about the phenomenon of superyachts, the industry, the builders and the association taking care of their global interests.
A superyacht is the most extraordinary, customizable, complex and mobile luxurious asset an individual can purchase in the world.
The term ‘superyacht’ was first coined at the start of the 20th century to denote luxury yachts over 24 metres in length. Nowadays ‘superyacht’ refers to the largest category of motor and sailing vessels used for leisure purposes and which vary between 40 and currently 180 metres. The category between 24 and 40 metres is referred to as ‘large yachts’.
A brief history: the first vessels built for leisure purposes date back to the 1600s and yachting has been a part of international maritime heritage ever since. A significant number of superyacht builders were already in operation before the Second World War, and from the 1950s on the superyacht industry increasingly occupied the limelight as it built yachts for celebrities and prominent business men.
With a growing number of owners in the United States, Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere, superyachts became larger, faster and ever more luxurious. And while the economic crash of 1987 brought the burgeoning industry to a momentary halt, by the mid-1990s it had exploded back into life.
Over the past two decades the superyacht industry has witnessed rapid growth that required it to mature and become more professional in a relatively short period. This increased demand, both in number and vessel size, was mirrored by the growth in the number of Ultra High Net Worth Individuals (UHNWIs) and overall wealth in the world.
Today, an industry that has tripled in size over the past 15 years receives the recognition that its size and impact deserves. The current fleet comprises well over 1600 yachts of over forty metres in length, almost half of which were built in the last ten years. The current average annual production is around 70 yachts – a number that was below 30 at the beginning of the millennium. This is a story that still has a long way to run.
The superyacht industry revolves around wealthy individuals who wish to own a superyacht and the shipyards who facilitate them in achieving this goal. A wide range of companies other than yards are also active in the superyacht industry, ranging from equipment suppliers to the media, from yacht brokers to captains and crew. However, as the primary risk-takers who make continuous investments in state-of-the-art production facilities and hundreds of skilled craftsmen, the yards deserve structural support that goes beyond national or competitive lines.
Superyacht yards are significant sources of employment. Despite their highly innovative and efficient production methods they keep a wide range of traditional crafts and skills alive that would otherwise be consigned to the history books. Many of the superyacht yards have family-run origins and all continue to have a major impact on local economies to this day. Skills continue to be passed on from one generation to the next.
By the mid-2000s, superyacht yards found themselves increasingly squeezed between the international safety and environmental rules and regulations of the commercial maritime industry and those that apply to the smaller boat leisure sector. It was against this backdrop that the Superyacht Builders Association (SYBAss) was founded to ensure that the specific needs of the world’s superyacht yards were addressed on the international stage.
SYBAss represents the builders of motor and sailing yachts around the world. All SYBAss members have been in existence for at least ten years and built at least three yachts over forty metres in length over the past decade. This selective group is responsible for more than 50 percent of the annual global production of yachts over 40 metres in length.
As part of a unified global organisation, SYBAss members benefit from collective representation in three main areas: promotion, regulation and professionalism.
SYBAss facilitates communication between the members and their clients, and the wider superyacht industry. It plays a key role on the international stage in terms of maritime laws, safety and environmental rules and class regulations that impact the superyacht sector.
SYBAss also makes a wide range of information available to enhance the professionalism of the superyacht industry and to ensure that society as a whole has a better understanding of the valuable contribution made by the large yacht sector to both the global and local economy.
While the superyacht industry can sometimes be perceived as serving an elite few, there is much more to this sector than meets the eye. SYBAss works to correct misconceptions and reveal the positive aspects of the superyacht community to a wider audience. Below are just a few examples of the many ways in which the superyacht community plays its part in the world:
- Forward-thinking innovation and technologies are very much in evidence at superyacht yards and in their partnerships with co-makers. From air conditioning to rigging systems, exhausts to engines, the design, manufacturing and engineering required on modern superyachts is truly extraordinary. And many innovations have their origins due to the vision of a single owner who is prepared to pay the price of investing in the future well before the wider market is prepared to do so. In this sense the superyacht industry can be compared to the way the Formula 1 sector sets precedents for the car industry.
- Craftsmanship is also kept alive in many domains that would otherwise be relegated to history. Extraordinarily gifted individuals in the fields of joinery and carpentry, metalwork, marquetry, paintwork and countless other disciplines give superyachts an unrivalled degree of sophistication.
- Impact on local economies. Thousands of highly skilled men and women are employed at superyacht yards around the world, many of them from families that have worked there for generations. The same applies to the many specialised marine equipment supply companies that depend on the superyacht industry for their existence. And then there are the economic benefits in terms of employment for crews and the major expenditure spin-offs that occur when superyachts dock in ports around the world.
- A SYBAss study conducted by the renowned Delft University of Technology in 2010 developed a distinctive Compensated Gross Tonnage (CGT) factor for superyachts. This economic indicator measures the amount of work that goes into the construction of a vessel – which is much higher for superyachts than for the passenger ships to which yachts are often compared. The complexity and high-end finish are the major determinants for the large amount of work.
- The operational profile of superyachts is also significantly different: superyachts are used for leisure purposes, on average only around 300 hours per year. They also rarely sail at maximum speed, cruising at only 20% of their capacity on average. Statistics show that less than 0.3% of the world’s marine vessel CO2 emissions comes from the thousands of superyachts afloat today (Annex 1 of ‘Prevention of Air Pollution Prevention from Ships’ by the International Maritime Organization). Nevertheless, superyacht builders continue to minimise their impact on the environment and the world’s oceans – after all, it is their natural beauty that inspires people to go sailing in the first place.
- Many superyacht owners take great interest in the environmental aspect of the oceans on which they cruise, contributing to and collecting data for protective organisations. Meanwhile, owners and their crew are often participating in ocean research and disaster relief.