The current (November 2013) issue of the British magazine Waterways World (available online only to subscribers) has an interview with Dawn Livingstone, new CEO of Waterways Ireland. There was a question about visitor numbers:
How are boating visitor numbers holding up in the recession?
The type of boating is changing — more sports boats for example, and numbers, after an initial decline, have held steady in the cruiser hire and private boat fleets. But more customers are investing in active recreation — canoeing, sailing, rowing, and these clubs and holiday types are growing rapidly.
My sense of the types of boating is the same, but I do not know of any source of reliable data. I think it would be useful if Waterways Ireland were (somehow) to collect and then to publish data on these activities and their economic costs and benefits.
But I was amused by the statement that …
[…] numbers, after an initial decline, have held steady in the cruiser hire and private boat fleets.
I’m not sure what useful data there are for the Lower Bann, Shannon–Erne Waterway, Grand, Royal and Barrow, though perhaps enhanced enforcement of the regulations will improve the data for the last three of those waterways. For the Shannon and Erne, the numbers in the fleets are, I presume, derived from the numbers of registered vessels, but there is no annual re-registration and I am not clear how many boats that are removed from the navigation are removed from the registers.
The other, indirect, measure, which applies only to the Shannon, is of passages through locks and moveable bridges. And, for hire boats, the “initial decline” has been 60% since 2003. If the numbers are now holding steady, it is at a very much lower level than ten years ago.
I was able to report in August that the better weather in July seemed to have led to an increase in the number of passages by private boats [the usual caveats apply]. Furthermore, for the first time that I knew of, the number of passages by private boats in the first seven months of the year exceeded the number of passages by hire boats in the same period.
I now have the figures for two more months, August and September, kindly supplied by Waterways Ireland, who are not to blame for my delay in getting the information up here.
Private boat numbers are ahead of hire in the three main summer holiday months of June, July and August and, although the numbers are tiny, in the winter months as well; hirers are ahead in spring and autumn.