Monday, December 21, 2009

Boatbuilding in the recession

The financial woes of the world have had serious impact on the leisure marine industry. Many professional builders have gone under. Builders and stockists that held large inventories and expected them to sell as in past years found their yards full and order books empty. The result of shrinking or disappearing disposable income has been most families having to rethink how to spend the few spare dollars that they have.

I have noticed that this has changed the thinking of many people. Whereas previously most would buy a professionally built boat and work longer hours to earn money to pay for it, the change to less employed hours and less income has meant that many are re-discovering the joys and benefits of hand-crafting for themselves. More time is available to enjoy the satisfaction of personally building a boat that is capable of doing what we dream of doing with it, whether it be drifting down a river, lazing on a lake or lagoon, or even for crossing oceans. More people are building a wide range of boats for themselves.

When I first noticed this trend many months ago, I mentioned it to Matt Murphy of Wooden Boat Magazine. He said to me that amateur boatbuilding really came into its own during the Great Depression and that we were probably witnessing a repeat of that process. He was correct because our orders for plans have continued at a more-or-less steady pace through the past year or two. We have had flat spots at times that have caused concern but, on the whole, our supporters have stayed loyal.

It has been interesting to watch the changing trends in design choice through this period. Initially there was an almost total stop in larger boats and dinghy building increased. The dinghy orders have continued at a slightly reduced level but the trailer-sailers and small cruisers or racers followed. A few months ago the big boats seemed to kick back in, with orders for designs in the 45-60ft range but the mid-size range remained fairly flat. More recently the 30-45ft range has also come back to life.

It was also interesting to see the changes in distribution of orders, which probably followed the changes in financial fortune around the world. The first market to drop off was North America, followed by Western Europe then Eastern Europe and Australasia. The market that has stood up best throughout the process has been Russia and other ex-USSR countries. Recently we have seen an increase in orders for a wide range of designs from most parts of the world.

The designs that continue to dominate our orders are the radius chine plywood Didi range, primarily the Didi Mini and Didi 26performance designs. On the cruising side, the Cape Cutter 19 and Cape Henry 21 lapstrake plywood designs are our biggest sellers.

It seems that amateur boatbuilding is enjoying a healthy revitalisation. I think we might see this trend continue for a few years.

You can see our full range of designs at the Dudley Dix Yacht Design website.


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