B.C.'S Newest Growth Industry
Recreational boating has $1.3 billion in spinoffs to dealers, service stores, marinas and manufacturers
Mention recreation in British Columbia to anyone, and among the images conjured will be those of kayakers, power boaters, yachting enthusiasts, and other aquatically inclined people having fun on the province's innumerable waterways.
So alluring are the images — and boating itself — that they tend to obscure the proposition of boating being big business in B.C.
In fact, it's a huge industry that has grown by almost 30 percent in the past five years. Last year, a National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) Canada study found that recreational boating injected $1.3 billion into B.C.'S economy in 2016 on revenues of $2.2 billion, and employed nearly 17,000 British Columbians — with boat dealers and service stores, marinas, and boat manufacturers among the biggest contributors within the core industry.
“Recreational boating causes revenue to flow into other sectors, such as tourism. In 2016, B.C. residents and visitors spent almost $1.8 billion on goods and services,” says Don Prittie, President of Boating BC — the voice of recreational boating in the province with 315 member companies.
The NMMA report also highlighted the critical importance of recreational boating in smaller communities by noting that the populations of small towns where boating is prevalent more than double during the summer season.
Marinas are a focal point for activity, and many towns experience a steady increase in boaters year after year.
Barbara Desjardins, Mayor of Esquimalt, says the city has actively encouraged recreational boating trade for decades by ensuring the public has ample access to the water. “We recognize the significant positive economic impact and how it benefits our businesses overall— especially during summer when visitors come in droves with their kayaks and other craft. They not only patronize our waterways, but also our restaurants, stores and other venues.”
Better still, with the B.C. economy firing on all cylinders, the industry is growing. Brendan Keys, who became a boating enthusiast shortly after emigrating from Ireland in 1989 and today is a partner of GA Checkpoint Yamaha (one of the province's leading inflatable and outboard dealers), says: “Our sales have grown 20 to 25 percent annually for the past three years, and the appeal of the pastime is that you're not just buying a boat, you're buying into a lifestyle, one that is all-inclusive: whether it's a $500 kayak or a yacht you can sail up and down the coast, there's an ideal boat for you.”
Keys doesn't expect the growth to abate any time soon. “Thanks to retiring boomers seeking the good life, and newcomers to B.C. with a lot of disposable income, business will continue to be brisk,” he says. “Add the fact that our summers are becoming longer and drier, and you have an industry full of opportunity.”
But it is also an industry facing its fair share of challenges. B.C.'S white-hot real estate market is causing substantial transformations of cities and small towns, including more waterfront development. “Unfortunately, we're seeing a decline in the number of free and accessible places where boaters can get to the water,” says Prittie.
Plus, as is the case with many other industries, the recreational boating