The UK's leisure marine industry is worth more than £3bn for the first time ever, but businesses are cautious about the road ahead

The value of the UK’s leisure marine industry broke through the £3bn barrier for the first time in 2008, but businesses saw a “significant decrease” in the value of their order books in the latter half of the year, the British Marine Federation (BMF) revealed today.

In its annual statistics, released at the London International Boat Show , the BMF revealed that the total turnover for the industry hit £3.1bn in 2007/2008, a 5% increase over 2006/2007.

International trade revenue for the recreational boating sector also saw a jump, up 6% to £1.1bn. But despite these increases, the number of people working in the industry sank 1.4% to 35,200.

While the above makes for promising reading, recent research by the BMF suggests some pain is on the way for leisure marine businesses.

In the BMF’s Autumn Trends report, which compares results and sentiment in autumn 2008 to spring 2008, 63% of industry respondents reported that the value of their order book for the home market was lower than six months previously, with only 15% of respondents saying their domestic order book was in better shape.

The value of firms’ order books for the export market is faring slightly better – 20% of businesses said their order book was more valuable than in spring 2008, and 46% said it was less valuable.

Turnover and profit forecasts have also taken a hit. Some 30% of marine businesses said their turnover was higher than in spring 2008, and 41% said it was lower. Meanwhile, profit forecasts for the six month period to autumn 2008 were exceeded for 9% of firms, attained for 39% of firms, and missed by 52% of firms.

The outlook is bleak, according to the survey. Business prospects for the next six months were perceived to be “excellent” for just 2% of respondents, “good” for 14%, “OK” for 46%, “poor” for 30% and “very poor” for 8%.

Rob Stevens, BMF chief executive, said: “The annual statistics are very encouraging and show that the continued commitment to quality and innovation in the UK leisure marine industry, which is recognised around the world, is continuing to pay off. In particular, to break the £3bn revenue barrier is a marvellous achievement.

“But we cannot overlook the unprecedented global economic downturn and the difficulties it will cause the leisure marine industry in the UK. With uncertainty set to continue, it is clear that further difficult decisions will have to be made and the British Marine Federation is redoubling its efforts to support members at this challenging time.”