Buoyant Sales Boating Industry Rides Wave

The Düsseldorf boat show – the world's largest trade fair for boats – showcases everything from tiny dinghies to luxury super-yachts. Strong sales are expected again at this year's show, which runs until the end of the month.
Scrubbing down the decks at Boot 2016.

Has secret agent James Bond motored up the Rhine? Not exactly. But visitors to the annual Düsseldorf boat show – called simply "Boot" – can admire his runabout, the original submersible Lotus Esprit from the The Spy Who Loved Me film. It's a genuine attraction that puts Beiderbeck Designs, a company that designs super yachts, in the limelight.

More than 1,800 exhibitors are expected to attend this year's Boot, the world’s largest trade fair for boats and aquatic sports equipment, which runs until January 31.

The display for Bavaria Yachts, one of Europe’s largest yacht builders, has been drawing many visitors. On Sunday, the firm introduced its latest model, the Bavaria E40, which can travel on both inland waterways and oceans. But the real innovation is a hybrid motor that uses diesel fuel and electricity.

“We notice more and more that shipyards orient their schedules to the boat show to present their innovations to the public,” said Goetz-Ulf Jungmichel, the show’s director.

Many people think boating is elitist or complicated. Jürgen Tracht,, Managing Director, German Water Sports Industry Association

The trade fair is extremely important for boatbuilders.

“We have many sales at the trade fair,” said Marcus Schlichting, spokesman for Bavaria Yachts. “Last year, we had 100 new orders. We want to surpass that number this year.”

The mood in the industry is buoyant. “Everything points to continuing positive development of the last two years,” said Jürgen Tracht, managing director of Germany’s water sports industry association.

In the group’s latest survey, more than four of every five water sports firms said the business climate was as good or even better than the previous year. The industry had total revenues of more than €1.8 billion ($1.95 billion) in 2015, up 2.4 percent compared to 2014.

Motorboats are all the rage, with 50 new models on display in seven of the show's 17 halls. Among the highlights are the 30-meter luxury yacht from Princess – the largest yacht at the fair – and the Explorer 24 by Drettmann, which is exhibiting in Düsseldorf for the first time since 2010.

The displays are especially ostentatious in Hall 6, where the super-ships are displayed. But visitors also come to see new technologies, such as the latest POD propulsion systems, which utilize separate diesel and electric motors and makes boats more maneuverable. The motors look like a little submarine docked beneath the vessel.

Boatbuilders are increasingly catering to luxury tastes.

 

Outside the trade fair halls, motorboats also dominate the international market. According to the water sports industry group, the ratio of motor to sailboats is 4 to 1 in Europe. It appears that Germany, traditionally a nation of sailors, is joining the motor trend.

“More and more German customers are interested in motorboats today,” Mr. Tracht said.

One reason is that motorboats are easier to handle, especially for beginners. Also, typical boat buyers – who are usually aged 50 years and upward – are inclined to go that route because of their age, added Mr. Tracht.

Another trend among customers is for comfort and flexibility.

“Customers are no longer prepared to make do without things on the boat,” Mr. Tracht said. “They want to go where they want and to have enough space.”

This is not only true for big boats and yachts. The largest motorboat builders at Boot, the French shipyards Bénéteau and Jeanneau, are offering more and more small boats with outboard motors. Also, more shipyards such as Bavaria Yachts are offering vessels suitable for both sea and inland travel.

The rush of trade fair visitors this year shows how great demand is. On the opening weekend alone, more than 80,100 buyers, entrepreneurs and aquatic sports enthusiasts were counted at the gates.

Some of them were also families, who were welcome on Sunday. For them, Boot was an appealing weekend outing. Children, for example, could practice their first maneuvers on small, light sailboats under expert supervision, thanks to a wind machine.

The industry is glad to see this because, in spite of the upbeat mood, water sports lack new blood. “Many people think boating is elitist or complicated,” Mr. Tracht said.

He acknowledged that this is also the fault of the industry, which for years extolled only luxury ships. To set things straight, this year’s show also saw the start of a national “Start Boating” campaign — to encourage a new generation to head to the water.

 

Elena Brenk-Lücke is an intern at Handelsblatt, Regine Palm is a Handelsblatt editor, writing about commodities, machine makers and the trade fair industry. To contact the authors: [email protected]