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Custom New Build Superyachts [Complete Guide]

August 2, 2022 2:51 pm

The Process of Building a Custom Superyacht Explained

Placing an order for the build of a large yacht is no small undertaking. It is likely the result of a lifetime—perhaps even generations—of wealth building for such a purchase to become an option. When the time comes, how does the client start the process and where does he or she look for suitable partners? The maritime world is famously full of jargon, and the luxury yacht business is no different. Brokers, naval architects, interior designers, class societies, custom yachts, production yachts, flag states, owner’s supply, surveyors, shipyards, subcontractors, builder’s risk insurance, project managers, tank testing . . . you catch my drift.

Thought-through decisions and complicated contracts should certainly be anticipated, but as a wise man once told me about yachting, “At the end of the day, it’s all about cocktails on the beach.” While the dream of being on the water waits at the end of a newbuild process, building a yacht should be an enjoyable and rewarding process in itself.


“Production” Yachts tend to be in the smaller range and the process will likely be simpler than for a custom build. With a finished product already in inventory and available, only minor interior design elements need to be added per the client’s choice. A number of yacht builders will begin building larger yachts in anticipation of finding a buyer later, offering “semi-custom” as an option for elements of the interior layout and design.

For the custom build, the process will look something like this:

Vision > Design > Contract > Build > Sea Trial > Delivery > Cocktails on the Beach

The above is an intense simplification. Each stage involves multiple levels of experts and support staff. The client will want to surround him or herself with qualified attorneys, technical advisors, and translators of the jargon. One other important element to mention is that the design and build contract cost will not be the only outlay required to reach the endpoint. Custom yacht contracts mostly do not include items known as “Owner’s Supply,” i.e. tenders and water toys, audio-visual/entertainment systems, loose furniture, tableware, and more. Each of these will need to be procured, stored, insured, and integrated into the yacht itself as part of the process.


Step one, “Vision,” allows almost anything to be conceived and delivered in a yacht. There are plenty of “concept designs” available on the internet to offer the client inspiration for their vision, but we have seen a few trends in recent years. The “plumb bow,” the explorer yacht, hybrid propulsion, podded propulsion, as well as attention to environmental impact elements of the design and subsequent operations are all topics that have received attention in the industry press.


As with any high-value undertaking, a large yacht construction project will require numerous partnerships and you may be asking yourself, “Who is involved with a custom yacht build process?”

With the client at the top, some or all of the following will be necessary for a successful and enjoyable project experience:

A yacht broker, to advise the client on availability and the suitable market for construction and opening budget concepts.

A naval architect for concept design.

An engineer for detailed design.

An interior designer.

Attorneys for contract review, tax advice, etc.

An insurance broker.

A yacht builder, who may also provide some or all of the naval architecture, engineering, and even interior design services.

Flag State, to provide surveyors with approval of safety code compliance.
Classification Society, a third-party service assuring the quality of construction.

Owner’s Project Manager, to record and represent the client’s interests across the entire project. (Depending on the size of the yacht, this may be one person or a team.)

Yacht crew. (Depending on the size and complexity of the yacht, it may be wise to start bringing a crew into the project 6-12 months from completion.)

Owner’s supply vendors, for audio-visual/entertainment systems, tenders, spares, and consumable supplies all needed to be managed and integrated into the final delivery.


The best plans are flexible and organized carefully so that changes or delays do not derail a project entirely. With this in mind, each partnership must be equally flexible throughout the project since an owner’s design needs, the yacht’s delivery schedules, and compliance requirements often change.


The process of building a large yacht is a long-term commitment and a major investment. A prospective client may consider hiring a project manager to assist with fielding the complexities at hand, protecting the client’s interests in the process, and enabling the finished dream to be delivered on time and on budget. For a “simple” project, the project manager may be one person attending the yard on an occasional basis, but for larger builds, expect to see numerous staff on the project management team—some full-time and others with short-term specialties needed during particular phases of the build.


Denison Yachting represents a number of builders in various regions of the United States with dealerships for Hatteras and Horizon, both of which typically build production or semi-custom yachts. Additionally, Denison is currently offering a number of new construction projects from yards Rosetti, Numarine, and Van der Valk, who all offer fully custom and semi-custom projects. Each year, we commit to visiting various yards in Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands to stay up-to-date on project availability and maintain relationships with the world’s top yacht builders.

Yacht brokerage houses often show newbuilds for sale. This may be a case where a builder has a design that they are promoting to the market, or maybe have even started construction without a specific client under contract. In some cases, clients or builders will start new construction as a speculative investment, intending to sell the contract to a third party.


Boat International’s Builder Directory includes 1,805 separate entries, so the choices are broad. Builders can be found in Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK, the US, Turkey, China, Taiwan, Australia, and beyond. Some builders may specialize in a particular material, i.e. GRP, aluminum, or steel, and others may limit the size, the numbers, or the design choices (custom/production). A client may use any of these to narrow down the selection, but the real distinction between builders will be the manner in which they treat the client. If the client is made welcome in the builder’s facility throughout the process, that builder will more than likely succeed. If the builder is transparent in their process, then they will succeed. If a builder says “yes” to every client request but fails to deliver, then they will likely fail.

Once a client has a particular style of yacht in mind, the selection of suitable builders will narrow down even further and the client’s broker should assist that process with their knowledge of the market. Then the client may consider asking candidate yards to suggest design concepts, then begin the evaluation and decision process. If using an independent naval architect to produce a concept, they may suggest suitable builders for the vision.

Denison’s 2019 Italian Shipyard Tour [Viareggio + La Spezia]


There are innumerable brokerages willing to sell a client a newbuild, and just as many builders who would likely be willing to deal direct. Do all of those companies have the depth of experience, integrity, expertise, and background that is needed to assist a client seeking to embark on such a high-value and complex project? Has that broker taken the time to learn the market options available? Do they have the skills necessary to listen and advise for the client’s benefit rather than their own? Denison has the build and brokerage experience matched with the knowledge and integrity required to take a client to the next level of their yachting dream.

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