The best-kept secret in boatbuilding

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Poland’s boatbuilding industry is the fastest-growing in Europe and second only to the United States in terms of unit production.

Poland’s boatbuilding industry is the fastest-growing in Europe and second only to the United States in terms of unit production.

Poland is the second-largest boatbuilding country behind the United States, according to Sebastian Nietupski, president of the Polish Chamber of Marine Industry and Water Sports, or Polboat. The country produces about 22,000 units each year and exports about 95 percent of those boats. Its export revenues have doubled in the last five years, which shows how quickly the boatbuilding sector is growing.

Nietupski gave an upbeat assessment of Poland’s boatbuilding sector recently to a group of international journalists visiting for the Wind and Water Boat Show in Gdynia.

The marine industry, with around 1,000 companies, employs more than 40,000 workers. “Dozens of foreign brands are built here,” Nietupski said, including Sea Ray, Bayliner, Jeanneau, Axopar and other models that are exported across Europe and the Middle East.

Polboat came together in 2006. It comprises about 70 percent of the domestic marine industry, including boatbuilders and service providers. The association’s goal is to play an active role in promoting Poland’s marine companies to foreign countries, while getting behind the infrastructure growth as the sector expands.

“Our goal as an industry is to produce the best possible quality,” Nietupski said during his presentation, noting that the sector has changed in the last 10 years, when many marine companies were equipment suppliers. “Now brands like Galeon, Delphia, Sunreef and Parker fly our country's flag. The average size of the boats has also increased. If units were previously between 20 and 30 feet long, today they are more often from 26 to 36 feet long, especially for those headed to the U.S. market.” That growth also means an increase in the average price per boat produced.

“Galeon looks like a different company since we joined with them three years ago,” said Chuck Cashman, MarineMax chief financial officer. “They’re very aggressive about investing dollars back into the infrastructure. To me, it’s like a new state-of-the-art plant that could go up against any in the world.”

Galeon became a main supplier to MarineMax when the Sea Ray Yachts division began to falter four years ago. The U.S. dealer had asked engine maker Volvo Penta about boatbuilders in Europe that were in the value yacht segment. Galeon was the primary recommendation. “We didn’t know anything about the brand, but the more we found out, we realized it would be a good fit,” Cashman said. “They’re aligned with the way we think and the way we do business. They’ve been a great partner.” 

Last year, the level of production of boatbuilding across Poland caught up with and exceeded 2008 levels, before the global financial crisis. Exports now represent $540 million (484 million euros), a figure that has almost doubled in only five years.

Along with a skilled workforce, Poland has been implementing new technologies, including more CNC machines. There are also an increasing number of factories using infusion technology. Nietupski says that builders partner with technical colleges to find and train students. The industry is also seeing a technology transfer from Western Europe and Scandinavia, as builders such as Groupe Beneteau expand production of powerboats across its multiple brands.

The sector is facing a troubling headwind. “Currently, we have full order books, but the expansion of many manufacturers is limited by the lack of production capacity, and we are working to find solutions,” Nietupski said. The industry also is working to attract more skilled laborers as demand increases.

The country would also like to see more than 5 percent of the new boats stay in Poland.

“We want to develop the local market up to 30 percent,” Nietupski said. “To reach this level, it will require considerable investments in infrastructure, such as marinas.”

Polboat’s ambition to increase Poland’s domestic market is best illustrated by the Wind and Water Boat Show, considered one of the most important in Poland, with 100 exhibitors and more than 200 boats.

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