Activity in the boat sector is on the rise in some major markets but not the UK, according to statistics from International Council of Marine Industry Associations (ICOMIA). In France, for example, used-boat purchases were up 5% last year to 65,000.

With new boat sales falling in the UK and far more used boat active in the middle and lower end than at the high end, the so-called ‘boat ladder’ is becoming a key factor in the industry.

How the ladder works

Investors in real estate are familiar with the term ‘property ladder,’ in which consumers buy a relatively inexpensive home, then sell it after a few years for a more expensive one, and continue to move up the ladder over their lifetimes.

Boat buyers have a similar ‘ladder. At Boatshed, there are a number of clients who have made 10 purchases over their lifetime, moving up the ladder every few years, comments Boatshed founder Neil Chapman. “A large part of this upward movement comes from increased exposure to boating. People find out that they like being out on the water, and then they want to do more of it more comfortably.”

More consumers are able to find nearly the exact boat they are looking for, within the price range they can afford. Individuals are entering the boat ladder at a low or mid-range level, and this is likely to become an increasingly important part of the industry in the UK.

“It’s up to the industry to focus on the lower and middle parts of the boat ladder, and to not keep a totally hypnotic focus on the top 2% ,” Chapman says, “Every boat and owner is very very important for the industry now”

Or, as the ICOMIA report puts it: “The industry must better its chances by continuing to work in the face of challenges, on the appeal, affordability and accessibility of its product, offering to a broader and more diverse demographic base.”