Start a Boating Business in the Netherlands

The Netherlands has a boating industry with a long tradition. Both the professional maritime industry and the leisure industry are among Europe’s largest. It is difficult to exactly define the maritime industry, because it covers so many and very diverse industries. In this article we will zoom in on setting up a small or medium-sized business in a few sub-industries of the Dutch maritime sector.

Source: Dutch maritime cluster 2020

Register a Dutch boating business

Most business types do not need any specific licenses or permits. Basically the one thing all business need to have is a chamber of commerce registration. This is relatively easily done by following the steps below:

  • Figure out which legal entity works best for you. Usually this is either a sole proprietorship, commercial partnership (vof) or a BV. The BV is a limited liability company. This ensures you are shielded from most financial risk. Furthermore, it is usually the most tax-friendly solution for a Dutch boating company. Finally, most entrepreneurs set up a so-called BV holding structure. This gives additional protection and has a few tax advantages.
  • Register the business at the chamber of commerce. The exact way this is done depends on the legal entity you have chosen.
  • After the registration you will receive a chamber of commerce. This number gives you access to open a bank account. Simultaneously you will apply for a VAT number. The bank account and VAT number are important for any Dutch boating business.
  • Finally, you should check out if your business complies with Dutch laws and regulations. This means that you should have your legal contracts in order. For example, employment contracts for your employees and terms and conditions for your customers. But also if any industry-specific permits, licenses or insurances are required.

Opening a shipbuilding, boat maintenance or repair business

No specific licenses or requirements apply to business in boat maintenance or repair. Therefore it can be difficult to separate businesses experience and quality from the less serious businesses. Many boat owners find it difficult to figure out who to do business with. Therefore, if you establish your boat maintenance or repair business we advice you to register with industry associations. A few examples:

  • HISWA is the oldest trade association for the Dutch leisure boating industry
  • NBJA is the Dutch association of yacht architects.
  • NJI is a large Dutch shipbuilding association.
  • NVEP is an association of boat experts, taxation and evaluation companies.
  • SITO is an assocation of large employers in technical ship maintenance.
  • SZS is an assocation for sail makers.
  • CompositesNL is an assocation for companies working with composite.

Finding customers for your boat maintenance or repair business can be challenging. Especially if you do not have a network in the Netherlands yet. The associations above can sometimes be helpful in establishing a network and finding work projects. An alternative is to find customers directly online. There are several Dutch job marketplaces to find work projects for your business. Examples are Werkspot and Marktplaats. The downside is that you are often competing for projects with all sorts of Dutch maintenance and repair businesses. These do not necessarily have to be boat related. However, there is one specialized platform where only boating businesses are allowed access. This platform is called OfferteHaven and features work assignments from individuals and businesses.

Selling boats professionally

Many slightly more expensive leisure crafts are sold by yacht brokers. If you want to sell boats professionally, you do not need any formal qualifications or licenses. That is because a yacht broker is not a protected title. However, you can become a recognized yacht broker by registering with the European Maritime Certification Institute (EMCI).

There are many yacht brokers in the Netherlands already. So to have success you should most likely look for a specific niche. Another interesting opportunity for foreign entrepreneurs is to import or export boats from the Netherlands. If you have an existing network in other countries, this can be a lucrative way of trading boats. In that case you will need to arrange the legal paperwork, insurance and make sure you have a proper transport company to take care of the physical transportation.

boating industry role in the dutch economy

Selling boats and equipment online in the Netherlands

Selling boats or equipment online does not require any specific licenses or permits. Besides from registering your company, there are a few things you should be aware of. Plus, we will give you a few pieces of advice that could be helpful. We also have a more general guide on starting an ecommerce business in the Netherlands that should be helpful.

First of all, you should have your terms and conditions in order and clearly published on your website. These terms and conditions state the rights and obligations you and your customer have. Normally you will not have to use them a lot. However, having your terms and conditions in place will save you time, energy and money when a conflict arises.

How to market your online boating shop

The easiest way to reach your customers in the Netherlands is through a small number of large marketing platforms. But other, more traditional methods might still do the trick.

First of all, Google Ads is still the main shopping gateway for the watersports and leisure industry. We advice you to run a number of standard text ads combined with Google Shopping ads.

Second, an important channel for the boating industry is Marktplaats. This was traditionally a second-hand online marketplace, but has opened up for sales of new products. The online ad programme for business (Marktplaats Zakelijk) is a cost-efficient and usually effective way of reaching customers int he boating industry.

Third, is the Dutch answer to Amazon. This retail giant has become more of a marketplace in recent years. Meaning that you can sell your products on Bol. The platform takes a cut of your sale. This cut can be quite substantial, so make the calculations before you start. Besides, Amazon has opened up shop in the Netherlands. Their business model works about the same as Bol.

Fourth, if you are selling actual boats you could consider advertising on the largest boat sales website. This website is called Botentekoop and facilitates both private and professional boat sales.

Fifth, a more traditional way of marketing your business and meeting people in the industry are boat fairs. The Dutch HISWA Boat Show has been cancelled due to decreased interest. Another reason is that many people have fled to Boot Dusseldorf, just across the border in Germany. This is open to Dutch businesses as well and has much more to offer.

Other opportunities

Do not lose out on the Belgian market. It is a smaller boating market than the Netherlands. On the other hand its proximity to the Netherlands combined with a general lack of proper boating businesses make Belgium an interesting opportunity to increase revenue. Not in the least, because the most populous and wealthy part of the country is Dutch-speaking.

A second opportunity lies in increasing margins by importing and selling your own products. Many of the boat accessoires that you can buy at Dutch wholesale companies and resell to consumers, are actually generic products that you can buy yourself. This ‘cutting out the middle-man” can be very lucrative. It does however come at a risk. For exmple, it can take a long time before your goods arrive. And also do not expect a refund from a Chinese manufacturer if your products are broken or not up your standards.

Just like the car industry, the boating industry is going electric at a fast pace. This visible from the rapid developments in the battery industry to the sales of electric boats to consumers. Dutch waters are well adjusted to this development with an increasing charging infrastructure. The fact that Dutch waters consists mostly of smaller lakes, rivers and canals also matches the relatively limited range of electric motors. If you are considering getting into the Dutch boating market, this is something to look out for.

Finding suppliers and distributors in the Dutch boating industry

A great supplier can make all the difference when running a boat shop in the Netherlands. Not only to make sure that you receive your products in time at a fair price. But also to supply you with the right information and keep you up-to-date on new product developments. There is a large number of suppliers and wholesale businesses in the Dutch boating sector. Every sub-sector has their own supplier network and specific conditions. Find a few suppliers in the leisure boating market below:

When dealing with online sales, you are almost always dealing with personal data. For example when a customer purchases something and pays online. Payment details, name and address and email addresses are exchanged between your business and your customer. The Dutch and European authorities are increasingly strict when it comes to handing out fines to those who do not comply with privacy laws. This is why your business should be 100% GDPR compliant. For this reason we have developed a GDPR check, to scan your business for GDPR obligations. We make sure you have the right documents in place.

At Legalee we have first-hand experience with doing business in the boating industry. We have also helped many businesses get started in the Dutch maritime industry. Get in touch if you want some in-depth advice or if you have any questions about setting up a company.

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