Video: Investment takes Broads boating into upmarket era
Investment close to £2m is taking place at hire boat yards as the sector moves into a greener more upmarket era.
New cruisers are emerging from sheds across the Broads as the industry prepares for the season with renewed confidence - buoyed by encouraging early bookings.
Boatbuilders at Norfolk Broads Direct in Wroxham last week put the finishing touches to the first of two four-berth Fair Executives offering a luxury spec including whirlpool bath, track-vision satellite television and full-size double bed in the front cabin.
Yard manager Sam Lowe said the £280,000 investment reflected the strong market for upmarket boats aimed primarily at couples.
'The outlook is looking very positive with bookings 15pc up on last year,' he said.
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Meanwhile, Barnes Brinkcraft, across the bridge in Hoveton, is building two six to eight-berth 44ft boats - Brinks Rhapsody 1 and 2 - for the season at a total investment of £350,000.
Director Matthew Thwaites said: 'They are being built using new hybrid technology with a 108-volt electric motor backed up by solar panels and a diesel generator.
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'It mean customers will be able to run the boat for two hours without starting the diesel engine; as well as being silent it is a lot more efficient with fuel, so it is a win-win.'
Stalham-based Richardson's, the largest Broads operator, is investing more than £1m in four new boats and quay work as CEO Greg Munford declared it their 'best start to the season for at least 10 years'.
Among craft being launched will be a striking new 38ft single-level boat described as a baby version of the company's popular 45ft Broadlander.
Mr Munford said new Walcon decking on Kingfisher Quay would create a 'marina feel'.
Peter Reeve, yard manager at Horning Ferry Marina, said they were 'quietly optimistic' about bookings as they prepared to add a new £180,000 44ft cruiser to their fleet.
'It is a high-spec boat aimed at two couples or one larger family,' he said.
Barbara Greasley, chairman of Broads Tourism, said: 'I am very encouraged by the reports of good advance bookings for the coming season. I believe that one of the main reasons for this trend is the good weather that we had last summer.
'It is also great that boatyards are continuing to invest in new boats and the refurbishment of the older stock.'