Having been put on ice along with the rest of the leisure industry, recreational boating is gradually returning from its 50-day hiatus. Falling in line with Pedro Sánchez’s phased de-escalation towards the ‘new normal’, boat owners are now allowed to see and touch their boats – and by next week they might even be able to use them.
Spain officially entered ‘Phase 0’ this Monday and, with that, came clarification from the Spanish Ministry of Transport (via marine industry association ANEN) that recreational boat owners could review the safety and maintenance of their investment. Bilges, batteries and fenders could be checked for one golden hour during owners’ allotted time slot for leisure activities, provided they go alone, do not leave their municipality of residence, and respect hygiene and social distancing measures. Individual sports sailing was also given the go-ahead.
The magic happens on 11 May in ‘Phase 1’ when owners should be able to set their boats free from their moorings and navigate in limited groups - likely a single family or a social unit sharing the same address. This non-commercial cruising will only be sanctioned in local waters, no hardship for Majorca given the exceptional scenery on our doorstep.
‘Phase II’ is presumed to begin on May 25 when owners of boats moored outside of their municipality of residence can also partake in safety and maintenance and, in theory, practical maritime training courses can resume.
By the time we reach ‘Phase III’, scheduled for June 8, recreational boating gets as close to a carte blanche as is possible during COVID-19 times with navigation permissible between provinces. And, perhaps, the resumption of yacht charter activity. Although, with ports and airports closed to external traffic, any charter customers would have to emerge from a domestic pool.
What was the reaction from the nautical industry?
Director of Arrival Yachts, Nigel Wales, said: “Luckily, Arrival Yachts is an established business with a good web presence and sizeable database and, although it’s strange working from home, we are managing. The main problem for boat sales is to know when our international clients are going to be able to fly into Majorca to use their boats, the local market is very small by comparison. Pleasure cruising is being allowed progressively during May and June but, whilst there is uncertainty, people will hold back on making plans. Then, of course, we don’t know about the flights...”
Teddy Torkington from Multimar Alcudia, commented: “While we endured the first two weeks of lockdown, the maintenance and service side of the company was brought to a standstill and sales enquiries disappeared. However, since returning to work, many clients are asking for their boats to be prepared in the hope that soon we will be allowed back on the water. The sales department has also signed two contracts in the last fortnight, with both purchasers counting the days until they can use their new boats. The charter side of the company is being hit the worst. We can of course work with the local market with pleasure, but inevitably income will not be on the same scale as from the tourist market.”
Rory Gillard of Boatshed Palma fears the worst is yet to come: “Ok, I have lost a month’s worth of earnings, but feel that the economic effects are mostly yet to come. I am worried about the medium-term as I believe borders need to be opened for future work - we are very limited in the local market.”
Daniel Cousins from Boat Charter Mallorca, adds: “We had a promising start to the year with a lot more bookings than usual coming in in January and February for the summer. Then everything came to a dead stop. We’ve been able to move bookings to the end of the season, or offer clients a voucher to transfer their deposit to later this year, or next. Lockdown has definitely affected business, but we are quietly confident the season will bounce back. A much busier autumn should make up for a slow May and June. However, we are relying on hotels, airlines and other agencies to work together for the clients, so very much a collective effort.”
Gulsan Atalay, Manager of the Balearic Marine Cluster, agrees: “The Balearic Islands have taken decisive and prompt measures and, with the natural advantage of insularity, they have been one of the less affected areas in the Mediterranean. We are positive on recovering the yachting tourism activity soon. Even if the season seems to start later than usual, as we have suitable weather conditions until late November, we believe that guests will enjoy cruising the Balearics this summer.”
Guy Norrish from Marina Estrella explained: “It takes a lot to stop a large industry such as the marine one completely and the truth is that while things have certainly been delayed, they haven’t stopped. All our suppliers have continued building boats and, by adapting, we have continued to sell boats, even new ones, throughout the state of alarm. Our biggest issue right now is a logistical one - how do we go and take delivery of all our new boats due to arrive for the season? We are grateful to have the support of shipping agents Complete Marine Freight who have been on top of all the regulations throughout. The appetite from our Spanish customers for booking summer charters has really taken us by surprise. They were the first to anticipate the relaxation of the rules within Spain and start snapping up their preferred boat in what might prove be very uncrowded locations. Meanwhile, ANEN has fought very hard to get the relevant Ministry to set out the roadmap to get us all back to boating. The fact that boats can be safe places, their users are familiar with using safety equipment, and it all takes place in the lovely outdoors, have all been strong arguments in our favour.”
Andrew Thomas from Sunseeker Mallorca added: “We have worked tirelessly to ensure that we remained open and of service as much as possible during these changed times. Our focus throughout has been our colleagues’ and clients’ safety and working towards getting them out on the water as soon as possible.”
Simon Relph, Editor of The Islander magazine, said: “We have had to go online only, but hope to print again by the July issue. This has had a big impact on our revenue as we reduced our fees by 50% to offer advertisers value for money, despite the fact that our online readership figures have almost tripled since lockdown - every cloud.”
Yacht Consultant Jonathan Syrett is more buoyant: “I am just as busy, if not busier, as some of my consulting clients seem to have more time on their hands to dedicate to looking into their hobbies and other non-essential matters like yachting. As the borders open up, things will hopefully become even busier.”
Allow me to finish with a caveat emptor. As we learned from the Government U-turn on children being able to go out to play, rules can change at any moment. Please check the latest BOE for clarification on recreational boating regulations.