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Luxury Yachts


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By Ibrahim Ajagunna, PhD and Fritz Pinnock, PhD

Yachting tourism has been around for a long time. However, as with most niche markets, the facts are difficult to obtain or non-existent.

Estimates suggest that about 10 million yachting holidays are taken each year. This number includes 2.5 million trips taken by residents of the United States and one million by residents of the United Kingdom (two of the largest source markets for yachting and sailing). The yachting industry has been exhibiting significant growth over the past 15 years and this growth is fuelled by an increasing desire for more active leisure holidays by the affluent. 

In addition, there is a growing interest in short-break and multi-centre trips (that is, trips that combine yachting and/or sailing with some other land and sea-based activity).

In the period 1997 to 2008, for example, there was a huge growth in the number, size and popularity of large private or ‘super luxury’ yachts in the size range of 24 to 70 metres. Luxury yachts, mega yachts or super yachts typically have no real home port, although a yacht must be registered in a port of its flag state. Popular flag state registrars for large yachts include the Cayman Islands, the Marshall Islands, the Isle of Man and the British Virgin Islands. Although these yachts may be registered in one of these countries, it is not unusual that the yacht may never have even visited ports there.


These yachts can be found in large numbers in the Mediterranean Sea in summer and the Caribbean Sea in the winter. Many can be chartered for sums of up to €1 million for a week. In many cases, up to 1,500 large yachts may be available for charter in a season in the Mediterranean. 

Industry analysts have pointed out that the availability of large commercial ships specially outfitted to transport multiple large yachts across the Atlantic Ocean has created a much larger charter market in the Caribbean region.

According to industry analysts, while the demand for new luxury yachts has slowed since 2009, there was a small rebound in 2011 with launches from many of the top yards. The 163.5 metre (536 ft) Eclipse, built by Blohm and Voss for Russian businessman Roman Abramovich, and the 180 metre (590 ft) Azzam, launched in 2013, are the largest private yachts in the world. (Luxury boat-building and yacht charter companies are predominantly based in the USA and Western Europe but are increasingly being located in New Zealand, Asia and Eastern Europe.)

Industry analyst reported that, while the Global Order Book showed a decline in 2012, this was less than 3% from the previous years. However, this was the third year of decline in the number of yachts on order. This statistic measures both custom and production yachts – power and sail – of 24 metres (79 ft) and larger. The smallest segment, that is, yachts of 24 to 27 metres (79 to 89 ft) length over all (LOA), appears to be growing while the 30 to 36 metres (100 to 119 ft) segment remained steady at 151 projects. The total number of newbuilds reported to Boat International Media for 2012 is 728 vessels. Their cumulative LOA equals a stunning 29 km (18 miles) and the average length of newbuilds is 40 metres (131 ft).

The modern yacht

According to industry reports, while there are more yards (a total of 209) building yachts, the list of yacht construction powerhouses remains unchanged. The top 10 builder nations remain unchanged from 2011 and Italy is still number one with 317 projects reported for a total length under construction of more than 11,580 metres (38,000 ft).

Industry reports the Netherlands as second by virtue of the size of its yachts. Its 61 projects at 3,074 metres (10,085 ft) surpass Turkey’s 68 projects at 2,904 metres (9,529 ft). The USA is in fourth place with 71 builds (2,737 metres or 8,980 ft) and the UK is fifth with 45 projects (1,378 metres or 4,521 ft).

Among the top 20 builders, Ferretti Group and Azimut-Benetti switched places this year, with Azimut-Benetti leading on the basis of the total length of boats in production (2,640 metres or 8,661ft). The Ferretti Group had 76 projects, with one more boat under way. As regards custom orders, Azimut-Benetti is the leader at 33 projects with Lürssen second and Feadship third.

The average size of yacht under construction at Lürssen, however, is more than twice the size of that under way at Benetti, which stood at 107 metres or 353 ft (as against 43 metres or 142 ft).

Feadship has eight projects under way at an average length of 71 metres or 233 ft.

Characteristics and features of a modern yacht 

Yachts from 24 metres (79 ft) and upwards qualify for design awards. Given the number of yachts exceeding 100 ft, many set the minimum length for a super yacht higher. A 45 to 50 metre (148 to 160 ft) yacht, the smallest with a generally accepted claim to super yacht status, will usually be a three-decker with cabins for 10 to 12 guests and for a crew of a similar size. Accommodation on a modern yacht is typically as follows:

Lower deck

•Exterior swimming platform at the stern 

• Four or sometimes five guest cabins with en-suite bath 

• Engine room amidships 

• Crew quarters. 

Main deck

• Sheltered exterior deck aft leading into the salon 

• Dining room and galley 

• Entrance amidships 

• Owner’s suite forward 

• A study (usually) 

• A second stateroom for a personal assistant/bodyguard (sometimes).

Upper deck

• Exterior deck aft, often used for outdoor dining 

• Second salon (often called the sky lounge) 

• Sixth stateroom will be amidships if it is not on the lower deck or part of owner’s suite 

• Captain’s cabin; bridge.

Sun deck 

• The uppermost deck. Often features a Jacuzzi and sometimes a glass-enclosed gym (which can also be below decks or part of the owner’s suite).

In addition, a 50 metre yacht will have one or more yacht tenders for reaching shore. Other equipment may include a speedboat, a sailboat, personal watercraft, windsurfing and diving equipment. Many yachts have multiple televisions and satellite communications.

Since the beginning of 1990s the number of ultra large yachts has grown rapidly. Increasingly, only yachts above 65 metres (213 ft) stand out among other luxury yachts. Yachts of this size are in most cases built on individual commissions and cost tens of millions of dollars. A yacht of this size usually has four decks above the waterline and one or two below. Many have a helipad. Apart from additional guest cabins, which are likely to include one or more VIP suites besides the owner’s suite, extra facilities compared with a 50 metre (160 ft) yacht will include some or all of indoor Jacuzzis, sauna and steam rooms, a beauty salon, massage and other treatment rooms, a medical centre, a disco (usually the same space as the sky lounge or salon, transformed into a dance area when required), a cinema, a plunge pool (possibly with a wave-maker), a playroom and additional living areas such as a separate bar, secondary dining room, private sitting rooms or a library. 

Dominant source markets, destinations 

The Caribbean is one of the finest and most popular yacht charter destinations in the world, bound by the northern coast of South America, the east coast of Central America, the islands of Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, and the chain of islands to the east known as the Windward and Leeward islands. 

By formation, the islands of the Caribbean were shaped by volcanic activity thousands of years ago, the result of which is a chain of islands stretching over 2,000 miles, with the Atlantic to the east and Caribbean Sea to the west. Every Caribbean island has its own unique character, shaped not only by a colourful history but also by topography. From the unspoilt rainforest and black sandy beaches of Dominica to the European-influenced St. Kitts with its old plantation houses and glamorous hotels, each island destination has something unique to offer. Exploring the Caribbean by yacht is a wonderful way to appreciate the variety and uniqueness of these islands while basking in a warm tropical setting.

Vincenzo Zappino, in his analysis of the tourism industry in the Caribbean, pointed out that yachting in the Caribbean has served as a small but important specialty market for decades. Growth in yachting has been substantial in the past 20 years, for both charter cruises and bareboating. Popular cruising grounds are centred on the northern Caribbean and the Grenadines, where a variety of ports of call are within easy cruising distance of each other. 

Continued growth in this market is expected, paralleling the rising interest in recreational boating in most developed countries. An important element of the yachting market is the creation of events which help to position a destination as a desirable yachting destination.


Antigua’s Sailing Week, for example, is perhaps the premier yachting event in the Caribbean, attracting up to 500 yachts in April each year. Success at promoting yachting

provides benefits directly but also increases the potential for repeat business. It also adds to the diversity of a destination’s tourism product and, in many cases, becomes an attraction in its own right for land vacationers. Like the cruise market, yachting provides direct and indirect benefits to the region. It also adds to the diversity and excitement of a country’s tourism product and creates local business opportunities in a variety of sectors, from provisioning to yacht repair services.

Neither the global recession, nor the stock market slides nor the disappearance of personal wealth has put a dent in Caribbean charter yacht vacations. In fact, industry specialists have argued that bad weather in North America and Europe can turn the tide for chartering in the Caribbean.

Erik Blommestein, in his paper ‘Meeting yachting information needs for planning and policy in the Caribbean’ (presented to an International Seminar on Yachting in Fort-de-France, Martinique, from 30th May to 1st June 2012), pointed out that in many territories of the Caribbean the contribution of the yachting sector may very well surpass that of the cruise ship sector; but still such a contribution is largely unknown and not recognised by the government and the public at large. At the same time it is recognised that the collection of yachting-specific information requires human and financial resources that, in view of other priorities, may be beyond the capacity of the government or private-sector organisations to conduct effectively.


According to Blommestein, within the tourism industry one of the most effective arguments of any sub-sector in the policy dialogue is its relative contribution to economic well-being and development, particularly in terms of employment and tourism earnings. However, this argument would be only one of the many justifications for a better framework for yachting information, especially in the Caribbean.

According to Blommestein, perhaps the major and obvious difference between yachting with land-based accommodation is that the place of stay is mobile and can leave at any time. In this regard, it is similar to cruise ship tourism. However, unlike cruise ship visitors, yachting tourists (and yachts) stay longer, sometimes for months. In addition, the visiting yachting tourist can (and frequently will) spend time at marinas, boatyards, anchorages and moorings. One consequence of this difference is that, apart from yachting tourist arrivals, the number of yachts within a given location is variable and subject to change.

Another difference is that repairs and maintenance of the vessel can constitute a major aspect of expenditure patterns. And it is a rare yachting destination that does not provide some repair and maintenance services.