Lithuania, kingdom of leisure yachting?
In 2008, some journalists from the French magazine “Voiles et Voiliers” travelled to Lithuania in order to experience the country’s leisure yachting. Did the article that followed begin with “Lithuania, kingdom of leisure yachting? Not really. We sailed for a week on the inland sea that is called the Curonian Lagoon, enough time to discover a country in the throes of change”and concluded by: “Lithuania is opening up to leisure yachting…”.
And over the last 15 years, the change has undeniably been favourable to the development of leisure yachting. That being said, the sector is still in its early stages, but it is becoming more structured, and solid actors are now in place, offering the same boats and equipment as in all other European countries.
GDP 65.5 billion dollars, Population = 2.8 million, GDP per capita = 23.433 Dollars, Source: World Bank 2021 (Klaipeda)
Infrastructures in the making
Lithuania’s coastline is small (99 km), but inland waters play an essential role and Lithuanians are particularly attached to boats and navigation. The navigable waterways are being developed, and there are some ambitious plans to build modern marinas, in order to cater for the increasing number of leisure boats expected, due to the yachting market’sgrowth.
The division between the sailing and power boating markets is distinctive.
It seems as if the “sailing boat community” does not mix with the rest of the boating population. This clearly appears within the boat distribution. Most retailers focus on the powerboat, sport and leisure fishing market. There are very few retailers specialised in sailing; they are located in Kaunas and Klaipeda, and there is not a wide range of equipmentavailable locally. It is a niche market whose customers have been purchasing online for many years. Top quality Internet connections and Lithuanian people’s interest in cutting-edge technology have favoured online selling sites such as svb24, which offers a wide choice of available equipment in stock.In addition, it provides efficient delivery from Germany in just a few days. Over the last 5 years, the number of sales made via this site in Lithuania has more than tripled. Lithuanian customers are regular users of online selling sites, preferably German and Swedish ones. For technical clothing and personal safety equipment, specialised shops face competition from large sports shops present in shopping malls. Decathlon has opened two stores in Lithuania; each one contains an extensive nautical department. Their sales turnover in technical clothing and safety equipment is increasing and is higher than that of French stores in comparable catchment areas. This demonstrates that Lithuanian leisure yachters devote a good amount of their budget to equipment.
A predominance of powerboats
The number of sailboats is very limited compared to the number of powerboats. Even if, at first sight, there seems to be a large number of masts in marinas, the numbers speak for themselves. Indeed, on a yearly basis, sailboat registrations did not exceed about thirty, whereas there have been between 660 and 1.319 powerboat registrations each year since 2018, from when this data was finally published. Nevertheless, the sailing community is dynamic, attaining good media coverage. The TV3 television channel even has a crew that does regatta sailing and regularly broadcasts news events from the sailing world. Olympic series competitors perform highly on the international scene, with results that always have a prominent place in newspapers and social media. One regatta club even succeeded in raising the necessary funds to buy a VO60, followed by a VO70, to attract sailing crew for these cutting-edge boats, train them and have a boat at the start of the last Ocean Race! Nonetheless, it is noteworthy that multihull sailing is non-existent on the Lithuanian sailing scene. That being said, all these efforts should pay off and attract more navigators to sailing, but there are still some barriers: this leisure activity is still shown as a high-level sport with an elitist dimension, and not as a leisure activity for families. The number of berths is too limited and there are insufficient infrastructures, in order to provide sailing schools accessible to a wider range of people, that would enable them to discover leisure sailing. Finally, regulations which require mandatory licences for sailboats are an additional hindrance. There are four different licence levels, depending on how far from the shore you navigate, in order to be able to skipper a 6 metre boat or over. These licences, including both theory and practical tests, cost between 300 and 1,000 Euros and must be taken one after the other in order to reach the next level. Courses are administered by private agencies, and diplomas are awarded by the Lithuanian Sailing Federation. As statistics have only been published from 2018, it is difficult to estimate the precise number of licence holders, but it is thought to be approximately 2,000.
The same applies to the total number of sailing yachts and motorboats, for which data has only been published from 2018. According to the professionals interviewed, there are around 30,000 motorboats and 1,500 sailing boats. A significant decline in new registrations for 2022 can be observed, probably due to the economic crisis that hit the country, with record inflation of 19.71%!
Source: Lithuanian transport safety administration
The Lithuanian nautical industries’ organisation hasbeen established, aiming to develop the nautical sector and nautical tourism in Lithuania, water sports, nautical recreation, shipyards, boat sales and river tourism.The organisation strives to be a player on the Lithuanian market for nautical tourism, sports, leisure, ship building and yachting development.The Lithuanian Federation of Nautical Industries, affiliated to European Boating Industry, was created in 2022.With already 15 members, the third edition of the “Houses and Boats” https://boatandhouseshow.lt/ afloat show, is now under EBI’s aegis and member of IFBSO. This show was held in July 2023 at Svencele, a brand-new lakeside village complex undergoing construction. The 31 exhibitors presented all the equipment from leading international brands and 30 boat models were displayed, with half of them afloat: Marex Boats, Quiqsilver, XO, Sealine, Sea Ray, Targa, Greenline, Parker, Galia, Bayliner, Husky, Finnmaster, Yamarin. 5,000 people visited this boat show during its three-day opening period. Having said that, it is strikingly noticeable that, this show which is the only one of its kind in the country, was mainly oriented towards powerboating.
The fast growing boating festival has big ambitions for 2024. In partnership with international associations and with the support of their members this event is keen to be the larges boating festival in Baltic States Region. With continuous growth of Lithuanian boating market, the demand of new boats and services for them are growing in same directions attracting attention of leading European leisure boatingbusiness and service companies.
Naturally, equipment distributors were there, representing all the major brands of the nautical industry. Most of them sell both boats and equipment to professionals, as well as to private customers. Well-known brands were showcased with distributors covering several countries, such as Volvo Penta, represented in Lithuania by a branch of the Baltic Marine Group, operating in the three Baltic countries. Other complementary products from a central stock in Estonia are also distributed by the Lithuanian subsidiary.
Capital Marine https://capitalmarine.lt/ , is the first Lithuanian boat brokerage company. Established by two boating enthusiasts and sellers by a profession in 2020’s,it is making a break thought pioneer work in Lithuanian market.
This company brought to Lithuanian boat owners a possibility to sell their boats to worldwide market. And it did worked out. The record distance sell is about 6 600 km. Both the seller and buyer left satisfied as broker Aidis Jaskevicius took all the action to coordinate the purchase process until the boat left Klaipeda Sea port of Lithuania. Beside this, Capital Marine did managed to sell more than 20 different types of leisure boats across the Europe.
Expanding personnel and experience working with various logistic companies, boat surveyors and insurance companies can guarantie the smooth purchase of secondhanded boats from Lithuania with highly professional treatment as for boat seller and boat purchaser.
“We have cooperation contracts with most of Lithuanian boat and house boat builders, and this allows to our clients to get the best product that they need. As we know, Lithuanian boat builders have already recommended as a proper quality boat builders ir European market. And we can help foreign investors to become dealers in their countries for Lithuanian boat builders” says Aidis Jaskevicius.
Some Lithuanian shipyards
There are a number of powerboat builders in Lithuania, the main ones are Marex and Nordeja, which are owned by Norwegian companies. Founded in 2005, Nordeja that targets the Scandinavian market, manufactures 250 units per year from 3 to 6 metres. Moreover, it has recently announced an extension to its factory, in order to increase its production capacity to 550 units. Marex boats, manufactured in Kaunas since 2001, are renowned for their high-quality construction and top level equipment. The shipyard, which has a staff of 355 qualified workers, manufactures 150 units of 5 different models per year, mostly exported to a wide range of countries. Local sales are managed by a retailer: Laivynas. This company, mostly specialised in powerboats, sells a wide range of manufacturer brand names, such as Galeon, Princess, Sealine and Jeanneau, both new and used crafts. Its workshops offer all services, from maintenance to installation, including electronics and mechanics. This versatility is common to all of the distributors in Lithuania.
Houseboats: a pathway to export?
In the past few years, a number of houseboat manufacturers have been emerging in Lithuania. This trend is recent, but it is a fact that several manufacturers are following the path of the Finnish-Lithuanian shipyard,“Nordic season”. The latter has been an actor in this market segment for several years, and is now pursuing the adventure by targeting the domestic market, yet mostly for exports, as their English-language websites testify. These vessels are modern, well-fitted, and high-quality Lithuanian construction standards are rigorously applied.
Inland waterway development
Just looking at the map of Lithuania is enough to understand the importance of inland waterway development. There are 884 kilometres of potentially navigable waterways, including 467 kilometres which will be navigable by 2023, as well as more than 6,000 lakes that cover 950 km2, or 1.5% of the country. Every Lithuanian lives near a body of water!
Only around twenty lakes are equipped with leisure boating infrastructures, but even on these bodies of water, there are few slipways. On the inland waters managed by the Inland Waterways Authority (see map below), there are around 30 quays where leisure boats can dock, embark, disembark, and temporarily moor up. These docks are supervised by local authorities, who are responsible for their maintenance and development. In addition to these docks, there are 13 marinas that boats can use for a long-termperiod. Among the most developed, one finds the Žalgiris yacht club on the Kaunas reservoir (63.5 km2), where there are professionals (retailers, winter storage and repair facilities) and a renowned sailing school. This well-equipped marina offers a slipway, lifting facilities, a hotel and 24-hour security services. Kaunas is a key sport sailing destination in Lithuania, as it is the country’s second-largest urban area, with a central location favourable to logistic companies.
Nida: It is impossible to talk about leisure yachting in Lithuania without mentioning Nida. This popular beach resort is a favourite destination for leisure boaters, whether they come from Klaipeda or from the small harbours located on the east coast of the lagoon. With a capacity of 60 berths, this marina has a gas station and can welcome boats with a draught of up to 2 metres.
The lack of infrastructures is particularly noticeable when it comes to slipways, and this is a real obstacle to the development of the trailerable boat fleet. Not only are slipways rare, but the existing ones are in bad condition. These slipways are under the responsibility of the local authorities, and according to the Waterways Authority, only about twenty of the areas they cover are listed as being safe and in good condition. This information does not include the numerous lakes across the country, for which no reliable data is available. Each town/village’s municipality with a lake is individually liable for its equipment. In addition, depending on the size of the lake, the regulations governing the use of motor boats are state rules, but each local authority can supplement them.
In 2005, Vitas Miskinis, CEO of “Outdoors Adventure”, first met the sales managers of the Minn Kota and Humminbird brands, incited by of a Finnish partner. The meeting took place during the EFTEXX trade fair in Warsaw, and “Outdoors Adventure” soon became the distributor of these brands, not only for Lithuania but for other European countries. Il all started with Minn Kota electric motors. In 2005, Lithuania was still a new EU member (having joined in 2004) and was not yet part of the Eurozone. The yachting industry was in its early stages and the average salary was more or less equivalent to the price of one of these motors. That is to say, that the Lithuanian market for these types of products was non-existent. Moreover, the company’s premises were hardly big enough to store the first deliveries. Aware that Lithuania was a country of rivers and lakes on which many Lithuanians fish and use small, heavy wooden boats, the team knew that they would become an ideal market for electric motors. They “put together” the first motor brackets.Gradually, the boat fleet became more modern. In the beginning, it was usual to see leisure fishermen using their car battery.They would be sure to park at the top of a slope, in order to be able to restart their car after a day’s fishing! Then, with the 12V on board, the time came to sell Humminbirdfishfinders. Nowadays, the company markets both brands in six countries: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Ukraine – country in which business has been interrupted due to the Russian invasion.
Since the beginning, the company offices and warehouse have been located in Kaunas. This is with no doubt an essential factor for an international distributor. Kaunas is a logistic hub, and all customers receive their orders within 48 hours. “Outdoors Adventure” provides full warranty services. Having observed the growth of the local nautical market and its strong potential, they invested in a retail outlet to sell aluminium boats built in Poland and Ukraine, and then became Bayliner and Uttern dealers.
It is easy to do business in Lithuania. The country holds the 11th position in the “Doing Business Ranking” (World Bank). Ongoing and upcoming infrastructure projects open opportunities for companies specialised in harbour development, marina and lock management. Lithuania’s geographical location and the strength of its logistic and transport sectors will be enhanced by the commissioning of the “Rail Baltica” railway network. This will promote the country’s role as a distribution centre for all of the surrounding parts of Europe. Moreover, all these factors will favour the development of nautical leisure activities. There is water, there is a demand… all we need are pontoons and slipways!