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Boat production in Serbia: people still don’t turn their back to rivers - Serbia Business

Boat production in Serbia: people still don’t turn their back to rivers

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No one in Serbia knows exactly how many boats are produced, but it is only estimated that it is around 500 vessels per year. It takes about a week to make an average boat, and prices start at 3,000 euros and up, while the cheapest imported boats cost 40,000 euros. There is a noticeable increase in the demand for domestic vessels, because the standard has increased, so now there are people who can buy a decent boat for a monthly salary, according to the manufacturers.

Even the Serbian Chamber of Commerce does not have precise data on how many companies are involved in the production of boats, what their program is and how much traffic there is on that market. For B&F, they explain that vessels are registered in port authorities, but that boats, speedboats, yachts or catamarans are not classified separately, nor whether they are manufactured in Serbia or imported. However, they estimate that around 500 different vessels are produced annually in the country.

B&F interlocutors say that there is room for the development of this branch, but that the lack of infrastructure seriously threatens its progress. Krsta Pašković, president of the “Danube Propeller” Association, who has been involved in nautical activities for more than 30 years, claims that the use of the coast should be enabled first, but that there is not enough attention in the water management companies and the ministries of agriculture, transport and tourism for the branch that drives the nautical industry. And could employ thousands of people.

“Until recently, there was no map of waterways in our country, the Vode Vojvodina company made a map of navigable rivers and canals, about 900 kilometers, but only for the province. A few years ago, for the Fair in Dusseldorf, I covered the whole of Serbia, registered the Drina, the Morava and the canals that can be used by vessels with a smaller draft, a total of about 1,800 kilometers. It is wealth, but in order to build the infrastructure, the state must put that industry in the development plan. Now, when you try to build something on the coast, a small wharf, a marina or a dock, any facility on the river, everyone immediately thinks that gold ducats are falling there and a lot of institutions come up to collect some fees,” says Pašković and adds that in no official publication can one find data on the depth or width of rivers and canals, i.e. draft.

Market without information

He points out that there is a huge lack of understanding of nautical tourism in the institutions, so all construction is almost prohibited on and around the canals, even though they are a paradise for sailing. On the other hand, the Danube is being built without good supervision, and large tugs, barges and ships sail on it, it is fast, unpredictable, so it is not a very happy choice for small boats. In contrast, the rivers Tisa, Morava, Drina and the network of various canals attract boaters, but apart from the rich nature, there are few other contents necessary for a wider tourist offer.

“On the shores of the Vojvodina canals, there are many farms and agricultural farms, and my idea was to build at least fifty small piers and paths to the estate on them, so that boats can stop, visit the hosts, buy something or have a meal and then continue their journey. In the state, however, they only mention large facilities, megalomaniacal marinas on the Danube intended for ships, while the infrastructure for boats is neglected,” explains Pašković.

Lazar Stanojević from the Zemun nautical association “Moja lađa” also confirms that there is a lack of information about the market for a more serious development of boat production. He reminds that the number of vessels on our rivers is unknown, because few owners have registered their boats due to the luxury tax law in effect until recently, which prescribed high levies. Now the same amount is paid, but every third year, however, there are still several thousand boats off the record.

“Although there are many very solid manufacturers of plastic boats, the interest has increased, there are almost waiting lists. In the case of requests for aluminum vessels, it can be a whole season. True, there are also importers, but they are higher class and far more expensive. These from domestic companies are mostly simpler models, up to six meters, they can also be with a double bottom, so they are practically unsinkable, open or with a cabin, with outboard motors… They can be found at a price of 3,000, 4,000 euros, but in the end all it depends on the installed equipment”, says Stanojević for B&F and adds that prices jumped during the corona, when people turned to rivers.

According to Milan Marinković, from the TPR Nautical Center in Novi Sad, which produces vessels and equipment under the “Three Princesses” brand, domestic manufacturers have mainly developed types of river and lake boats with a flat bottom.

“Luxury boats, yachts and speedboats are most often imported, but they don’t go much on our rivers, their engines are too strong, they use a lot of fuel and they have a deeper draft, so they can’t dock everywhere. Domestic production goes to state companies, Srbijavode, Vode Vojvodina and for those who control rivers, police and army, fire and rescue services, medical emergency services… But most of it Is intended for natural persons, fishing boats are most often our target group. The materials they are made of are fiberglass, plastic or aluminum. There is no more wood in that production. By the way, it takes about a week to make an average boat, and they can cost from 2,500 or 3,000 euros and up,” says Marinković and adds that the downside of this business is uncertainty, it is seasonal and there are no long-term contracts.

New regulations

Dragan Žuža from the company PIMI notes that the regulations have recently changed, so that now all companies that supply products for the aquatic environment must be registered and certified for that activity. Registration is carried out by the Administration for determining the seaworthiness of ships at the Ministry of Construction, Transport and Infrastructure. Their website lists licenses for 84 companies or entrepreneurs, and most of them are authorized to design, service or manufacture individual parts of boats, engines, hydraulics, electronics…

Thus, the new owner, along with the invoice for the purchased boat, must also attach certificates of the manufacturer’s and designer’s certificates, without which he cannot complete the registration. Our interlocutor explains that not too many manufacturers have registration for the complete production of boats, only about ten of them. Until recently, says Žuža, the owner could register the boat with two witnesses who would confirm that the standards were met, and he could build the vessel himself, but now the procedure is more demanding. He assesses that it is not about excessive administration and that it is a step in the right direction.

“For what is in the production program of domestic companies, which are boats of 3,000 or 4,000 euros, we have no competition from abroad because their vessels are much more expensive. Local producers have now become more accessible to our citizens than before when wages were 200 or 300 euros, there are people who can now buy a decent boat for almost a monthly salary, which shows that times have changed and the demand is higher,” Žuža points out.

Ljubomir Vasilijević, the owner and director of the company Galija Yachting mainly deals with the sale of imported boats and nautical equipment, and he tells B&F that the cheapest boats from that program, new six-meter boats with 120 or 130 horsepower engines, cost around 40,000 euros, while there is no upper limit for more luxurious ones, it all depends on the size and equipment.

“They can reach three to five million euros, but we don’t have such customers. We offer products from a French company, the largest in the world and from Germany, while we purchase the equipment in Italy. It is true that boats are very expensive goods, but here they are cheaper than in the producing country, because we work with very small margins. In addition, the nautical infrastructure here is very bad, which is why traffic is low,” explains Vasilijević.

Our interlocutor assesses that there is not much money in nautical and that banks are not ready to support companies from that branch. “For example, during the corona crisis, a German merchant ordered 80 ships, none of which were below 100,000 euros. Of course he didn’t have that money in the pile, but the bank gave him a guarantee against the factory and he could do it. When I proposed to my bank to cover my imports, build a warehouse, keep the goods as our own and we empty them and at that rate everyone charges their own, they said they don’t have such a product”, Vasiljević gave an example from personal experience.


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