Leaps and Bounds
I don’t know about you, but when I’m out on a boat (for BoatQuest.com, or as part of my job as Deputy Editor of Power & Motoryacht, or even on my own, you know, for fun and relaxation), I’m fascinated when I come across really large recreational boats, I’m talking about the superyachts, longer than 100 feet LOA. Last summer Fountainhead, a 288-foot Feadship, was anchored in Long Island Sound for a what seemed like a few weeks—it was almost as if a new island, complete with a village of buildings, and, yes, a basketball court, had sprung up overnight. When you putt on by a boat like that in an outboard-powered fishing boat and give a crew member a wave, one has to wonder what life aboard must be like: Are those aboard real boaters who enjoy time on the water or are they the equivalent of hotel guests who could just as easily fetch up poolside at some resort? On some level I have to think someone on board is a huge fan of boating.
Just a few weeks ago I was cruising on Arawak, a Grand Banks 42 Motor Yacht and we took a slip at the Naples City Dock for the night. As we took on fuel late in the afternoon, I watched as a young man cast a light spinning rod off the swim platform of a Westport 112. He could have been crew or a guest—heck, he could have been the owner of the yacht for all I know, cashed out of a tech startup. Anyway by virtue of his angling, he retained the connection to the water that I wonder about.
I began to understand a little better where at least some of these owners come from when I spoke to Andy Miles, a broker with Westport Yachts. “I have closed 10 yachts over 100 feet in the last 12 months, and several others that were between 80 and 100 feet, he says. “I can tell you from experience where these owners come from, what their thought process is, and what generally motivates them to spend money in a certain price range.”
Boaters at this level, and indeed at every level, don’t just magically appear. They’re made by their experiences. “People understand how much the world opens up whenever they get out and enjoy being on the water with their family,” Miles says. “In my opinion it’s a great bonding experience for families. Once they give it a try and have a satisfactory experience the lifestyle becomes an integral part of their lives, and that’s how you end up with families that are multigenerational boaters.”
I spoke to Miles because he had a Hatteras 63 Raised Pilot House motoryacht listed on BoatQuest.com, and I wanted to understand the market for that model and who buys them. “Boaters who have bought a starter-size boat with a good experiece often are wanting to move up to a 60- to 65-foot motoryacht to further test the waters,” he says. “If you go back in the lineage of your 100- to 150-foot-class yacht owners—the Christiansens, the Trinities, the Westports—you find out those folks started out probably owning a 54-foot Sea Ray Sundancer or the like, and moved through the 63/64-foot Hatteras, a 74/75-foot Hatteras or similar yacht etc and continued up. It is fascinating to trace that owner to where they got their first experience in boating.” In many cases, these guys are boaters, same as we are, they’re just taking it to a larger scale.
I mentioned to Miles that in boats any larger than that, you’re likely to see a professional captain. “A lot of the need for a captain in the 70-foot range is insurance company driven because many of these owners are capable of running boats up to 80 or 85 feet, but can’t be involved to the level insurers expect,” he says. “And we do have some owner-operators in that size range, but the maintenance and safety of the boat itself demands the need for captain at some point. As anyone knows a boat of any size is a lot to maintain and keep in order. The value of the captain really starts to appear in the 60- to 70-foot range, especially from an operational, safety and logistics standpoint. The added benefit is the overall enjoyment a full time captain brings to the experience of ownership.”
But that captain can be the key to making the real leap, up into the 100-foot class and beyond. “When boat sizes increase and the need for the full-time captain arises, most of these people will take the captain with them up through the 100-foot range,” Miles says. “Both of them get a chance to grow together. I see a lot of times when you find the right owner-captain relationship, you’ll notice that the captains have been with these people for quite a while growing up through the ranks together.”
It all comes down to the experience. And keeping owners happy means keeping them in boating by helping them have good experiences. “Keeping a good service network of people that are honest and that do a good job at a fair price is extremely valuable,” Miles says. “When times are good, the people that didn’t overcharge and didn’t overpromise and were fair about the money and costs—those people do just fine during market downturns.” Miles understands that when it comes to service, it doesn’t take much to send boat owners to other forms of recreation.
It’s those that have had terrific service that get to the next level: the superyacht level.