The number of people who participated in watersports in the UK last year was up by 3.4% compared to the year before – the largest number of people since records began in 2002.

According to a recent British Marine survey, a record 3.96 million UK adults (7.4% of the UK adult population) participated in one or more of 12 core boating activities in 2017, the highest number for 15 years. This was despite challenges to consumer confidence and an unsettled economy in the wake of Brexit negotiations.

Significantly, boat ownership has also increased with more than 690,000 boat-owning households in the UK.

Canoeing and motorboating saw the largest rise in participation, with increases of 345,000 (a 0.6% 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.

The British Marine survey shows that a total of more than 16.3 million people (30.6% of UK adults) participated in any water-based leisure activities. The 2017 rise of over 2 million people the survey 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, CEO of 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,” he added, “of activities like stand-up paddle boarding and canoeing are proof of just how easy it is to get involved in on-water activities. And the growth in sailing, motorboating 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, the 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.