Ireland's sailing, boating & maritime magazine

UK Boating Participation Buoyed by a Budding Community

1st March 2016
Small sail boat activity remains the second most popular boating activity in the UK Small sail boat activity remains the second most popular boating activity in the UK

According to new research released today, 3.2m UK adults participated in one or more of 12 boating activities in 2015. This accounts for 6.5% of the total adult population in the UK. In light of the poor weather conditions and an overall downward trend experienced across recreational sports last year, boating outperformed many of its counterparts observing only a minimal decline of 0.6 percentage points in UK participation (compared to 7.1% in 2014). This is in contrast to the higher declines reported by other sports.

In particular canoeing, which remained the most popular boating activity in 2015 (2.9% of UK adults), is only bettered by two other sports when it comes to the biggest increase in participation in recent years.

The research also found that participation in any watersports activity, in addition to the 12 core boating activities, including hobbies such as sea angling, leisure subaqua diving and coasteering, stood at 12.4m (25.2% of UK adults) in 2015. This is a slight decline of 1.6 percentage points (compared to 26.8% and 13.1m in 2014), however still remains higher than the 2011 pre-Olympics figure.

The Watersports Participation Survey is conducted annually by a consortium of leading marine bodies including British Marine, Royal Yachting Association (RYA), Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), British Canoeing (BC) and the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas).

Key findings
Popular activities: the most popular boating activities stayed much the same in 2015 with canoeing welcoming 1.4m UK participants and motor boating/cruising and small sail boat activities remaining the second most popular, both with 0.9% of the population (421,000 and 418,000 respectively).
Other activities which fared well in 2015 included canal boating, the use of personal watercraft and yacht racing, which all maintained steady participation figures (379,000, 171,000 and 94,000 UK adults respectively). Surfing, bodyboarding and paddleboarding saw a combined 996,000 UK participants (2.0% of the UK population), a rise of 0.6 percentage points on the previous year (from 711,000 and 1.4% in 2014).
Frequency: 2015 saw a continued steady rise in the frequency of boating participation since 2013. During this time, participation of the 12 boating activities in the UK has risen from just below five times, to close to six times. In addition, UK participation in any watersport activity has also seen an increase over the last four years from roughly eight times to 10.
Boat ownership: boat ownership has stayed stable, with an average of 1.1m boats, including 530,642 canoes and kayaks and 178,433 small sailing boats, owned by households in the UK in 2013-15. Since 2010 there has been a rise in craft being kept in the UK rather than abroad and in 2015 this peaked with 95% of boats being kept in the UK.
In addition, although a third of participants were the owner of the craft, the most popular way to take to the water in 2015 was on a friend or family member’s boat (41.4% of participants).
Inland vs. coastal: in previous years the difference between inland and coastal participation of any boating activity has stood equal at 50% each, but 2015 saw a slight shift towards more people taking to the UK’s lakes, canals and rivers (53% inland, compared to 47% coastal participation).
Importance of the weather: historically there has been a strong correlation between the temperature and activity rate. With 2014 recorded as the hottest year on average since 1910, whereas 2015 saw a drop in sunshine hours and average temperature, the slight decrease of participation in 2015 can be somewhat understood by this relationship.
This correlation is particularly evident when studying activities outside of the 12 boating activities which reported some of the biggest decreases in participation. This included a decline of 1.8 percentage points in leisure time at the beach and a fall of 0.6 percentage points in participation of outdoor swimming in 2015.
Howard Pridding, Chief Executive of British Marine, said: “Between 2013 and 2014, boating and watersports took place in the context of some of the UK’s best weather of the last decade. In light of this, it is encouraging that in 2015, despite milder conditions, levels of boating participation have remained steady.
“The forthcoming months offer tremendous opportunities to encourage more people to get out on the water. By building on the exposure that the 2016 Olympics & Paralympics and the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series brings to our industry, more people will be able to take the chance to safely enjoy the rich experiences that being on the water can provide.”
Hannah Mills, 2012 Olympic Silver Medallist sailor and returning competitor to the 2016 Olympics, advocates her support for increasing boating participation: “You don’t need to be rich and you don’t need to have the sea on your doorstop. There are little reservoirs and lakes and you don’t need your own boat. You can just go along, pay a small bit of money, jump in a boat and have a go. It’s a very accessible sport but I don’t think people really realise that.”

Published in News Update Team

About The Author Team

Email The Author is Ireland's dedicated marine journalism team.

Have you got a story for our reporters? Email us here.

We've got a favour to ask

More people are reading than ever thanks to the power of the internet but we're in stormy seas because advertising revenues across the media are falling fast. Unlike many news sites, we haven’t put up a paywall because we want to keep our marine journalism open. is Ireland's only full–time marine journalism team and it takes time, money and hard work to produce our content.

So you can see why we need to ask for your help.

If everyone chipped in, we can enhance our coverage and our future would be more secure. You can help us through a small donation. Thank you.

Direct Donation to Afloat button