The Russian billionaires may be gone, and efforts to tame runaway inflation may be raising fears of a global recession, but you wouldn't know it from the booming superyacht industry.
The Monaco Yacht Show that ended last weekend had a near-record 117 boats on display, with this year's crop sporting names like "Shabby," "Miss Candy" and "110' Dolcevita." The show seemed a world away from the war in Ukraine and the energy crisis crippling Europe.
Industry executives talked of insatiable demand that intensified during the pandemic as the wealthy decided that a boat of one's own was an ideal way to escape lockdowns and infection. Even with pandemic fears easing, demand has remained strong. Just nine months into 2022, revenue at Burgess, one of the leading superyacht brokers, is up 20% on last year, putting it on course for another record year.
"Our clients are all very wealthy; they've always felt sort of bulletproof and impenetrable and powerful," Burgess Chief Executive Officer Jonathan Beckett said in an interview on the sidelines of the show. "I think the one thing the pandemic did was make them feel vulnerable for the first time in their lives. They think, 'life is actually fragile. I'm not immortal and I can afford to go off and do something really nice. Why don't we do it now?'"
Massive demand made 2021 a record year for global sales of superyachts. Although that's unlikely to be matched this year, sales are still 68% above a 13-year average, according to Fraser Yachts brokerage. Last year, 1,001 superyachts measuring 24 meters (79 feet) or more, including new-builds, were sold for €9.4 billion ($9.2 billion), according Kevin Bodington, founder and CEO of YachtBuyer.com. Sales so far this year stand at 567 for €4.2 billion, he said.
"The market is softening not so much for lack of demand but rather lack of supply," he said. "The yards' order book is pretty much full but you can't scale overnight."
Americans are driving the demand, more than making up for the absence of rich Russians. As of Aug. 31, owners from the US accounted for the largest share of both the existing fleet and of new-builds, according to Superyacht Times. US owners make up 23% of the global fleet of super-boats of more than 40 meters, followed by the Russians at about 9%. Other major buyers come from Greece, the UK, Turkey and Italy.
For several years now, Russian oligarchs have been among the most high-profile buyers of the vessels, putting this traditionally discrete industry in the spotlight. But following Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February, authorities have immobilized or seized superyachts worth hundreds of millions of dollars tied to Russian billionaires targeted by sanctions in Tuscany, the Riviera and all the way to Fiji.
The absence of the Russians, geopolitical tensions and rising energy prices — although part of the conversation at the show — seem to be doing little to disrupt surging sales and charter bookings.
Sipping a beer sitting alongside 'Phoenix 2,' a 90-meter yacht built in 2010 that was on sale for €129 million, Beckett said his company sold about 10 superyachts of more than 70 meters this year.
"It's like surfing on a wave and the wave just kept going," he said.
Fraser says that the so-called "entry level" offerings — yachts measuring between 24 and 30 meters — account for nearly half of all sales of pre-owned boats. The average length of such superyachts sold was 34 meters and the average last asking price was 7.2 million euros.
A big piece of the industry is also rentals. Although a significant chunk of the world's total fleet of superyachts of more than 24 meters are made available for rent, even that wasn't enough to meet demand in July and August this year, as post-pandemic vacationers came back with a bang.
"The real problem is to get boats for these people," said Mark Duncan at Fraser Yachts, speaking to the press last week from the pool bar at the exclusive Yacht Club de Monaco. "And frankly we do not see that dropping one iota because it's addictive and they talk about it to their friends."
According to Fraser, 30% of clients are coming to yachting for the first time, and many of these newcomers will eventually want to own their own boat.
Shipyards building new superyachts, mostly in the Netherlands and Germany, say they're busier than ever. Even those known for building vessels for Russian clients were out in force in Monaco.
Germany's Luerssen has built several superyachts linked to Russians whose assets are now frozen by western authorities, including the world's largest by volume, the 156-meter Dilbar, owned by a trust linked to Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov. But Luerssen's stand was buzzing with people as a saxophonist played nearby on one of its tenders — a support craft to a superyacht.
Jan-Bart Verkuyl, the CEO of Dutch superyacht maker Feadship, which is in the middle of building its biggest-ever such boat — a 118-meter vessel called Project 1010 — says that although the industry can no longer do deals with any Russian, the market's so bullish that he's not worried.
"If you look at the Forbes list, that's only grown even if you take out the Russians," he said. "In principle, if we do our jobs well, there should be enough clientele."