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Ireland needs a necklace

30th April 2008

A necklace of safe harbours and marinas around the coast is essential to begin realising the true economic potential of the marine sector, according to a new paper on the issue by the Irish Marine Federation.

Marine Leisure – the Irish market
The market for new boat sales in Ireland in 2006 was estimated at €70 million (Lombard Finance). This figure is the amount advanced by the banks for the purchase of new boats for Irish customers both home based and for boats destined for overseas markets owned by Irish nationals. The Irish Marine Federation estimates that the domestic market for new boats in Ireland to be worth €50 million per annum. This does not take into consideration boats bought second hand or new boats bought for cash. The existing Irish boat park would be considered to be elderly in international terms with the majority of boats being older than 20 years.
Due to the lack of any official boat registration scheme, putting an accurate figure on the size of the Irish boat park is difficult. The internationally accepted figure (ICOMIA) is 25,000 boats. This is made up from the known number of marina berths, boats on swinging moorings, registered boats on the inland waterways, sailing dinghies in club dinghy parks and an estimate of leisure boats kept at home and trailed to the water.
This gives Ireland a boat ratio ownership of 1 boat to every 172 people in the population. The UK has a boat ownership ratio of 1 boat to every 106. The European average is 1 boat to 46. (ICOMIA statistics).
Ireland currently has 3,300 marina berths spread across 22 coastal marinas. A further 325 plus berths will be added to Dun Laoghaire marina in the next few weeks, bringing the national berth total to 3,625. Most of this growth has been achieved in the past ten years, however, the time taken to achieve developments is extremely slow given the twin track approach of both planning and foreshore lease/licence process.

Looking ahead on Irish waters
The ESRI in a 2003 study commissioned by the Marine Institute estimates that 142,000 adults are actively involved in water sports activities - 28,900 use a sailing boat with an auxiliary engine; 17,000 plus are engaged in competitive sailing on a regular basis; and on average around 50,000 people take to the water on an average summer weekend.
Ireland has almost 9,000 kilometres of coastline plus a further 1,000 kilometres of navigable waterways, providing the natural environment for water sports. In addition, Ireland has some of acknowledged best cruising grounds in Europe off our South West coast. The islands off the west coast as far as Donegal offer unspoilt cruising grounds which unfortunately do not have access to the landside for visiting cruising boats.
Few marina facilities exist between Kinsale and Cahersiveen, making cruising in this attractive area more difficult than it should be in 2007. Cruising boats are no longer prepared to anchor every night of a two-week cruise when internationally accepted procedure is to pull into a safe marina for the night.
To accommodate existing waiting lists in Dublin, Howth, Kilmore Quay and Cork, there is an immediate need for an additional 1,000 berths, making a total of around 4,500 nationally.
To increase the size of the Irish boat ownership ratio to that of the UK, the industry in Ireland must grow by almost 40%. If boat ownership increased to the UK average of 1 boat to every 106 people, Ireland would require 6,020 plus berths. To increase the boat ownership ratio to the European average would require a total of almost 23,000 berths. Even when fully developed, Dun Laoghaire marina will be comparatively small in relation to most of the marinas located in mainland Europe which often have in excess of 3,500 berths.

Going global    
The global market for marine leisure is put at €928bn (2005) per annum with a predicted growth of 14% over the period 2005 to 2007. Marine tourism is the second biggest sector after shipping and transport. The sector is significantly larger than the fishing industry, valued globally at €250bn (2005) per annum (Douglas –Westwood Ltd for the marine Inst.)
The Irish market for marine leisure is put at €680m per annum. This is made up of water-based tourism (€566m and elements of “other marine services” such as boat sales, chandlery etc. which account for a further €121m per annum). Overall this sector supports in excess of 3,200 jobs.
These figures are based on the Marine Institute’s “Ireland’s Ocean Economy & Resources” Dec. 2005. The figures quoted for the marine industry are based on the 2005 Irish Marine Federation Business survey which put annual boat sales in Ireland at €30 million. This figure is in need of an update as estimates from Lombard Finance Ltd based recorded lending for boat purchase in Ireland for 2006 in excess of €80m.

Access to the Sea
The perception that boating is an exclusive pastime has long been fostered by images of exclusive yacht clubs. Most of these clubs in times past managed swinging moorings which, while taking large amounts of ground space, restricted the number of boats that could be accommodated. Marinas provide access to the sea at all states of the tide and also provide efficient use of valuable ground space. The advent of the large marinas in Dun Laoghaire and Malahide provide berths for boat owners who are not necessarily members of yacht clubs, therefore giving access to the sea for everyone who can afford a marina berth.
The perception that boating is an exclusive undertaking is also challenged as the majority of boats based on the marinas are in fact affordable boats. Already the number of berths available for small boats in the recently extended Dun Laoghaire marina has been filled and a new waiting list is in place. Boats under 6metres form the majority of boats on most Irish marinas. The Irish boat park is old by international standards with the majority of craft being in the range of 15 to 20 years old. The other significant change is the continual price reduction in the cost of new boats. The cost of a new 30-foot sail boat is now under €90,000. This compares favourably with the cost of a luxury car at the lower end of the luxury car market sector. The fact is that most boats on marinas are smaller craft and are valued at significantly less than €40,000. It is possible to buy a new 18 ft. to 20ft. boat complete with an outboard engine for less than €20,000. Marinas provide safe and easy access to the sea for everyone, regardless of their social standing or inherent wealth. Boat owners who have invested in a new boat do not want to have it swinging off 20’ of chain with access only after having rowed out to the vessel.

Marine Clusters
The development of subsidiary businesses attached to marinas is important to the sustainability of the business. It is estimated b the Yacht Harbours Association that the smallest stand-alone marina must have in excess of 200 berths to make it economically viable if it has no ancillary businesses at the same location. Small marinas need ancillary businesses to support the running costs associated with any business.
Dingle Marina is a good example of a marine cluster operating from the marina building, sailing school, diving school, ferry boat operator, café and chandlery shop.
Other support businesses include boat yards, boat and engine repair, boat sales.
Malahide Marina supports three main dealers in boat sales, a shared facility boat repair shed, several boat maintenance companies and a chandlery shop.


The data used in this study was assembled from independent studies conducted in Ireland for a number of organisations, both state sponsored and commercial representative bodies. Collected between 2003 and 2007, the data is empiric and can be verified as all research has been conducted using probability sampling and economic models.  Case studies attached to this report will be published in Afloat. Team

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