Letter From the United Arab Emirates | Kai Malmivaara, GMBA-Middle East

It may come as a surprise to many that the size of UAE boat park is not very big. There are only about 15,000 boats in the UAE, and only about thousand of them are 45 feet or longer. And yes, a large number of mega yachts are owned by UAE and GCC nationals, but only few of those are actually in the Gulf as most of them are in the Mediterranean Sea.

Most typical boats have center consoles and outboard engines and used mainly for fishing. Boats up to 12 meters are the most popular, as a driving license for these boats is fairly easy to obtain. There are not many sailing boats in the UAE, due to lack of suitable wind and skill required for sailing. Generally, the average age of the boats is relatively old, from 2009 or older.

There are certain matters that may affect to the general interest for boating, such as the annual registration requirement, sailing permits being required from the coast guard every time one wants to go out and a lack of suitable destinations, particularly in Dubai. Financing is not available for imported boats, although local manufacturers may offer payment plans. Therefore, only a few expatriates have the financial resources to buy a boat, and there is always uncertainty of how long they will stay in the UAE.

However there are presently 42 marinas in the UAE, having in total about 7,100 berths. Dubai has 17 marinas with 3,750 berths and 640 dry berths, and in Abu Dhabi there are also 17 marinas with 2,480 berths and 415 dry berths. In the other Emirates Ras Al Khaimah has 4 marinas with 540 berths, Fujairah 2 marinas with 180 berths, Umm Al Quwain one marina with 110 berths, and Ajman one marina with 50 berths. The average occupancy of the marinas in the UAE is only 73%. In Abu Dhabi the occupancy rate is 81%, in Dubai 65% and in the other Emirates about 60%. Despite this oversupply of marinas, there are still about 14 new marinas in the UAE under construction or waiting for commissioning, totaling 1,145 berths.

Motivation for building the marinas has in many cases been real estate driven, instead of meeting the demand. Marinas have been built to increase the value of the land and houses around them, wherefore at least in the beginning, when the area round the marina is still under construction, the occupancy of the marinas is quite low. Also, many of the boats are kept on trailers or parked in private residences, and thus do not need berthing.

When it comes to sales of new and used boats, the situation in the UAE is much the same as in the rest of the world. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, interest for boating has substantially increased and there are no inventories of new or used boats. Order books of the local boat manufacturers are full and delivery times are getting longer due to current global supply chain issues. Local dealers of international brands are struggling to get their share of production from the manufacturers, and the quantities do not meet the demand. The average price range of new boats is between € 250,000 – € 350,000 but in real terms the number of new boats sold in the UAE is still fairly small, about 100 annually, which is not much compared to the oversupply of the berths so this boat/berth ratio will most probably continue for some time.

This autumn and coming year are going to be very active times for leisure marine business in the UAE and in particular in Dubai. The Abu Dhabi Boat Show is held between 13. – 16.10. which is the first local boat show since the break of Covid-19 pandemic. ICOMIA World Marinas Conference is taking place in Dubai 12.-14.10. Also, the Expo 2020 Dubai started in the beginning of October and is going to last till the end of March 2022. UAE seems to be opening now and is welcoming tourists from all over the world.

Finally, after several years in planning, the marine trade association, Leisure Marine Association, Middle East North Africa (LMA MENA), has just recently been founded from within marine industry to promote, protect and advance interests of its members in leisure marine industry as whole. It will bring together all stakeholders within UAE and MENA with united voice and to affect positive change to the industry.

All this is expected to give a welcome boost to the leisure marine industry in the UAE which hopefully will continue also for some time in the future.

Kai Malmivaara, GMBA-Middle East
+971 50 276 0287

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