The evolution of Sweden’s leisure boat industry

During the 20th century, leisure boating was primarily a pleasure for the upper class. Boats were large, it was common to hire a crew to help you sail and boating fashion was important, to say the least. The first Swedish yacht clubs KSSS and GKSS were initially exclusive and hosted regattas and longer outings for their members.

Introducing: “Folkhemmet”
The political concept widely known as “Folkhemmet” with the mindset that every family should be able to own a house, a car and even a leisure boat was introduced in the 1930s. Boating became a hobby for the everyman, but the growth really took off in 1938 when every worker was guaranteed 2 weeks of paid vacation – the demand for affordable smaller boats grew rapidly and hundreds of smaller boat clubs (båtklubbar) were founded around Sweden.

Plastic fantastic 
The first plastic boat was manufactured in the United States in the early 1940s, and it took almost three decades before plastic became a hit in Swedish waters. However, the success is easy to understand; plastic boats are cheap, durable and require minimal maintenance. Between 1971 and 1974, the sale of plastic boats reached enormous levels with almost 100 000 boats sold, making the total number of leisure boats in Sweden amount to ~600 000.

The government wants in
In 1974, the government-sanctioned the report (SOU 1974:95) “Boating – The society and leisure boats”, where municipalities were directed to allocate resources toward enabling leisure boating activities in the region. A couple of examples of this was building more harbors, having more detailed nautical weather reporting and improving nautical charts all over Sweden. As if that weren’t enough, the report suggested that maritime education should be offered in schools (Skepparexamen).

Business is booming 
Today, leisure boating is deeply rooted in the culture and norms of many Swedes. Sweden has among the highest density of leisure boats per capita in the world and every third Swede travels the waters in a leisure boat every year. More than 800 000 boats float on Swedish waters and ~1500 boat clubs are active. What in the early 20th century was primarily an exclusive outing for the upper class, became a multi-billion SEK industry that engages +3 million Swedes every year.

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