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January 2004

Article selected from our quarterly magazine dedicated to the largest and most luxurious boats with information, interviews, technical articles, images and yachting news



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Article by
Lucio Petrone


The market of super-yachts, in other words boats over 24 metres in length, continues to expand at a rate that is almost unthinkable for boats of this size. According to American and European sources, in 2004 there will be in fact around 510 super-yachts under construction, with an increase of over 5% compared to the 482 in 2003 (505 in 2002, 428 in 2001, 317 in 2000). If we add to these confirmed orders the large units quietly being built here and there by smaller boatyards all over the world, this figure is even higher. That's right, because almost all constructors nowadays aim to build super-yachts. Many have been fooled into thinking that these rich pickings are there for all to take, but in reality it is not that easy. As Paolo Vitelli has shown with Azimut-Benetti, the super spenders are not easily convinced of our reliability when there are boatyards on the market with generations of tradition behind them, plus prestigious quality and work, such as the Dutch, who have always been a benchmark in the market for this type of boat. It took almost 20 years, despite a name as famous as Benetti's to win the battle and become number one among the world's super-yacht builders. Such an investment does not allow the constructor to take risks when dealing with clients who definitely have the money to spend, but at the same time are also very demanding, with requests for customising that cannot be ignored, even with charters in mind.

Speed, construction characteristics, seaworthiness.any claims made must then be maintained, because the person paying is quite rightly punctilious and will involve experts, surveyors and lawyers. The final copy of a specifications contract may take months to draw up. It is not enough to just build boats, they must also be sold and assistance during and after the sale must be offered. It is important not to improvise in order not to make a mistake and lose a wealth of image and substance that has taken years to put together. Even the Ferretti Group has adjusted successfully to the demands of this market, as have Perini Navi and all the others too, today about 25 brands, which will contribute to keeping Italy at the top of the constructors' list in 2004, with about 190 units. Azimut-Benetti naturally stands out from the others, world leader with almost 60 orders (including projects and boats built) followed by the Ferretti Group (with Custom Line, Ferretti yachts, Pershing, Riva and CNR) with almost 40, the Rodriguez Group (with Arno, Overmarine and I.S.A.) with just under 30, the RIPA Group with about 15, Cantieri di Pisa with 7 and Perini Navi with 6.

After the Rodriguez Group there is the competition represented by the English Sunseeker, the German Lurssen, the Danish of Royal Denship and then a long line of others. So after a drop in orders in 2003, maybe a kickback from the terrorist attack in New York, but perhaps also the response to a desire for non-exposure during a period of crisis, there has been a hardly surprising yet still important turn around in tendency, not extending however to sailing super-yachts, still down by about 10 units compared to the peak of 72 boats in 2002. Therefore, even the total ratio motor-sails comes out strongly in favour of the former with about 450 units.

It is true that, whether reckoning in dollars, sterling, euro or yen, these are units destined to be used by a clientele of billionaires, but even Europe has its own few million wealthy people with even greater numbers in the rest of the world. "This is a market that is capable of absorbing thousands of super-yachts", the great broker Gerard Rodriguez told us recently, "I just wish I had the boats available to sell".

What is amazing about all this is that the market continues to request increasingly larger pleasure boats. This has led to a race for the acquisition of infrastructures on the sea that used to belong to the shipyards, the latter having come a poor second against Asian competition, but there are not many suitable locations that do not call for costly restructuring work, that is if the local authorities and municipalities believe in the economic prospects of sailing and don't prefer more convenient political solutions.

At the moment most boatyards, not just in Italy, stop at thirty metres because they just don't have the infrastructures for anything larger. Again looking at a list divided into countries, after Italy come the United States, constructing about seventy units, Holland with 50, Great Britain and Taiwan with around 30, New Zealand with just over twenty, Denmark with about fifteen and finally Australia, Germany and Greece with ten or so each.

In this scenario the new Italian register for super- yachts used exclusively for chartering is very important, as at the moment this is most economically convenient for owners from a tax point of view. Merit goes to the Ucina, which has shown great long-term business sense and has managed to overcome the diffidence of many sector operators. With charters and refitting for these large boats, if the operation takes off, the sailing industry's contribution to the country's economics will be even greater, while the already high professionalism of those involved has still room for growth.