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New figures show boost in boating popularity amongst women and young people

Published on: 16 April 2019

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New figures out today by a consortium of leading marine bodies[1], show participation in any watersports activity[2] has risen by 1.1% to 17 million - an increase of 700,000 UK adults since 2017. However, overall, participation in the core 12 boating activities has decreased slightly by 0.1% to 3.9 million.

The gap between male and female participation in boating activities continues to narrow with the number of women participating increasing by 436,000 since 2002 (83,000 since 2017) and the number of men decreasing by 324,000 (107,000 since 2017). Boating is also becoming increasingly popular with the younger generation, with participation amongst 16-34 years olds continuing to increase since 2016, from 9% to 11%[3] in two years.

In 2018 trips to the beach (up 1.9% to 10.1 million) and outdoor swimming (up 1% to 6.2 million) both increased, as did coastal walking (up 0.2% to 7.7 million). The report attributes this to 2018’s reduced rainfall and high levels of summer sunshine hours, the highest since 2002.

As well as trips to the beach increasing due to last year’s hot weather, more families also chose to holiday at home. The report suggests this may have contributed to canal boating having the biggest increase in volume, with 100,000 more people spending time on barges compared to 2017. 

Canoeing continues to be the most popular boating activity with 1.8 million people participating in the sport in 2018. This is likely to be attributed to canoes and kayaks being the most widely owned of all the craft types, due to their lower cost and easier storage options. The proportion of people owning a canoe has continued to increase and is at its highest level (1.4% of UK households) since the annual Watersports Participation Survey first launched in 2002.

Lesley Robinson, CEO at British Marine said: Watersports are a brilliant way to relax, spend time with family and friends and to keep fit, so it’s no surprise participation in such activities continues to rise. With lots of new affordable ways to participate in the main boating pastimes, like renting a boat via the popular Borrow a Boat website, we’d encourage people across the country to get out on the water over the Easter break.

“We are delighted to see more women and young people enjoying boating activities such as windsurfing, sailing and canoeing. At the moment, boating enthusiasts are predominantly older, so it is important the industry does all it can to make boating as accessible as possible to this new generation of fans in the making.”

Over the past 3 years, participation in watersports has continued to increase, as has boat ownership. Consumer confidence[4] has increased slightly this year but remains much lower compared to 2014.

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).

The consortium members are dedicated to making boating more accessible to the younger generation, marginalised groups and people with disabilities. The theme for this year’s Southampton International Boat Show Powered by Borrow a Boat (13th - 22nd September) is accessibility and inclusivity.

The executive summary can be downloaded here



[1] The consortium includes 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).

[2] Any watersports activity covers coasteering, leisure subaqua diving, outdoor swimming, leisure time beach, coastal walking, cliff climbing, sea angling, angling, kitesurfing, paddle sports, paddleboarding, bodyboarding, stand up surfing, surf body paddle and the 12 core boating activities(which cover small sail boat racing, other small sail boat activities, yacht racing, yacht cruising, power boating, general motor boating/cruising, canal boating, canoeing, rowing/sculling, windsurfing, water skiing and wakeboarding and using personal watercraft).

[3] Boating participation has increased from 9% of 16-34 year old population to 11% of 16-34 year old population since 2016.

[4] According to the Consumer Confidence Indicator, which shows how optimistic or pessimistic consumers are. It is published by OECD.org (https://data.oecd.org/leadind/consumer-confidence-index-cci.htm)