Fanfare of the seas: a glance at the world of a superyacht owner

Fanfare of the seas: a glance at the world of a superyacht owner

A reviewer of The Economist visited the Monaco Yacht Show and described the world of a superyacht owner as he sees it from the outside.
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Itboat publishes the translation of an article by the American magazine The Economist, written following the Monaco Boat Show.

The Monaco Yacht Show is perhaps one of the most extravagant venues to showcase your own superiority. This year, 34.5 thousand visitors (more than ever) came to see 125 superyachts worth 2.7 billion, arriving at the port of Hercule. But the yachts were only a small part of the show. Monaco was, in fact, a big market for 0.1 per cent of the super-rich.

Everywhere you look, street vendors in tents trying to give you what you didn't realize you needed: a submarine that can send six to the bottom of a sea, an armoured Land Rover, a jet ski, 3D glasses, a military-style helicopter and a flying boat.

In this world, size matters.

The segment of the yachting industry that has recovered the fastest from the financial crisis is precisely the segment of yachts of monstrous size. Superyacht Intelligence has calculated that 62 yachts over 70 metres in length were delivered to owners between 2011 and 2016. Another 59 are currently under construction, even though some of the traditional spenders have tightened their belts slightly. Declines in oil prices have hit the Middle East and the Russians; the latter have also suffered from economic sanctions.

So the biggest spenders are now Americans, who account for a third of the market and the second place is taken by the British, who account for one tenth.

Extravagant toys are another obvious indicator of status at sea. Now that helicopters and swimming pools on board are taken for granted, the fight has moved to new territories. The last squeak of fashion is a support vessel. Why load your 150-meter yacht with toys when you can fold them onto a smaller support vessel and get them at your disposal on demand?

One such ancillary boat exhibited in Monaco showed the entire gentlemanly set of toys: a Vespa scooter, speedboat, diving equipment, a pair of jet skis and - as a cherry on a cake - a private submarine. It turns out that nothing shares the world of the super-rich like the eternal debate over the shape of the submarine: one camp stands up for round submersibles while the other, with foam at the mouth, stands up for the shape of a cigar.

To squeeze the maximum out of a yacht is not just to add deck space. Owners learn how to squeeze more out of the available resources. They turn their helipads into squash fields during the day and open air cinemas at night.

All this deliberate and demonstrative consumption makes some sense. Many super-rich people want to declare their wealth so that even the most ignorant moron can hear them.

But at the same time, they want to be able to retire to their private empires. A yacht can be shown without fear, which is not the case with a house or a hotel suite: unlike real estate, a yacht can be taken off anchor and run off into the middle of the ocean, where you will not need to communicate with anyone but the chosen ones. Super yacht owners often visit each other, not only to compare their boats, but also to look at the guest lists of their classmates.

However, there are many more subtle ways to get around other yachtsmen. The sailing caste (usually from Old Europe or New England) looks down on «motorbikes». Some boat manufacturers emphasize the desire for simplicity in the peak of the love of trinkets. «I want my yacht to look like a house by the sea, not like a floating Versailles», with a sense of self superiority affirmed by the advocates of simplicity.

There is also a strong fashion for good old-fashioned adventures: not just riding a jet ski, but going somewhere to hell in the streets, Antarctica or at worst to the Norwegian fjords. Young entrepreneurs from the technology industry do not come to yachting for piles of property, but for a new and exciting experience.

Whatever the motivation of the buyers, the bottom line is that business is thriving.

At the time of the first Monaco Yacht Show in 1991, there were only 1147 superyachts (yachts over 30 meters long) in the world. Today, their number has grown to 4473, with 473 more under construction. The Warsash Superyacht Academy, which trains yachting staff, estimates that the superyacht industry has an annual turnover of €24 billion and employs around 150,000 people. The industry includes not only shipyards, equipment manufacturers and suppliers, crew recruitment agencies and insurance agencies. For example, DYT Yacht Transport has launched the world's first vessel built specifically for the transportation of yachts to the Caribbean and other popular yachting hangouts.

Some of the superyacht owners are worried about whether the industry will still thrive in the growing wave of populism. The elite club is discredited by such figures as Sir Philip Green, former owner of the bankrupt British Home Stores chain and owner of one of the largest private yachts in the world, the 90m Lionheart. Owners who are actively involved in the life of their companies also add to the prestige of blurring the superyacht: while they are working, their yachts are rented out as operating costs are high.

However, as long as owners exhibit their boats and come to see others, the superyacht market will be dynamic. Owners are always looking for something better: the average tenure of a yacht is three years. Yacht brokers resell boats; interior designers convert them to new owners; glossy magazines advertise boats to potential buyers and tenants. The superyacht industry has easily recovered from the crisis. But there are still underutilized markets such as Asia. The first generation of Asian billionaires were too busy making money to hear the call of the ocean, but very soon their Western educated heirs will start adding dates for boat shows to their calendars.

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