Background information for Leisure boating

As the world’s most popular tourism destination, the Mediterranean is also one of the world’s main tourism vulnerability hotspots. Tourism puts a wide range of pressures on the environment, while it depends strongly on environmental assets. Leisure boating in the Mediterranean region is a key component of coastal tourism, and it has significantly developed over the last decades. 

Marina port capacity in number of moorings per km of coastline in EU countries (except Cyprus) and routes of sailing and pleasure crafts using  Automatic Identification System (AIS) signals (crafts > 24m)

In the Mediterranean, around 95% of leisure boats measure less than 24 metres. However, the region is also a leading global destination for large to very large yachts. Studies show that 50% of the global fleet of superyachts spends 8 of every 12 months in Mediterranean waters, with the Côte d’Azur being the most popular destination. 70% of worldwide charter contracts are for the Mediterranean, and 56% of these are for the western part of the region. 


The EU definition (Art.3, European Directive 2013/53/EU) identifies leisure boats as recreational craft up to 24 metres, and super yachts above 24 metres. 

Leisure boating is economically important in many countries on the northern shore of the Mediterranean. Nautical tourism in Europe generates annual revenues from €20 to €28 billion and employs between 200,000 and 234,000 people. European countries account for 71% of the total global production of recreational craft, while Italy is responsible for about 20% of the superyacht manufacturing market. 

Marinas and recreational ports are widespread along the Mediterranean coast. There were around 940 marinas in the Mediterranean Sea in 2010, of which 253 were located in Italy, 191 in Spain and 124 in France

Leisure boats different size classes

There is little data available on future trends for marinas. In 2015, many new marina projects were underway: 17 in Greece, 10 in Spain, 1 in Malta and several (exact number unknown) in Italy and the Adriatic. However, in some countries such as France which already have a high density of marinas (on average one every 14 km), the potential for their spatial expansion is now very limited due to current environmental protection legislation.

Coastal MPAs and marine Natura 2000 sites are very attractive for leisure boating, and in recent years they’ve been attracting increasing numbers of visitors.

The increase in leisure boating is creating significant environmental and socioeconomic challenges, since leisure boats and their associated infrastructure (ports, marinas, etc.) can threaten marine fauna and habitats, as well as cause conflicts with other sectors from recreational users to professional fishers. Increasing attention is being paid to the environmental impacts of recreational boating, raising the question of whether and to what extent it should be allowed in such vulnerable locations, and how best to manage it. 

This PHAROS4MPAs policy brief illustrates the main trends shaping the recreational boating sector, identifies its projected impacts on Mediterranean MPAs and Natura 2000 sites, and proposes priority policy responses.