Hire boat industry will be decimated by constant lockdown

Published: Monday, 11 May 2020

THE continuing lockdown coupled with the decision to close the waterways is having an appalling effect on boat hire companies.

With two holiday periods now passed without a single hire boat having been allowed on the waterways and little hope of the lockdown being lifted, the whole hire industry is at a complete standstill with bookings in a turmoil.

Deposits returned

A problem is that many people who booked for boat holidays either late last year or early this only have specific dates, and if booked are not in a position to wait until a possible date does come available, so the deposits have to be returned. Money that is often used to help make the fleets ready for the new season.

So the whole industry is playing an expensive waiting game, with a summer like no other, of boats moored-up with no customers and the real possibility of the entire season being wiped out, for even when the lockdown is eased, there is no knowing to what extent and what restrictions may still be enforced.

There will be casualties

This is making it the biggest challenge ever to be faced by the hire boat industry, and it is already obvious there will be casualties, especially if the whole season is wiped out, as the many costs will relentlessly keep mounting.

The massive ABC Leisure that has 300 hire boats took early action in closing its 14 hire bases in March, laying off its staff and so limiting its outlay. https://www.narrowboatworld.com/12130-abc A director, Edward Helps, now telling the Sunday Times:

"The later the virus goes into this season the worse it is going to be.  In effect you are going to have three winters back to back."

12 months to get back to normal

James Griffin, the Managing Director of the Wyvern Shipping Company, one of the oldest boat hire companies, that started in 1954 with freight, told:

"Foot & Mouth disease was a blow, but we got dispensation from the government and it was all over quickly.  It'll take 12 months for us to get back to normal after this."

Though the industry at present has government support and there is the furlough scheme, no one knows how long this is going to run and should it stop yet boats still not be allowed to be hired out and cruise it will be disastrous, as there is the real likekihood of an entire summer's takings being wiped out.

Very lucrative indeed

The near future is indeed bleak for the boat hire industry, but for those that survive the long term future could be very lucrative indeed with the state of the aircraft industry in such awry and owing it is told 7bn in refunds to passengers, who will not easily forgive such behaviour, as fares are certainly going to increase, so tempting more people to holiday at home and perhaps so take to the waterways.

Always depending alas on the waterways being in a state to accommodate, and certainly not with three main canals closed as at present...