Accessibility and Inclusion

Thoughtful transition needed towards diversity

Hans Buitelaar
Wednesday, 27 March 2024
The new generation of boat buyers will be from a different social background than the traditional boating community, British Marine CEO Lesley Robinson argues. To accommodate them, the leisure marine sector should become more diverse.  For a thorough approach to this transition, the new Diversity Committee within world marine association ICOMIA has recently been established. 

“We need data to set a baseline.” CEO Lesley Robinson of industry association British Marine leads her team in a variety of initiatives to increase diversity in the leisure marine sector but also recognises that a better understanding of the demographics of the customer base as well as the workforce is key for the development of an effective campaign. 

“In the international association of the leisure marine industry ICOMIA we have now formed the Diversity Committee that aims to bring the insights and initiatives together from all member countries. At this point, we do not have the actual data about the populations of boaters and the workforce at yards, suppliers, rental services and marinas. We don’t have an overview of best practices that can inspire local diversity initiatives and guard the organisers from faults that have been experienced in such campaigns elsewhere. 

In the newly formed Diversity Committee, we want to do research, gather data and study the effectiveness of different actions that have been set up to increase diversity in terms of gender, age and cultural background.”


The association CEO shows no doubt about the necessity of more diversity throughout the sector. “The customer base is getting older. We need to attract new customers. The traditional boating community was always eager to learn a lot about navigation, technology and practii donse their skills in handling their boats. 

The new customer may not be that interested in all of the nautical capacities but may look for a relaxing social pastime aboard. New technology can make that possible, allowing skippers with less experience to safely make boat trips and dock at marinas. Together with the different approach to yachting, their use of a boat may direct them more towards renting than owning boats. 

If we want to survive as an industry, we need to adapt. Our boats must appeal to the new customers. If the workforce in our industry cannot relate to the desires of new customers, we can’t develop the kind of boats they need. We must welcome colleagues from different cultural backgrounds, gender and age, to secure a future for the leisure marine sector. 

These new workers are needed as the next generation and we need them to reflect more societal groups than the workforce in our sector traditionally has. Diversity is also needed to attract new talent for our industry. It is important that people from any group in society can have examples in the industry that they can relate to.” 


Having expressed the need for more knowledge and insight, Robinson points at a number of initiatives that have already proven successful and acknowledges that she has seen some change towards more diversity in the marine sector over the last couple of years. 

“First of all, as the leisure marine association in Britain, we organise career events for aspiring students and their parents. We point out that our industry offers serious career opportunities. Often, people are just not aware of the possibility to work in leisure marine companies. Their engagement begins with letting them know that there is work for them. 

Making young people from different sociatal groups aware of the fun of leisure boating as well as the possibility to find jobs in the marine sector starts already at primary school. British Marine invites a lot of schools from in and around Southampton to the boat show that they organise there, from all parts of the city. 

Robinson: “We had some 700 school kids attend last year, we are aiming to welcome over 1,000 this year. Imagine kids are living in the poorer quarters in the middle of this coastal city and they have never been out on the water. Furthermore, they have a superyacht design competition for young people. It is a fun way to discover what young people imagine to have aboard a dream yacht. And it is a good way to discover talent. The prize for the winner in the competition is an internship or mentoring at a yard that builds large yachts. British Marine develops and supports a number of marine apprenticeships.”


British Marine reaches out to the wider public in advertisement campaigns. “We campaign on social media, targeting a variety of demographics. We take notice to show promotional material that is inclusive. Women, girls, families and people from diverse cultural backgrounds, are shown in the advertisements.”

Female design

With eyes twinkling, Robinson gives some examples of how yacht design may change if the designer teams are more diverse. “During a recent visit to Sunseeker, I was very glad to notice gender balance in the design team. These things make a difference. Women in the design team understand that a socket is needed aside the bathroom mirror for a hair dryer, to name one obvious example. 

Or look at the new South African brand of easy cruising sailing boats HOP yachts. This boat is designed by a woman, understanding that young families want stress free sailing. It may not have the traditional aesthetic design that the traditional boating community embraces, but it may reach the new customer.”  


Personally, Lesley Robinson has sailed as crew aboard sailing yachts of different types, also during the occasional regatta both in the UK and abroad. Today, she goes paddleboarding when her tight schedule allows. 

Professionally, she got the chance to enter the leisure marine sector in 2015 in the role of Managing Director of MDL Marinas, operating 18 marinas in England and one in Spain. Taking on the role of CEO at British Marine in 2018, Robinson is now overviewing the industry in its entirety. “Again, I would like to emphasize how important it is to change towards a more inclusive workforce and client base. A new generation of boat buyers will be coming through and our industry needs to adapt.”