Marinas make the world go round

Written by Oscar Siches

Written by Oscar Siches

Partner and manager of two marinas in Mallorca for 15 years Oscar has been designer and consultant for marina projects in various countries, and designer of customized marina elements. He has shared his experience through more than 30 conferences in 12 countries and has written numerous articles for Marina World and other international nautical magazines. Oscar is a Certified Marina Professional, was founder director of the Global Marina Institute, member of ICOMIA’s Marinas Committee, member of PIANC Recreational Marine Committee, Convenor of ISO TC228 WG8“Yacht Harbours”, member of the Global Marine Business Advisers (GMBA) group and founding member of the Asia Pacific Superyacht Association.

For boat owners at both ends of the scale, from 40ft to 400ft, a place to park your pride and joy is essential. But if we keep buying boats, we need to keep building marinas…

There are, regardless of geography, race, and cultures, five major nautical regions: North America, South America, Europe, Oceania, the Far East, and the rest of the world. North America and Europe centralize approximately 80% of the world’s boating activity, including innovation and production. It is followed by Australia and New Zealand, and the rest trails after.

Why do I begin with this description of the distribution of navigation around our planet? I do this because in our times, most regions with only a small industry affect the others in one way or another, and sometimes we don’t understand how that influence will change the way we look at and use ships.

Western Europe was the birth of sailing, and sailing was the use of pleasure boats thanks to the Dutch, who had the ’jachts’, (hunters) small and very fast shallow boats to chase pirates or coastal bandits. Yachts began to be used for enjoyment and both the concept and word ‘jachting’ – ‘yachting’ – was born. 

The United Kingdom adopted the idea in the 17th century and this new sport became a typical European pastime.

There are countries where sailing is traditional and considered a ‘normal’ sport (e.g. France and Scandinavia) and others where it is considered an elitist pastime (Spain and Portugal) followed by the United Kingdom, Italy and Germany, with their own idiosyncrasies – and behaviours partly altered by the remnants of the pandemic and the current bellicose situation (insecurity, very careful economic recovery, social unrest, lack of a clear strategy to recover the “pax Europa”). Other countries simply drift along and hope to follow the strong EU bandwagon when peace and health are part of our lives again. 

But what is very interesting, is how the huge middle class in the EU – especially the 20 – 45 age segment (don’t take it too accurately, it’s part of a mix of experience, observation, and comments from colleagues) ‘rediscovered’ nautical activities. When Covid started to control their lives in 2021, they threw themselves into yachting and acquired large numbers of boats and water toys. This generation of buyers place much more importance on quality of life and environmental protection than on accumulating wealth for the sake of it. They also prefer boats that cause little or no harm to the environment, they share boats, or rent them, and the old feeling that ‘possession is good’ is fading fast. 

Most of these new boats were under 40ft, belonging to what I call the ‘social nautical segment’, those that the middle class can afford and do not cost much more than an average car of good quality. Gas guzzlers and noisy Cigarette powerboats are still there, but they’re in the minority, slowly diminishing, and still largely dependent on local culture (and fuel prices). As GMBA predicted in March 2022, supplies began to run short or suffered considerable delays, affecting all sectors of the industry: shipyards, services, ports and of course, sales. Meanwhile, stocks lasted, and 2022 was a good year, naturally following the success of 2021. Boat shows are back, mergers and acquisitions were announced almost every week (what we, associations, tried for years, the rules of economy achieved in a couple) we all met at METS and had the feeling of being on top again.

Marinas have not been affected these last two years like the rest of the industry. The inability to use the boats for part of 2020 didn’t mean a big drop in turnover, the boats were there anyway. Bars, service businesses, shops and restaurants suffered from the absence of customers, but not the marinas, or at least not most of them. The trend of not being able to create more berths to meet the needs of newly produced ships is felt everywhere, at reasonable levels in France or the UK, and to more extreme in Spain. Drystacks could fill a fair amount of the necessary slots, but Europe has had an aversion to it for 50 years (the drystacks of the early 70s were bad copies of the US) and it will still take some time to reverse that feeling, plus it’s the only viable solution for boat production.

Very few new marinas are being planned. Necessary environmental protection, economic uncertainty and a sharp rise in construction prices across the EU do not help, however. The only approved projects I know of are the extension of 250 berths to 27m in Nieuwpoort, Belgium, and upgrading a 600m berth superyacht marina in Malaga by IGY. There is news of a project in Ceuta, opposite Gibraltar on the other side of the strait, but I was there in 2006 for the same project: how can we believe in it?

The marinas of Western Europe have a future, a good one, without governments relying on them to act as King Midas and turn everything related to gold. The clientele is there and has no other option to dock the boats. There is a saying “when there are money problems the boat is the last thing to go”, well, that is valid, the relationship of most families with their boat is very close and strong, and includes a good dose of emotion. And human beings act on emotion. 

Berths are a bottleneck. I don’t see anything changing until the conflicts between Ukraine and Russia, and Israel and Palestine, are over and we can restart planning again. With peace, an increase in construction and economic activity will bring a few years of prosperity to the whole of Europe, and we will feel creative and stable again, and benefit from it.


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