Page last updated at 22:06 GMT, Monday, 23 June 2008 23:06 UK

Powerboats eye broad markets

By Brian Milligan
Business reporter, BBC News, Romsey, Hampshire


Some of the attraction of powerboating

Back in 2001, the Hunton powerboat factory won its largest, but most sinister, order yet - four fast boats for the Abu Dhabi government, complete with two machine guns each, mounted either side of the deck.

The boats are now in use in the Gulf, protecting oil platforms from terrorist attack.

"At the time I had this gun in the back of my car," says Jeff Hunton, the factory's owner.

"I was terrified the Police would stop me."

Interesting speed

Another order came from the Gibraltar Police, to chase drug smugglers between Europe and North Africa.

But fortunately most of Mr Hunton's boats are in the business of producing power, rather than projecting it.

The fastest travel at 60 miles an hour across the water, enough to leave most of the competition floundering in their wake.

"It's interesting to go faster than anybody else," says powerboat owner Ken Rozier, "and certainly to get from A to B in time for a nice lunch."

Costly cool

For retired Mr Rozier, a "nice lunch" certainly requires champagne.

Powerboats owned 68,700
Number of powerboaters 350,000
Industry Revenue: 663m
Powerboat manufacture employees 8,000
Source: British Marine Federation

Now 56, he stopped work four years ago, having sold his stake in an information technology company.

He now has time to cruise the Solent with his wife Ruth, enjoying the fruits of his labour.

In Mr Rozier's case, the boat cost some 300,000 to buy.

Mooring costs are typically 12,000 a year.

And with his sort of money, he is not too worried about fuel costs, even though the boat does just two miles per gallon.

"It really does get the adrenalin going," he enthuses, opening up the throttle of his Hunton 45.

"You've got the wind in your hair, the sun on your face and it's a lot of fun."

Stable sales

Unlike many of the top performance boats in the Round Britain Race, Ken's powerboat carries several concessions to comfort.

Jeff Hunton
We are planning to build an even bigger boat in a couple of years time
Jeff Hunton

There are two soft leather sunbeds, much enjoyed by his wife Ruth, as he takes care of the macho stuff at the wheel.

And you can be sure the race enthusiasts would never be seen with a cafetiere and a plate of cookies just behind the cockpit.

But despite the money and enthusiasm that exists for this sport, it is not a big growth industry.

About 68,000 people own powerboats in the UK, a number that has been steady for several years.

Manual creations

It is a business problem that preoccupies Mr Hunton, back at his factory on an industrial estate in Romsey, Hampshire.

Ken and Ruth in their Hunton 45
You've got the wind in your hair, the sun on your face and it's a lot of fun
Ken Rozier

Mr Hunton builds up to 24 boats a year, and he knows the market is unlikely to grow.

So the challenge is to sell bigger and more powerful boats, rather than more of them.

"We're trying to expand, but it's difficult," he says.

"It's a very specialised market.

"However, we are planning to build an even bigger boat in a couple of years time."

That will be down to his small team of just 32 employees, who build the boats entirely by hand.

No robots here. Only the sweep of sandpaper, and the pungent smell of fibre-glass, make this identifiable as a factory at all.

Pride and joy

Meanwhile Ken and Ruth, speeding towards Yarmouth at 45 knots, have a problem.

Should they take lunch at Steephill Cove, round by Ventnor, or should they put in to a private beach a few miles west of Cowes?

Wherever they choose, there will certainly be time for a leisurely lunch with a bottle of chilled Krug.

Afterwards there is plenty of time to speed back to the marina afterwards, while they wave nonchalantly to the owners of mere speedboats, as they overtake them.

In no other sport can you express such total one-upmanship as when you are the proud owner of a powerboat.

graphic of powerboat

Helmsman controls direction, throttleman speed and trim (angle), navigator sets course.

Hull constructed from a Kevlar and Carbon fibre composite.
Safety equipment includes flares, VHF radio, satellite phone, beacon and liferaft.

Engine bay has automatic fire extinguishers.

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