While the media are ramping up their engagement by feeding the masses with yachting scandal headlines and harassing the professionals in the industry, Marcela de Kern believes that the witch-hunt needs to stop and that there are some things about the superyacht industry we should know. 

Marcela de Kern – Onboard Monaco
& Program Director at the YACHTING MASTERCLASS

The media scandals against yachting are not helping to stop the war, but are just hurting the yachting industry more than anything and the people who rely on it for their livelihoods. 

Superyacht shipyards follow all national and international laws and regulations and operate a stringent client-acceptance system regardless of nationality. Reading the media, you’d think that all yachts, or at least the majority of yachts, are owned by Russians, but superyacht owners come from all over the world. Many are self-made people who’ve contributed a great deal to society. All they have in common is their affluence, and who are we to judge at what level wealth becomes excessive?

The real heroes in all of this to me, are the craftsmen, engineers, designers, naval architects and the myriad of other disciplines involved in creating the remarkable superyachts you see in the media. They’re not the villains in this crisis and nor should they become the victims.

Please don’t allow their future and all that we’ve built up over many decades to be jeopardised by the stigmatisation of an entire industry.

Marcela de Kern

In her article below, Marcela seeks to teach us all a little bit more about the REAL yachting industry.

Yachting under the spotlight

Now, more than any other moment in its history, our industry is firmly under the spotlight. Never far from the headlines, recent months have seen superyacht stories breaking across both mainstream and yachting media, covering debates over Russian ownership sanctions, yacht seizures in Europe and beyond, the efforts of Ukrainian crew members to sink Russian-owned vessels and much more!

For those, such as myself, who have forged their careers out of the superyacht industry – and are proud to say so – this could be an uncomfortable time to be part of a business which is having the light shone on it, after being accustomed to a far greater level of discretion, thanks to the desire to protect the privacy of superyacht owners.

However, this is not the case. There are an ever-growing number of industry players – among which I am proud to count myself – who have been pushing towards greater transparency, knowledge sharing and accessibility within the superyacht industry for years, and so welcome this focusing attention upon our business.

Knowledge is power

Speaking personally, this is the main reason why I decided to collaborate with experts across the industry to publish The Superyacht Industry, the first-ever industry textbook, as well as motivating me to found and run the world’s first Yachting Masterclass in the form of the Superyacht Academy which took place for the first time in Monaco last year.

When an industry is shrouded in secrecy this can lead to rumours and overactive imaginations, causing misinformation to spread.

On the other hand, transparency leads to improved education and knowledge sharing, encouraging better and more positive decisions to be made.

I can also offer the chance for those who live and breathe yachts to share our stories with the wider world and present a more balanced picture of yachting, now that the world is well and truly paying attention.

As Kentucky poet laureate Frank X Walker says, If you don’t tell your story, somebody else will.

Money talks

We are talking about yachting here, and as we all know, money talks.

Indeed, it would be remiss not to mention the huge economic benefits that the yachting industry brings with it all around the world. Although I do not have space here to dig fully into these, many others have done precisely this, including the Superyacht Builders Association’s Economic Impact Study, which it conducted alongside the specialised department of Spatial Economics at the VU University of Amsterdam in 2017 (and can be viewed in full here). 

The study in question found that the global economic impact of the superyacht industry was, at a conservative estimate, determined at €11.9 billion per year, taking into account new construction (valued at 4.3 billion), operations (4.6 billion) as well as maintenance & refit (3 billion). Although numbers at this scale can be hard for a layperson to get their head around, when you start to think in terms of the individuals who are employed by the industry day to day, a clearer picture emerges.

Jobs, jobs, jobs

Anyone who has had the pleasure of donning a hard hat and high-visibility vest to visit an active shipyard in yachting hotspots such as Italy and the Netherlands, can vouch from personal experience that bringing a superyacht to life requires a vast number of highly-skilled individuals, working around the clock to realise the often complex demands of her future owner. 

As is highlighted in a report by the Superyacht Life Foundation, ‘one estimate puts the number of people employed by a 65-metre new build at 350 – and that’s just direct employment’. This encompasses a wide range of professionals from planners, to project managers, plumbers, electricians, painters, carpenters and many more. More broadly, there is a total of 250,000 people working across the industry as a whole, from naval architects and designers to engineers and superyacht crew, in jobs that are worth an annual total of €5.99 billion.

Finally, a useful ‘rule of thumb’ brought to the fore by SYL is that ‘for every hour worked in the shipyard, another four to six hours are worked in related industries’ by suppliers and subcontractors.

This brings the total man-hours for building a large yacht to upwards of 3 million, equivalent to two thousand people working for a whole year, thus arguably representing a form of wealth redistribution.

Rather than being a “rich man’s toy”, a yacht is part of a global industry, sustaining the livelihoods of thousands around the world. 

Floating palaces

The interconnected and interdependent nature of the world was thrown into painfully-sharp relief by the (still ongoing) effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, in which both local and international travel were curtailed, and economies floundered as a consequence.

In the yachting industry, this was perhaps most obvious when it came to countries which were dependent on tourism from yachting and the travel industries to provide their income and bolster their economies in tough times. Similarly to cruise ships, superyachts provide large amounts of money to the local communities and destinations which they visit, through onshore spending from their owners and guests, as well as through provisioning, docking fees and even maintenance costs.

Indeed, SYL cites the US Superyacht Association which found that ‘a 55-metre superyacht spends approximately $110,000 USD on provisioning, $350,000 USD on dockage fees and $400,000 USD on fuel in the ports it visits every year’. As a concrete example provided by SYL, an 80-90m superyacht with guests will spend on average of $127,000 USD per week when it is docked in a destination such as Bermuda. 

The men behind the boats

But, it’s all very well you citing all of these figures and statistics, Marcela, but we’re not really interested in all of that. What about the superyacht owners, aren’t they all corrupt oligarchs?”

I can sense the above reaction even as I write this, and so I will briefly touch upon the question of superyacht ownership and the men (yes, it is still largely men), who actually buy and use the boats – although a recent Wealth X report has shown a steep increase in the number of female billionaires. 

Although there are, of course, the restrictions of non-disclosure agreements which preserve confidentiality around identifying specific owners of these extremely high-value assets, there is some information freely available about superyacht ownership, notably in SuperYacht Times’ free to download market report from 2021 (accessible here)

This paints a more diverse picture of superyacht ownership than is often painted in the mainstream media for vessels above 40m, with the USA accounting for 22.6% of yachts in 2021, Russia 8.7%, the UK 5.6%, and Italy 5.4%, with slight growths in ownership for Italy, Greece and Australia reported between 2020 and 2021 (at 5.4%, 5.8% and 2.5% respectively).

Every superyacht owner I have met is unique, coming from a wide range of fields and backgrounds and with a plethora of reasons for wanting to buy a yacht, whether it is to explore the world with their family and friends, to find a quiet place to run their business, or simply to make the most of their time on the water. In addition, representing the 0.001% of the population, many of these individuals are able to use their powerful positions to do good in the world through philanthropy.

Notable examples include Carl Allen, who is currently restoring the northernmost Bahamian island, Walker’s Cay, following its destruction by two consecutive hurricanes (discover more here), as well superyacht owner Jonathan Rothenberg, pioneer of a COVID home self-test, which was invented whilst on his yacht that he uses as a research laboratory. 

In short

In short, I am not asking you to set out your proverbial stall on the superyacht industry based on what I have outlined here – although many of you will have already done so before I even put pen to paper. All I am asking is that you consider the possibility that, as with many things in life, the story is a little bit more complicated than the headlines would have you believe. 

About Marcela de Kern

Monaco-resident Marcela de Kern Royer combines a passion for yachting with a strong international academic background, with past experience in asset management including superyachts, she has gained excellent exposure to all facets of the industry, starting as a supplier and having experience in new build, refit, brokerage, and yacht management.

Onboard Consulting was established in the Principality of Monaco in 2015 and operates as a highly specialised company in a truly niche sector offering unrivalled expertise when it comes to business strategy, marketing and brand management in the superyacht world.

For more information visit www.onboard.mc.

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