yachts. “A combination of uncertainty about the general election and a poor summer both held back sales, but things really began to pick up again at the Southampton Boat Show.”

BM president Howard Pridding also felt the upbeat vibe when he toured the Southampton Boat Show in September 2015. “The mood was very positive,” he said. “Even during the midweek downpours, profit in the months ahead. Fairline alas called in the administrators in December (see pg4). Conversely, at the bottom end of the market, the dinghy and small boat sector has offset this decline by reporting strong growth, particularly with global exports.

Note: This is an excerpt of the market overview published in the December issue of IBI magazine. Subscribers of IBI Plus can download the full report.