Brexit and the Boatbuilding Industry in the UK

Concern obviously is now being focused on the likely outcome of the Brexit vote and what consequences that may have for the English Leisure Marine Industry.

Opinions appear to be sharply divided as to the extent to which such an outcome may impact on production but there can be no hiding from the fact that certainly the great majority of Marine Manufactures in the UK rely heavily upon European Boat Builders for their custom.  The Government statistics for the Industry gathered in relation to the 2011 DTI Report indicated that even then the UK was significantly dependent upon EU Manufacturers for the supply of machinery and equipment, and that future growth was itself predicated upon the improvement of the market through the joining of former Eastern bloc countries into the EU and their anticipated improvement in wealth (and propensity to consume).

Regrettably that plan would appear (as so often) to have been somewhat optimistic, together with the presumption that China would also present a long term sustainable market for both vessels and equipment.

The present positon is therefore somewhat confused, with the UK providing considerable equipment but little in terms of volume boat sales into the EU.  The question is therefore whether the decision to leave the EU will itself impact upon sales in to the EU of equipment, as opposed to craft.

One of the benefits the UK has enjoyed over recent years is that, having established a head start in equipment and expertise, as manufacturing has moved increasingly offshore to the Far East, the UK has been able to preserve if not extend its preeminent role free of competition, simply because having established that role, other internal EU Manufacturers have never been able to develop the market within the tight margins that UK Manufacturers have habitually worked from.  The result is that the UK has largely preserved its market, simply because it was uneconomic for others to compete within it.

The question is therefore whether the decision to leave the EU will alter that position, and whether the EU would in any way seek to introduce some form of import controls which may have the effect of driving up UK delivered products to the point where local internal EU competition could flourish and in turn threaten the UK’s share of the market.

The devil will obviously be in the detail of any future trade deals or tariff arrangements, but with France and Italy clearly already looking to maximise their high volume production to remain profitable within a market which has seen sales falling across the EU and to a certain extent irrespective of size and type of craft, it would be difficult to see why Yacht Manufacturers within those Countries (which historically have exercised considerable influence over the domestic governments) would want to create a position by which, in the short term at least, their ready supply of UK products at discounted prices would be jeopardised, leaving them to call back upon undoubtedly more expensive (and possibly lower quality) internal EU products.

It will be interesting to observe, but clearly the industry itself is at present holding its breathe to await the outcome of the referendum.

There can be no doubt that the EU has and will continue to play a very important part in UK Sales, and in a world where large growth is no longer feasible, and everyone is working on tight margins, there is clearly very considerable benefit both to the English and EU Manufacturers in England remaining within the EU or certainly enjoying unrestricted trade, particularly given the present malaise in the Far East market.

We shall obviously have to wait and see


Tim is a Director and Head of the Marine department specialising in marine and admiralty law.

He specialises in all aspects of the law relating to pleasure vessels and is recognised as one of the foremost experts in the field, addressing a vast range of issues from contractual to technical, via the statutory and occasionally bizarre.

Practising internationally, Tim represents owners, insurers, boatyards and high profile marine organisations, as well as those buying or selling their boats. 

After working for brief periods as a boat builder, yacht chandler and professional sailor, he went on to study Admiralty Law at the University of Wales in Cardiff where he obtained his law degree. He is a member of the Royal Yachting Association and the British Marine Federation.

  • Technical construction disputes
  • Contractual disputes
  • Marine conveyancing
  • Title disputes
  • Salvage and towage
  • Recreational Craft Directive / Maritime and Coastguard Agency compliance
  • Marine related personal injury and fatalities