Leisure boating industry may face choppy waters

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Mumbai, Mar 6: The leisure boat is all set to emerge as the latest status symbol among the city's millionares and elites.

The recently concluded Mumbai International Boat Show (MIBS), that attracted the world's top 80 leisure and adventure boat companies, lured all but in the midst of this buying and spending spree, very few spared a thought on the necessary requirements to support the boating industry.

To begin with the basics, experts say that the waters off Mumbai is far from suitable for boating or sailing.

''The sea water surrounding the metropolis is of poor quality with high sulphur content and polluted for such an activity. With the quality of water being unsuitable for any watersport, I think a lot of work will have to be done,'' Mr Shakeel Kidrolli, whose firm Aquasail carries out research work for the boating industry, cautioned.

Mr Kidrolli feels Goa is a far better location for a marina with its calm waters, strong boating heritage and a thriving tourism and leisure industry. Cochin is another strong contender with similar attributes.

Secondly, the metropolis hardly has any marinas - shelters for the small leisure boats and yachts - worth talking about. The marina off the Gateway, in a survey conducted by the Port Trust, will need heavy dredging upto 200 metres into the sea as boats would need at least two-and-half metres of water during low tide to be safely moored. Proper breakwater will also have to be constructed to tackle the sea build-up during monsoons.

''The best waters around the city have already been taken over by local fishermen and would require huge compensations to take over them for marinas, if at all possible,'' Mr Kidrolli said.

Alternatively, even if new locations are selected, construction and maintainance costs for providing vessels with the required facilities of security, fuel, servicing and spares will require heavy investment.

Perhaps, most vital would be the size and strength of the market in terms of potential buyers.

''Mumbai is a city full of people, who can easily afford to buy boats and yachts. For those who cannot afford to buy one, there are boats that can be chartered and hired, training schools are also planned for beginners,'' West Coast Marine Director Aashim Mongia, whose company represents a number of international boat brands and arranges chartered trips, said.

''A few high-end sales will not translate into real growth. What we need is creative solutions to get more people involved. Budget and mid-level buyers and related sectors will play an important role,'' Mr Kidrolli said, adding that ''Luxury Housing'' could play an important role in accelerating and strenghtening the boating industry.

Sponsors of the Boat Show Samira and Ocean Blue Group are offering high net worth customers luxury villas with a marina at Alibagh.

''I believe our industries compliment each other. We both provide lifestyle activities. Imagine the serenity and privacy of villas and a classy mode of transportation in the form of boats that can take you from Alibagh to Mumbai in 10-20 minutes without any hassles,'' Samira Marine Infrastructure Director Brijesh Lohana said.

Whether India can ultimately compete with the likes of Cote d' Azur in south of France or the French Reviera or Britain's three billion Pound market remains to be seen.

Pundits predict that the nascent industry worth Rs 150 crore will touch one billion US dollars in the next few years and no firms worth their sail can afford to ignore it. However, the country is already in the global sailor's map. Cochin will play host to 20 teams participating in the prestigious Volvo Asian Race during December 3 to 15. With over 1,000 rooms already booked, the stopover is expected to generate business of an estimated Rs 10 crore.

With a combination of sustained economic growth, entrepreneurial skills and lust for the good life can propel the industry into the next big thing, Mr Kidrolli added.

UNI

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