UK boat firms on the crest of a wave

Britain's boat industry is rapidly recovering from recession, buoyed by a fast-growing export performance, according to figures released yesterday by the British Marine Industries Federation at the opening of Southampton International Boat Show.

Total industry turnover rose last year by 12 per cent to pounds 1.7bn, compared with pounds 1.5bn the previous year. Revenues in all sectors of the industry are increasing, although margins in the domestic market remain tight, with buyers generally cautious. Boat exports have soared from pounds 45m to pounds 182m, while overseas equipment sales were worth a record pounds 304m. Overall, exports accounted for 40 per cent of total sales.

Tony Beechey, executive chairman of the BMIF, said: "I think it would be hard to find another industry which is so widely diversified in which exports account for such a high percentage of turnover." Power boats are the big success story of the industry, with leading manufacturers such as Fairline, Princess and Sunseeker, all exporting 75 per cent or more of their production, at prices ranging from pounds 250 to pounds 750,000. Fairline, recently acquired by the Renwick group, builders of the Princess and Moody yachts, has seen sales recover from a recession-hit pounds 27m in 1992 to an anticipated pounds 44m this year, of which exports account for about 90 per cent.

But the recovery is by no means confined to the top end of the market. Somerset-based Henshaw, which makes small inflatable dinghies, with prices starting at less than pounds 1,000, reports that in the first 11 months of this financial year sales are 30 per cent up on 1993-94.

Used boat prices have also started to harden, says Ian Horobin of brokers Easton & Partners at Beaulieu, Hants. "Demand for good boats is definitely improving."

Southampton is the industry's annual showcase, with about 1,000 craft worth more than pounds 55m on offer. Billed as the world's biggest on-water boat show, the event brings together some 600 companies from all sectors of the leisure marine industry. The boats themselves range in price from less than pounds 600 to more than pounds 750,000.

The largest boat in the show, a Tarquin Signature 75, has three double cabins with en suite bathrooms - plus separate accommodation for the crew - indoor and outdoor dining space for eight or more, and, of course, a built-in garage. For the jet-ski, that is.

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