We caught up with Richard Dove, the man behind the BoatLife boat show at the Birmingham NEC, to find out about this year’s event, taking place 16-19 February.
BoatLife’s inaugural year was more power than sail. What can we expect in 2023?
We are pleased to announce that we have a number of the brands from the sailing sector including three of the top dinghy brands. Topper, RS and Hartley Boats have all confirmed and this compliments the equipment and apparel brands such as Rooster and Raymarine already signed up.
What were your conclusions following the first show?
We couldn’t have asked for more positive feedback from the first show. What people seemed to particularly like was the relaxed atmosphere and the range of smaller boats. The location is absolutely perfect and there was huge support for a show away from the south coast and a quieter time of year. People were really blown away by the number of boats there.
Did you draw visitors from the midlands and north of England?
Yes! We had a lot of visitors from Scotland and the north which is great for our exhibitors as they are reaching a new audience. Our long-term goal is that SBS BoatLife can bring new people into boating.
What are the other attractions for sailors (apart from yachts)?
We are pleased to have a pool this year, sponsored by GJW – visitors can have a go at paddleboarding and kayaking. Our show ambassadors will also be doing demonstrations and displays. This will be a great attraction for everyone especially families. For the 2023 show we will be providing a free trailer test-drive feature, enabling visitors to navigate and manoeuvre a course to experience and practice trailering boats. The stage was also incredibly popular last year, with many sell out talks. We have confirmed Tom Cunliffe, Ellie Driver and the White Brothers.
The closeness to the RYA Dinghy & Watersports Show is potentially awkward. How do you manage that?
February isn’t a time that many UK boaters are on the water, so I think we are lucky that people are looking to get their boating fix at events. That said, our events are quite different and we recognise it can be challenge for some exhibitors doing both, so we’d love to change this in the future.
Is the economic outlook hampering exhibitor bookings?
Our exhibitors have had a good couple of years on the back of the pandemic and while we all remain cautious, the mood is very upbeat. Our sales are stronger than the previous year, with many rebookings and companies coming for the first time.
Will ticket prices remain the same?
One of the criticisms we received was the cost of parking, which we can’t change. So, to compensate this we’ve reduced the ticket price to £15 from £20. You might find a few deals around too.
Have you managed to do any sailing this year?
I did have a great experience learning to fish with our show ambassador, the Mckell Family – and even caught some fish including bream, mackerel and a small smooth-hound.
SBS BoatLife is giving back to the industry, with its sponsorship of the British Yachting Awards and other partnerships. Where do you see the brand in five years?
An exciting question to answer! Our plan is to build BoatLife as a strong community brand that brings together boaters regularly, and plays a big part in growing the number of people on the water across the UK. We very much see it as more than one event in the calendar and an all-year resource for boaters to engage with.