Sea of change | David Lewin, GMBA-UK

So how has the world been doing since the great shock of spring 2020 when we shut our doors and wondered what would become of us all? In our industry’s case, rather well it seems.

There is no getting away from Covid-19 and how different countries have dealt with the pandemic and their ability (or preparedness) to open up their economies again. The ramifications of slow vaccination policies may well be felt over the coming period as interestingly, those countries that were so admired in the early days for shutting down quickly to effectively exclude the virus are now being seen as slow to open and being prepared to live with it, whereas those who concentrated on vaccinations seem to be reaping the benefit, despite seemingly high levels of new infections.

But staying at home has had its benefits; many city commuters saved considerable sums of money from not travelling – and by staying at home they also realised that family time can actually be enjoyable and so with nowhere to go, the purchase of a boat would give them Covid security and communal fun.

We also see that the demographic of the boat buying public has got younger for the first time and naturally the increase in sales has been seen mainly in motor boats as the skillset required for a sailing boat requires a longer entry period. Certain caution should be taken here as motor boats can be seen as more transient than sailing boats which are more of a lifestyle and resilient to sudden fluctuations in the market. It will be up to our aftersales and service sectors to see if we can retain those new entrants.

We all believed we would come through the pandemic but I think we were all surprised at how strongly and quickly the demand for boats (and caravans and RVs) overcame us. In the UK – but by no means a singular example of this trend – many companies had laid off staff and social distancing within the workplace made things very difficult if not nearly impossible. Add to that half the world’s ships and containers were all in the wrong place plus a hangover from three months of non-production of materials and parts and the world economy still has some catching up to do!

These supply chain issues aside, we are now feeling the effects of a lack of suitably trained staff from CAD engineers to laminators to boat builders. So much so that subcontracting has really moved forward, whether it be design houses, interior joinery or simply finding self-employed engineers. Small marine engineering companies or self-employed tradesmen are being drafted in to work on the production of new boats. This also makes good commercial sense as anyone knows the market can – and usually does – go down after a period of boom and it is easier to downsize by letting go of subcontractors than closing wholly owned factories.

The shortage of boat inventory has seriously advantaged the refit market. For instance, the ‘third way’ is the new proposition from Chris Gates of emergent company SETAG Yachts. If you can’t find a suitable craft, buy a pre-owned boat and let them re-style and refit it. In this case, not a simple repair of the interior but a complete upgrade package can be had to your taste and pocket. In other areas, services like re-spray, PVC ‘wrapping’ and the ‘textile’ trades such as covers and upholstery are doing well as is the aftermarket chandlery trade for the first time in a while.

Where boating density is high, the lack of available craft, along with its often high price of entry to the sport, has seen new growth in shared ownership arrangements and in ‘clubs’ whereby you pay a subscription and have access to a range of boats for a given number of days. This also appeals to a growing number of ‘pay and play’ participants that wish to do many other things as well as boating.

In the main, the world has bounced back well from the Covid pandemic and our industry has been one of the beneficiaries. It’s now time to capitalize on the good time afforded to us by investing in the future, not only in skilled personnel but also in a sustainable boating future. We ignore both these at our peril!

David Lewin, GMBA-UK
+44 7767 687 987

Disclaimer: Global Marine Business Advisors and its associated website are not registered legal entities. GMBA is a network of independent marine industry advisors. In all articles the opinions expressed are those of the author and does not necessarily reflect those of GMBA