Boat ownership, female participation and canoeing on the rise

According to new research 3.5m UK adults participated in one or more of twelve boating activities in 2014. This remains at a similar level to 2013 at 7.1% of the total adult population in the UK.

Participation in any watersports activity in addition to the twelve core boating activities2 stands at 13.1m (26.8% of UK adults).  This is a slight decline of 2% points (compared to 28.8% in 2013), however this still remains higher than in 2011 and 2012.  

The Watersports Participation Survey is conducted annually by a consortium of leading marine bodies including British Marine Federation, RYA, Maritime and Coastguard Agency, Royal National Lifeboat Institution, British Canoeing and Marine Management Organisation.

Key findings:

Gender: female participation in ‘any boating activity’ continues a steady increase since 2010 and is now at the joint highest (6.2%, 2007) it has been since the study began in 2002. Males are more likely to be enthusiasts than females with 28% participating more than six times per year, compared to 17% for females.

Age: participation in ‘any boating activity’ amongst those over 55 has been steadily increasing since 2011 and it is now at its highest volume since the survey began; the volume increase since 2002 stands at 66%.  For the 16-34 and 35-54 age groups, participation rates have remained fairly stable over the past 6 years.

Activity: canoeing participation rate continues to rise and has now reached a high of 3.1% participation (1.5m people compared to 3.0% and 1.4m).  The other two boating activities to see slight increases are power boating and canal boating with increases of 0.2% and 0.1% respectively.  Motor boating/cruising and small sail boat activities remain the second most popular, both with 1.1% of the population (522,000 and 518,000 respectively).

Casual v enthusiast: following a rise last year in ‘casual’ participants in boating activities (less than six times), there has been a shift this year with a slight fall in ‘casuals’ and a corresponding rise in the proportion of ‘enthusiasts’ (more than six times a year), returning closer to previously seen levels at 77%.

Boat ownership: more than 1.2 million boats are owned by households in the UK, an increase to 1,214,154 in 2012-14 (from 1,163,726 in 2011-13). This is despite a slight fall in the number of boat-owning households on 2011-13 rates but remains higher than that recorded in 2008-10.

The most popular craft to own is still a canoe/kayak, which now make up 47% of the total number owned (573,614); since 2008-10 the number owned has increased by 55%. The next most popular are small sailing boats which account for 17% of boats/craft (204,670) and motor boats3 at 7% (82,799).  95 per cent of the boats are kept in the UK.

Howard Pridding, Chief Executive of British Marine Federation said: “The figures for the number of people participating in boating and watersports are encouraging but there’s also plenty of room for growth. Getting out on the water is a hugely enjoyable pastime whether you’re a casual participant or much more of an enthusiast, and the marine industry is in great shape to provide plenty of opportunities to enable this.”

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