It’s minus 23 degrees Celsius with bright sunshine in the cloudless sky over Helsinki. The weather conditions on the opening day of Scandinavia’s largest water sports fair match the mood at Venebat: friendly and open, even in Finnish conditions.
Two weeks earlier, at boot Düsseldorf 2024, Finland will be represented with more than 60 boats, including 10 world premieres. In addition to 17 Finnish boat manufacturers, Oceanvolt, the pioneer of electric propulsion systems that has just been awarded the METS main prize, and Remoran, a manufacturer of hydrogen generators, were also represented on the Rhine.
Electromobility on the water is also an issue in the far north. Philip Easthill, Secretary General of the European Boating Industry Association, also took part in the panel discussion on the imminent shift away from combustion engines.
The Best of Boats Award judges came to the Winter Meeting in their dozens to visit “one of the most exciting trade fairs ever”, according to Julijan Visnjevec. In terms of the type of boats on display, which number in the hundreds here, the Venebat has similarities with Boot & Fun Berlin. Most of the boats on display are motorboats.
Almost all of the most important Finnish boat manufacturers and importers, from Axopar to Yamarin, will be represented at the nine-day home event in Helsinki. The focus is on the big ones: In addition to the Finnmaster F 11 Weekend, we will be premiering the Quarken 35 Cabin, the Saxdor 400 and the Marex 440 Gourmet Cruiser.
The super-solid, rather traditional-looking Targa 41 attracts a lot of visitors on the first Saturday of the fair, as does the Sargo 45, which float has already tested and which is now on display as a two-cabin version.
Boats at affordable prices
Here in the north, 18 to 35-foot models dominate, often in large model ranges where the boat lengths differ by only one meter. If you’re looking for something to get you started or simply have your eye on a compact boat, you’ll find it here. The much lamented high price level, which makes it impossible for normal earners to go out on the water with a new boat, can be easily avoided here.
Dozens of new models make their debut in Helsinki. Well over half of the motorboats are Finnish. The brand new models include the Alukin C 770, the AMT 165 (as R and as fishing version Rf with fishing platform), Anytec 868 CAB, the Axopar 29 XC Cross Cabin, the Elvene Amber, Finval 470 Evo DC, Kimple 460 Adventure, Ruthless 480 SC, Silver Seahawk (as BRX and Cabin), Silacraft Mursu 650, Sting 580 T, Suvi 43 and 44, and the Terhi 480 Cabin.
Let’s take a closer look at the boats that we will probably be driving at the Finnish boat industry test event this summer. Silver Boats is showing three new aluminum models in Helsinki that are closely related as “Seahawk sisters”. The 7-meter-long premieres are available in the open versions Silver Seahawk CCX with center console steering position and as a classic bowrider Seahawk BRX. The Seahawk Cabin mini pilothouse boat is unusual for Silver’s aluminum boats.
Pilothouse boats also in the compact class
Not far away is the new AMT 165 as a double float. The smallest aluminum model from the shipyard, which is highly regarded by the Best of Boats judges, is available as the AMT 165 R with a GRP hull – and with an aluminum hull as the AMT 165 Rf. The abbreviation “f” reveals the main purpose of the five-person speedboat, which can reach speeds of up to 33 knots, as a fishing boat.
Terhi, known for open small boats made of ABS, is presenting the Terhi 480 Cabin – like Silver Boats – an unusual type of boat for the brand. The compact cabin cruiser in pilothouse design is suitable as a commuter boat for the way to the Scandinavian vacation home. Here in Central Europe, it can be used as a small cruising boat.
In view of the huge selection and unbroken enthusiasm for premieres, is everything in perfect order? Hot offers in the halls counteract the cold outside the door. In order to reduce their stocks, many manufacturers have written substantial trade fair discounts under the exposés.
Germany in 4th place for exports
What about the boat manufacturers, of which there are traditionally many in Finland that produce medium and higher quantities? That’s what we want to find out. Our research leads us to the annual press conference of the Finnish industry association Finnboat.
“Export is what keeps Finnish boat builders alive,” says Jarkko Pajusalo. Typically, 9,000 to 10,000 boats are exported every year. In 2023 there were 4,940 boats. Scandinavia is the main market for Finnish shipyards. “Like Norway and Sweden, we have similar waters and the same way of using them,” says Jan Sjölund, the Finnish juror of the Best of Boats Award, explaining why Northern Europe is like a single market for the Finns.
But there is a second trend: sales figures for exports rose by 22% from January to November 2023. Germany has a leading role to play here. In terms of the number of boats exported by Finland, Germany ranks first among countries outside Scandinavia with 209 boats and a sales growth of 34 percent last year.
The Finns are a nation of boaters, with one in five Finns owning a boat. A certain saturation can obviously be felt. The number of new boat registrations in Finland fell by 29% in 2023 compared to the previous year. However, the previous three years (2020 to 2022) were the most successful in terms of registrations since the absolute peak year of 2008.
The number of registered motorboats is at the same level as in 2019, before the Covid boom years. Nevertheless, according to the Finnboat boss, who sees new registrations as the main indicator for the economy, things are not looking particularly good in the domestic market.
Industry rather optimistic
However, the satisfaction survey among the shipyards speaks a different language. Neither redundancy plans nor the expectation of major sales losses are reported. 33% of member companies expect net sales to be higher this year than last year. The boating industry employs around 3,500 people in Finland. And preliminary estimates indicate that the net turnover of Finnboat member companies will exceed 800 million euros in 2023.
Large shipyards such as Nautor Swan and Baltic, which produce very expensive sailing yachts, have full order books, explains Pajusalo on request. They come to Venebat also to promote themselves and find staff.