The sort of things which you can get grant assistance for haven't changed a whole load in the last 5-10 years. Whilst the economic climate has seen some reorganisation in the grant awarding bodies, the actual support has (at least in theory) not really changed because economic development is key to solving the "crisis".
The bad news for you is that a typical RIB business won't fall within the criteria that support is available for. In general government (whether local or national) has only offered grants (i.e. "free" money) to companies which were:
- employing significant numbers of people (usually in specific geographic areas)
- doing highly innovative R&D with specific technical risks
- strongly focussed on developing Export opportunities
- not directly competing with other local businesses.
There MAY be small amount of support available for some things like, getting broadband in rural areas, setting up some marketing materials etc - but think hundreds not thousands of pounds!
There may still be local support available (more likely to be loans than grants) through local authorities - which usually have less stringent criteria - but they will be focussed on how many jobs you will create.
Whereabouts in the UK are you planning to base yourself? If you are flexible or on a local boundary then it may be worth checking out the "neighbouring" area to see if they have better incentives. Scotland and Wales haven't abolished their equivalent of RDA's so you MAY get more support there (but don't expect them to be giving out much £ without demonstrable returns). Also the Local Enterprise Networks which will replace RDAs are better "developed" in some areas than others.
In reality most early stage businesses rely on money from "Friends, Fools and Family" because it is some of the softest money around (it can also be some of the messiest if you loose it). If your business plan is compelling then banks will consider it at the moment, but they will almost certainly want directors guarantees - which may not be a risk you would be willing to consider. The government operates a scheme (the Small Firms Loan Guarantee Scheme) which means if you don't have any assets to secure a business loan that they will do it for you. There are eligibility criteria, and it is much harder to get the bank to agree to this than it used to be (as the government only secure about 75% of it).
If the boat is the biggest cost then it may be possible to get asset finance for this. I'm not sure if this sort of cash has been hit as badly as bank loans, but I'd expect a startup may have some challenges in finding a funder. Perhaps a call to one of the boat builders who specialise in commercial stuff might be worth a try (someone like Quinquari who only do that, and who offer to go beyond supplying the boat would be an obvious point to try).
If you think what you are doing is really innovative/high-tech then drop me an email (we can put in place a non-disclosure agreement to protect you) as I have quite a bit of experience in that area and might be able to steer you to more appropriate funding sources.
If Friends, Family and Fools are not a viable option, but you really believe you have an amazing idea (even if it is not that high tech / patented etc) then Business Angel funding may be an option (think Dragon's Den without the stupid TV cameras etc). But you will really need to have worked out your proposition before you approach them. I'm not sure how the support mechanisms south of the border work for getting your "business" investment ready now that RDAs are being disbanded - but support was highly variable anyway - and I would suggest trying to find someone who has "been there and done it" even if not in the marine world to help you get your ideas sorted out may be just as easy as tracking down the right person in the public sector who wants to help, and has the right skills and resources. Usually people know someone who has got some experience starting up a successful business (look for someone "in business" rather than a "technician" who works for himself) and those people often like to have their ego's polished by telling them how smart they are how you would like to learn from their experience - then take him to the pub and test your ideas on him, and get him to work out the fundamentals of your proposition.