My sources tell me that hire boat bookings are consistent with this time last year, but my money is on 2009 being a bumper year in the final analysis.
Some sectors are becoming unexpected beneficiaries of the recession and it will be amusing if the slow nature of the canal boat hiring industry has something in common with fast food. I expect a flurry of late bookings as people realise that they will have a job in the summer, but are reluctant to spend the inflated prices needed for European or American destinations. As with eating out, people will trade down for their 2009 holidays.
To my mind, boating could be looking down the gun barrels of its own demographic time bomb, which would be bad news for all boat owners. Let me explain my thinking:
· The last 15 years of economic prosperity has parallelled an explosion in boat ownership, evidenced by the shortage of moorings and the belated opening on new marinas.
· A recent IWA survey indicated that about 80% of all boats are owned by the over 50’s.
· These boat purchases were largely funded from property sales and lump sum retirement packages (the market for boat loans is very small).
· Reduced property and pension values are not going to deliver the lump sums needed to sustain this expansion for the foreseeable future.
· The boat owning community will age and become less inclined to spend their time and money on cruising.
· Reduced demand for boats will decimate the new build industry
· Increased volumes of second hand craft for sale will outstrip demand, driving down values.
Fewer boats = less license income = less incentive to maintain the network
This is an unattractive scenario and it is in all our interests to see a thriving hire boat industry. We all started on hire boats and it is the standard point of entry into our watery world. We therefore need the next generation to catch the boating bug, and that demands exposure to the source of the infection.
I often read negative comment about hire boaters but I welcome them all. Like social clubs, churches and waterway restoration groups, the boat owning community needs a steady supply of new blood. Without it we die. Not today, not tomorrow, but slowly, member by member - we reduce.
So here’s to hire boats and all who sail in them. Yes, they can be a bit erratic at first but they are an essential part of the cycle of boating life. What’s more, they are our potential new neighbours and friends.