A spike in boat sales due to COVID-19 restrictions on foreign travel has resulted in many brokers in the UK struggling to find stock

COVID-19 restrictions on foreign travel have led to a marked increase in second-hand and new boat sales in the UK, with many brokers struggling to find stock to meet demand.

SE Yachts, which are agents for Najad and Arcona Yachts, is reporting a 50% increase in sales in the last 12 months.

Berthon International has described the growth in sales as ‘extraordinary’.

Figures from British Marine show that in 2020, new and used boat sales grew by 9%, a reversal of the 8% decline in boat sales seen in 2019 due to slowing global and domestic economic growth.

Initially, there was a 40% slump in sales during the UK’s first national lockdown between March and May 2020, but this rebounded rapidly in the summer, with boat sales between June and the end of December 2020 growing by over 50% compared to the same period in 2019.

Participation in RYA training courses has increased alongside a rise in boat sales

Participation in RYA training courses has increased alongside a rise in boat sales. Credit: David Harding

The co-director of SE Yachts, Alasdair Marshall, said boats were continuing to sell very well.

‘In the last 12 months there have been so few brokerage boats on the market that this has led to more new boat sales for us. We have seen a 50% increase, with the Arcona 435, 385 and 345 selling really well.

‘The industry is buoyant and it is a success story, and that success has kept a lot of hard-working families in the industry going.’

Marshall said it was ‘best not to try and predict’ if the boat-buying boom would continue, adding that brokers were used to a surge in sales being followed by a slowing down of the market.

Berthon International, which has offices in Lymington, France, Scandinavia, Spain and the USA, said the rise in demand for boats has not just been confined to the UK.

Managing director Sue Grant said their USA office had sold out of boats and all of their sales teams were on a permanent listings drive.

She said while motorboat sales had been ‘phenomenal’, there was also growth in yacht purchases.

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‘This was a challenging segment of the market, but suddenly people are buying back into it. It is extraordinary. When we went into the first lockdown we focused on building a new website and totally overhauling our marketing offering as we didn’t know what would become of the market at that time. The available technology and the change in circumstances means people are now more willing to buy blind and we now sell yachts to people who we have never met or seen.
We have rarely seen demand like this,’ said Grant, who added that buyers wanted ‘plug and play’ yachts rather than refit projects.

She said she expected the UK boat market to normalise fairly quickly, and that any slowdown would be connected to the economic cycle.

The growth in boat ownership has also led to a rise in sailors seeking qualifications, with the RYA reporting a sharp increase in both shorebased and practical courses, particularly RYA Powerboat Level 2 and Day Skipper.

The RYA’s director of training and qualifications Richard Falk said although centres had to reduce capacity due to COVID-19 restrictions, many were reporting ‘that they are busier than ever, and that their forward bookings into late summer and early autumn are at capacity.

‘This is wonderful news for boating safety and all the centres who have been restricted in their operations throughout the pandemic,’ he added.