Digital Boat is not abstract, it is a fact and the industry understands it well, according to the results of the ‘Digital Boat Odyssey’ conference held last Tuesday during the Paris Nautica Boat Show.

Organised jointly by European Boating Industry (EBI), the French Federation of Nautical Industries (FIN) and the Nautic Festival, the conference gathered on one stage the representatives of the industry who contribute to creating a new image of boating with the help of digital tools, on land and on water.

Also attending were European Commission officers who co-ordinate the policies related to nautical tourism at the European Union level.

In a summary of the event, the organisers stated: “One of the most visible aspects of the digital change concerning the boating is the more frequent use of the shared economy to experience the nautical activities, but also to pursue them later. Buying a boat or borrowing it from a family member or a friend is no longer necessary to try it out for the first time. It is simply enough to have the internet access and being able to find the right platform making such an experience possible. In other words: shared economy’.

The first speaker from the European Commission, Raluca Ionescu, said: “The collaborative economy has been growing very fast worth €28bn in 2015, and revenues in five key sectors almost doubling in one year. The European Union (EU) citizens are not only more aware of the existence of the shared economy (more than half of the population) but they use it more often, the studies show that 17% have done it already, mostly educated, young people from urban areas. Other research in member states themselves show that these numbers might be even higher.”

The next speaker, François Hélard, co-founder and CCO at Enaviga, an online platform that manages the nautical experiences, confirmed the trend presented by the Commission by showing how quickly the “Internet of Things and customised personal experience” have kept growing in the last two decades. He had no doubt that “renting is the new owning” and adapting to this transformation is the industry’s challenge.

Digitalisation on land should be closely followed by the digital change on water. That was the theme of the presentation by Ioannis Kostopoulos, SaMMYacht (smart App in the world of yachting marinas) CEO and co-founder, who explained that the adoption of digital infrastructure is five times faster than that of electricity.

He said: “With 50 billion smart objects around and the number of mobile subscriptions soon to outnumber the world’s population, the industry needs to prepare even better for this transition, as there are still a lot of marinas not quite ready for the changing world. This snowball is rolling, faster and faster, becoming bigger as it goes – trying to stop the change or not recognising that sharing might be the new buying, could be counter-productive. Instead the industry should help this snowball direct its course and make sure it knows where the ball is going.”

Concluding the conference was a special session, presented by the European Commission’s Linos Voskarides, in charge of nautical tourism. Voskarides presented the Nautical Tourism study and the Commission’s findings which recognised the challenges of the nautical sector (such as professional skippers’ licenses, no harmonised rules for onboard safety equipment, and ‘end-of-life’ boats).

Alluding to the main theme of the event, he stressed the importance of the introduction of new technologies and innovation and explained how the European Commission was facilitating this process within its competences.

EBI secretary general Sandrine Devos said that “digital change will most likely continue, not leaving behind many sectors, but rather taking most of them on board, including boating. This is why nautical tourism needs to anticipate the changes ahead and influence them with the benefit to the whole boating community.”