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The New Era of the Superyacht: The Bigger the Boat, The More Important the Owner [In the News]

August 11, 2022 12:33 pm

This year’s round of sanctions against Russian oligarchs, implemented in several countries, has brought to light a reality visible before only to those rich enough to afford it. We’re living in troubled times, but for the world’s richest people, existential or daily turmoil boils down to just one question: how big should the next yacht be?

This article was featured on in August 2022 and was written by Elena Gorgan.

A recent New Yorker profile calls this unseen reality the new age of the superyacht, though it’s neither new (except to us normies) nor exclusively of the superyacht. It’s the world of the elite, of the one-percenters who live life by a different set of rules where only appearances and possessions matter. It is the world of the yachts and have-yachts, as the same profile by Evan Osnos puts it.

We’ve always known that the rich live differently from the rest of the world, so that’s not new. It’s not that they’re inherently special or better than the average-salaried man or woman, but that their money allows them to believe it, by altering their lifestyle. It’s the same age-old conviction that a better-cut piece of cloth makes you a more valuable person than the next.

Over the past decades, the world of yachting has allowed just that: the impression of being better, of being superior to others because they can afford things others can’t even afford to dream of. What the New Yorker profile brings new to the discussion is the way in which this trend has exploded over the past couple of years.

The 2020 international health crisis has brought many changes, most of them negative: soaring prices, more unemployment, a housing crisis, all wrapped in the package of a health crisis on an international scale. There is one market that’s been thriving through all this, though, and that’s the niche of superyachts. “Covid and wealth, a perfect storm for us,” Raphael Sauleau, CEO of Fraser Yachts, tells Osnos at the Palm Beach International Boat Show, the 2022 edition. It’s “the greatest boom in the yacht business that’s ever existed,” Bob Denison of Denison Yachting chimes in.

As 99% of the world is struggling or downright failing, 1% is out shopping for a bigger boat. Standing out among the elite has always been a sort of phallic contest, and the latest show-off is the superyacht. A superficial count reveals that there are 5,400 superyachts in the world, and 100 gigayachts, but their number is on the increase: shipyards all the way from the UK to the U.S., Italy and The Netherlands are operating at full speed, with fully booked schedules and years-long waitlists.

Increased awareness on the issue of wealth imbalance has made it improper to splurge on mega-mansions, billionaires’ show-off of yesterday. But a superyacht is ok, still.

“Rationally, it would seem to make sense for people to spend half a billion dollars on their house and then fifty million on the boat that they’re on for two weeks a year, right? But it’s gone the other way. People don’t want to live in a hundred-thousand-square-foot house. Optically, it’s weird. But a half-billion-dollar boat, actually, is quite nice,” a Silicon Valley CEO says, explaining how big boats are best for “absorbing excess capital.” A very nice way of saying “wasteful.”

With a bigger boat, you buy prestige, privacy, friends, and a heftier social status. You buy a superior version of yourself. Every millionaire can afford to own a nice house, fly private, and hire a chauffeur for every single car in his auto fleet, but only a select few can – and will – get the kind of boat that attracts attention.

“The boat is the last vestige of what real wealth can do,” one boat owner says of a conversation with a friend. “You have a chef, and I have a chef. You have a driver, and I have a driver. You can fly privately, and I fly privately. So, the one place where I can make clear to the world that I am in a different f**king category than you is the boat.”

So superyachts have been getting bigger and more outrageous. They have grown to gigantic sizes – floating mansions by all definitions of the word –, with crews that can count as many as 90 members, and have come to integrate features that don’t even make sense at sea: art galleries of all kinds, miniature hospitals with pathogen-testing, spas, IMAX theaters, pools that integrate gyroscopes that prevent water from sloshing when the boat is on the move, and even “ski rooms,” which are rooms dedicated exclusively to getting ready for the helicopter ride that will drop you on the slope at the top of the mountain.

Elevators and ballrooms, nightclubs, and cavernous garages that house everything from personal submarines to ATVs for land exploration.

The entire profile is worth a read, because it takes a wider look at the industry, from the screening of potential clients at the Palm Beach Show (which apparently includes using binoculars to spot expensive watches from afar, and thus separate between potential clients and casual observers) to preparations for the Monaco Yacht Show, where only the finest and most expensive boats are put on display. The takeaway will be the same: the rich are getting richer and, in the process, their yachts are getting bigger.

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