Broads boatyards investing millions in future

One of the hottest days of the year so far. A cruiser on the River Ant near Ludham Bridge. July 2013. Picture: James Bass

One of the hottest days of the year so far. A cruiser on the River Ant near Ludham Bridge. July 2013. Picture: James Bass - Credit: James Bass

Broads hire boat firms are announcing millions of pounds of investment in new craft over the winter as a big vote of confidence in the future.

After a tough start to the year, yards have been buoyed by better trade during the summer and autumn and encouraging levels of early bookings for next season.

Stalham-based Richardson's, the Broads' biggest operator, is alone investing £1m in six boats - including two new models - for next year, while Broom Boats of Brundall is also building five new boats, at a cost of £750,000, in readiness for its second season back in the hire market.

Elsewhere, Norfolk Broads Direct at Wroxham is building two new luxury cruisers, with an option on a third - amounting to a £300,000 investment - while Silverline, at Brundall, is planning to have a new cruiser in the water in time for peak season next year.

Simon Altham, managing director of Hoseasons, which markets many of the Broads yards, said: 'After a cold and snowy Easter that played havoc with tourism, especially in Norfolk, what we have seen is a continued good story.'

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Praising the yards' commitment to investment and innovation, he said everyone had recognised the importance of attracting new customers as well as offering existing ones something new and something different.

He said: 'The outlook is already really positive for next season thanks to the quality of product that has come from continued investment, fond memories of the summer just gone and some great early booking offers.

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'One of the most exciting things is owners going back and looking at 20 and 30-year-old boats and giving them a makeover to bring them up to a quality standard; it is not just about building new boats.'

Greg Munford, CEO at Richardson's, said: 'After a poor first three months - June was particularly bad for us - our performance for July and August was better than 2012 and our trade during September and October was on a par with last year. We brought out our 2014 brochure early and the signs for next season are very good based on early bookings.'

New models they are preparing to launch include a single-level 38ft boat - a 'baby' version of their successful 45ft Broadlander - and a flybridge cruiser on a 45ft hull.

The company took the bold decision at the end of the season to give one of its older boats a pirate ship makeover to attract young families and, depending on bookings, may convert further craft in similar style.

Mark Garner, CEO at Broom, said they had enjoyed an 'outstanding summer' achieving a 34-week season on their four hire boats, far exceeding the industry norm. The new craft they are building include two larger four to six-berth cruisers.

He said: 'The key has been the quality of our craft and quality of our service matched by competitive pricing. It is a delicate balance but we did not want boats that just hired in the peak season.'

Paul Greasley, a director of Norfolk Broads Direct, said it had been an undeniably poor season for them in respect of holiday boats, but advance booking for next season were 'tremendous' - 'double what they were this time last year'.

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