Big Boat Boom

At Macdonald Marine, Gerard Warner buffs and refinishes a sail boat. The owner of Gerard's Mobile Yacht Detailing is encouraged by waiting lists for slips. "That's a very good sign for the future."

At Macdonald Marine, Gerard Warner buffs and refinishes a sail boat. The owner of Gerard’s Mobile Yacht Detailing is encouraged by waiting lists for slips. “That’s a very good sign for the future.”

Lisa Grace Marr

The Hamilton Spectator

As far as Gerard Warner sees it, waiting lists for a slip in the Bay area can only mean one thing: job security.

The owner of Gerard’s Mobile Yacht Detailing has been working on boats since he was in sailing schools in St. Catharines.

“Every marina in the GTA pretty much has a waiting list for boats,” he said. “That’s a very good sign for the future.”

The City of Hamilton also expects growth in recreational boating. It is considering expanding the capacity of its Harbour West Marina by Pier 7 (next door to the Royal Hamilton Yacht Club) from 300 slips to about 700 if there’s a ‘business case’ for the slips, said Larissa Fenn, spokesperson for the Hamilton Port Authority. But Fenn added the expansion will likely not happen soon.

A recent Recreational Boating Feasibility and Capacity Study by the Region of Halton, Town of Oakville and City of Burlington found there are close to 1.6 million power and sail boaters in Ontario, and participation in all types of recreational boating activity is growing. It also found that the sport largely attracts people with middle-class incomes with an age range of about 35 to 54.

There is a projected increase in participation of recreational boating from 14.5 per cent in 2011 to 17.4 per cent by 2020, and by 2030 up to 19.6 per cent of Canadians.

Researchers also determined that the size of the boats being purchased by consumers is also increasing. It suggested that in Halton, the number of boats 20 feet and over will increase from about 4,287 in 2012 to about 7,790 by 2033. That will mirror a provincial trend.

The region determined that it would likely need an extra 2,490 slips by 2033 to accommodate this increase in demand, and that they would need to accommodate bigger recreational vessels.

Chris Marks said the study was not just intended to look at demand in the industry, but also how to respond to that demand.

“Phase 2 of the study is now being launched to look at where is the best spot for a marina across the Halton shoreline,” he said.

It’s expected the report will be complete by the second quarter of 2015. As for when the region gets a new marina or facility, that could take anywhere from another seven to 10 years, he said.

“We need to be aware of the fact that if we build a marina on the lake, we need a parking lot, boat storage, things that are a part and parcel of a facility,” he said.

In Hamilton, work on the Harbour West breakwall begins next year and it’s expected that the phases of development should be well under way within the next four years.

Chris Phillips, at the city’s planning and economic development department, said it’s just one of several projects under way to prepare the area for the harbour’s development.

“The breakwater structure’s main function is to reduce the impact on the shore of the waves and storm action on the harbour,” he said. “It helps give the area the long-term stability.”

He said work will also begin next spring on a new sanitary sewer pumping station on Pier 8, some infrastructure work, and the first stages of construction on new transient docks, part of the city’s renewed efforts to market the harbour as a tourism destination and an overhaul of the marina itself.

Kelly Flood, the new Harbour West Marina manager, said there is no doubt there will be growth in recreational boating, calling it “inevitable”.

Gerard Warner; "Every marina in the GTA pretty much has a waiting list for boats. That's a very good sign for the future."

Gerard Warner; “Every marina in the GTA pretty much has a waiting list for boats. That’s a very good sign for the future.”

But in addition to demand for slips and services for recreational boaters, he sees enormous potential for attracting larger visiting vessels as well as people with bigger boats needing slips. That is reflected in the redesign of the marina.

“People used to start out with a 20- to 25-foot boat. Now, a first boat is usually 25 to 40 feet. The technology has just made it easier to step into a larger boat,” said Flood. “There is a huge market potential (for the larger boat owner).”

Fenn said a new Harbour West website is also targeting tourists, not just those who travel by car but by boat.

“We wanted to highlight attractions,” she said. “People have no idea of what we have here. We’re targeting the whole area from Toronto to Niagara. They can make a visit to Hamilton and use Harbour West as their base to see Supercrawl, beer fest, fireworks. It’s a hidden gem.”

Gill Bibby, a boat builder in the city, said many people don’t even know there is a recreational marine industry in Hamilton as so many who sell and service recreational vessels have been pushed to the inner parts of the city away from the harbour.

“This is happening across North America,” he said. “(Municipalities) are setting up parks and walking paths all along the waterfront to increase public access. That’s fine, but there used to be a thriving marine industry (at the Hamilton Harbour). It’s been squeezed out. People need servicing on their boats, so where do they go?”

Flood said he expects that existing and new businesses will naturally find a place as the waterfront develops.

In Hamilton, the recreational marine industry may not be in an obvious central place in the city, but there’s no doubt it has an impact on the local economy with at least two dozen businesses and organizations directly involved in the industry.

The National Marine Manufacturers’ AssociationEND said in a 2012 economic impact study that nationally, the industry has about $4.4 billion in revenues a year with about 9.4 million Canadians who regularly go boating. As a consequence, there are about 4,400 direct service companies in the industry, with Ontario accounting for about half.

“By way of comparison, the direct economic impact of the recreational boating industry is comparable in size to the Canadian radio and television broadcasting industry or the newspaper publishing industry,” the report noted.

Warner, who also co-owns Bronte Shores Yacht Sales in Oakville, says service and sales to the industry have been strong throughout the region.

“It’s been really good. The economic slowdown didn’t seem to affect us too badly. We’ve been very lucky that way.”

905-526-3992 | @lisamatthespec

For more on the boating industry, check out Boating Industry Still Buoyant


One thought on “Big Boat Boom

  1. Nice article, well written and researched.
    The average boater is an average schmoe of average means – not the rich. Nice to see you help dispel that myth.
    And yes, there are a heck of a lot of people who go boating each year.
    Boaters bring big discretionary spending to the communities that have proper facilities. Investing in those facilities and expanding / building more will bring lasting permanent stimulus to those communities visionary enough to make that happen.
    Thank you for a great article.
    Please keep them coming.


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