Recreational Boats are Popular

The number of new recreational boats is steadily increasing worldwide. But the increase in recreational skippers and their boats in all size classes results in more boat breakdowns and accidents. DEKRA’s DEKRAmaritim department must also prepare for this.

The recreational boating industry owes much of its boom to the Covid 19 pandemic. Photo: Shutterstock/EpicStockMedia

Skippers of recreational boats are currently in similar positions as people buying cars, household appliances, or consumer electronics: The demand for sport boats of all sizes is immense, the delivery times for newly ordered boats and ships are sometimes measured in years, and the second-hand market is practically empty. Of course, this boom is taking place in lower numbers than for cars and the like, but the rates of increase are nevertheless impressive: While ownership of a motorized pleasure craft stagnated at around 220,000 private boat owners in Germany from 2018 to 2020, the number rose to 240,000 (+9 percent) in 2021, according to statistics portal Statista – and by the end of 2022, also according to Statista, the number is expected to reach 280,000 (+27 percent compared to 2020).

In France, around 13,000 new boats were sold in 2021, compared to just under 11,000 new registrations in 2020. However, this figure includes both motorized boats and sailboats. Globally, people purchased about 180,000 new recreational boats in 2020, according to market research firm Interconnection Consulting. In 2021, this figure grew to approximately 216,000, and around 281,000 are expected in 2022.

All surveys agree on one issue: The recreational boating industry owes its boom primarily to the Covid 19 pandemic. Early on, the saying “the virus can’t swim” circulated among the boating crowd, meaning that family vacations from houseboats to yachts offered a chance to escape your own four walls without risking too close and frequent contact with other people. Thus, many people who were able to afford it decided to invest in their own pleasure boat.

More boat breakdowns and accidents

However, the boom is also accompanied by a significant increase in boat breakdowns and accidents – proportionately much more often than can be explained by the rising number of owners alone, in fact. This is what Wolfgang Dauser, owner and managing director of the maritime breakdown service SeaHelp, reports: In 2021, his company had to provide aid four times as often as in the previous year – the number of operations added up to well over 1,000 for the entire year. One suspected reason: Due to the pandemic and lockdowns, a lot of the required service work was left undone, especially before the winter. As a result, both experienced and new boat owners set sail with inadequately maintained or even unmaintained vessels. This resulted in breakdowns due to hot-running engines caused by overgrown cooling water systems or contaminated fuel – or prematurely worn batteries due to unfavorable charging treatment.

Jo Becker, an expert for boat building at DEKRAmaritim, also reports on the consequences of Corona in his line of work: “Recently, we have also seen a significant increase in accidents.” The damage that Jo Becker and his colleagues assess on behalf of boat owners or also ship insurance companies ranges from minor jostling when maneuvering in port to considerable damage caused, for example, by collisions or ships running aground on cliffs, sandbanks, or other shoals. Joe Becker reports that sometimes such cases can also be clearly traced back to the fact that new ship owners have simply overestimated their abilities.

Expert supervision of repairs and restorations

Jo Becker has been building the DEKRAmaritim department, under the umbrella of DEKRA Automobil, since 2010, initially practically on his own. Today he works with around 20 specialized colleagues. The team not only prepares expert reports on accidents, but also, for example, on behalf of boat buyers, for occupational health and safety inspections, or on behalf of the Water and Shipping Authority. Another focus is the expert supervision of repairs or restorations. When it comes to restoring yachts that are almost a century old, for example, a great deal of expertise is necessary to balance original equipment with modern technology – including knowledge of the applicable regulations and standards.

“Over the years, we have accumulated a wealth of experience and data. In over ten years, there has not been a single complaint about our services,” emphasizes Jo Becker. He is due to retire in the fall of 2022. “But I have extended my contract by another two years,” the boat building expert states. He wants to use the additional time to find and train more junior staff for further DEKRA branches. More information about DEKRAmaritim’s services is available at www.dekra.de/gutachten-sportschiffe.

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From Dinghy to Yacht – Boat Types 101

Pleasure craft – This category includes all types of recreational craft. Motorized pleasure boats are differentiated according to further typifications, for example in bowrider, runabout, or day cruiser, as well as in smaller sport yachts. The CE sports boat directive valid in Europe recognizes lengths from 2.5 to 24 meters. Anyone who wants to use a sports boat on the open seas needs a boat with “CE Seaworthiness Category A”. It confirms that the boat can withstand wind forces of up to 8 Beaufort and wave heights of more than 4 meters. The less demanding categories B to D are designed for cruising in offshore waters with lower wind forces and wave heights. In other parts of the world, other classifications apply in some cases.

Sailboat – Regardless of length, this term refers to all sports boats that are mainly driven by wind. Whether a sailing license is required to operate such a boat varies from region to region and depends primarily on the sail area. In order to be able to maneuver, especially in harbors or calm conditions, many sailboats have at least an auxiliary engine. If the boat is equipped with an engine with a power of more than 15 hp, the skipper must have a suitable sailing or boating license. The smallest representatives of this boat category are called “dinghy” in technical terminology. If a sailboat has a berth and a galley (kitchen), it is called a “cruiser”. If there are several decks and the length measures more than 10 meters, it is called a sailing yacht. Sometimes the boat types are also differentiated according to the shape of the hull – experts then speak of S-frame, U-frame, and hard chine frame. Another categorization is based on the rigging and distinguishes between single-masters, two-masters, and so on.

Motorboat – Motorized boats no longer than 15 meters and with an engine power of no more than 15 hp (11 kW) may in many cases be driven by people 16 and older, even without a boating license. There are exceptions to this rule, for example in Germany on the Rhine or Lake of Constance – and an extensive briefing with a few training hours should still precede that first boat trip. If you have a boating license, motorboats can also be larger and heavier.

Motor yacht –  This category is often referred to from a boat length of 9 meters. There are hardly any upper limits, the longest luxury yachts measure over 150 meters. Smaller models are often designed for special leisure activities, such as fishing or participating in regattas. Motor yachts with double hulls are called motor catamarans.

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