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There are a million factors that determine how much money yachts spend in any given community at any given moment: the time of the year, the time of the day, the number of guests, having no guests, the reason for the visit, the actual place.
Asking for some statistics to fortify yachting’s impact seemed like a crazy exercise, but we’ve been asked by several captains recently to get an accounting, to try and put a value on yachts’ impact to the communities they visit.
So here is our attempt. About 60 captains and one first officer put in the time and effort to think broadly about their direct and indirect economic impact on the places their yachts go, and we thank them for that. These weren’t easy questions to answer.
We started by breaking up a yacht’s interaction with a community in three ways: in town for maintenance, visiting a destination with the owner and/or guests, or sitting at a dock awaiting sale or instruction to set off.
To be clear, not all our respondents answer these questions for their current vessel in every situation. Perhaps their current command is only for sale and hasn’t seen a guest in years. Perhaps that shipyard period has stretched into 18 months so they can’t remember the last time they sat idle at a dock.
The responses were asked — and the answers presented — in a broad vision of what yachts contribute to the places they touch. And it’s important to note that while we are based in Ft. Lauderdale, we didn’t ask about this town specifically, and asked our respondents to consider any town that applies to them.
We started by asking about expenditures during maintenance time. When the yacht visits a shipyard, how much does it directly contribute to a local community? This would include things like vendors, shipyard costs, crew housing and transportation. For the sake of this question, we asked our respondents to consider a basic annual maintenance period that lasts 3-6 weeks where the yacht is hauled out in a shipyard.
The largest group, nearly a third of our respondents, said they spent something more than $150,000 but less than $500,000 in a typical annual maintenance period. Direct expenses, several told us, include more than boat items.
“Crew salaries,” said the captain of a private yacht 100-120 feet whose yacht spends between $150,000-$500,000 in a maintenance period. “Lots of South Florida-based boats have local crews. Those salaries stay here with local crew.”
The next largest group (30 percent) spent between $10,000 and $50,000. And about 26 percent filled in the middle between $50,000-$150,000.
Added together, that range of $10,000-$500,000 was about 88 percent of our respondents. About 58 percent were more than $50,000.
Most of the rest — about 10 percent — spent between $500,000 and $1 million on regular annual maintenance.
In addition to the direct costs of hiring vendors and paying for crew housing, we were curious How much does the yacht indirectly contribute to a local community when it’s in a shipyard? By this question, we meant to ask about all the ancillary expenses the yacht and/or crew make that don’t have anything to do with the yard period, such as crew going to dinner ashore, visiting bars or clubs, getting haircuts and visiting their doctors.
Again, the middle ranges of our answers bore the bulk of our respondents. The largest group — about 30 percent — said the crew spent between $5,000 and $10,000 during that 3-6 week stay.
About 25 percent said it was less, between $1,000 and $5,000; and almost as many said it was between $20,000 and $30,000. Most of the rest reported spending between $10,000 and $20,000.
Because $20,000-$30,000 seems like a lot of money to spend on ancillary activities in about a month, we were curious who those captains were. Turns out, the bulk were on yachts larger than 140 feet, so the crews were larger. And one captain offered a whole host of things his crew might spend money on, including shopping, concerts, pedicures, and tech gadgets. The captain of a yacht larger than 220 feet said his yacht and crew spends more like $60,000 this way.
“Yachts and their crews also contribute in non-economic ways, bringing in ideas from other parts of the world, both for business and cultural enrichment,” this captain said.
We next wondered about yacht-related expenditures while cruising. When the yacht visits a destination with owner/guests, how much would you say it directly contributes to a local community? In this scenario, direct expenses would include things such as dockage and provisions for a typical stay of two nights.
The largest group — nearly half — said the yacht spent between $1,000 and $5,000 over those two nights. About a quarter of captains said their yacht spent up to $10,000 in two days, and 20 percent up to $20,000. Eleven percent said it was more than $30,000.
In an effort to get a sense of a seasonal impact, we asked How many times might the yacht have this sort of visit in a year?
The largest group, 43 percent, was less than 10 times, with 15 percent more up to 15 times. Interestingly, 15 percent also said they would have more than 30 of those types of visits in a year.
“While cruising between owner destinations, we intentionally stop for crew to experience different locations, downtime, morale, but stops are only possible if infrastructure is available for the yacht and it is safe,” said the captain of a private yacht 100-120 feet with more than 30 of these stops.
Most yachts spent money on things such as dockage/mooring, provisions, food and drink ashore, taxis and other ground transportation, and fuel. About half spent money on excursions for guests.
A handful of captains shared other common expenses.
“Shore-based boat washers, divers, fish guides, etc.,” said the captain of a yacht less than 80 feet. “Local air taxi to ferry guests and/or food to vessel when down island (Bahamas).”
“Agency fees,” said the captain of a yacht 160-180 feet.
“Commodities, spares, maintenance materials,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet.
“We use bonefishing guides,” said the captain of a private yacht 80-100 feet. “We will have two guides for a week at a time, several times a year.”
“Gucci handbags, oil paintings, women’s clothing, high-end jewelry, Segway tours, emergency room visits, massage, hair dresser, hardware stores, caterer, florist,” said the captain of a yacht less than 80 feet.
Waiting at the dock
The final scenario centered around those yachts that are simply waiting at a marina or other dock for the next trip or a sale. When the yacht sits at a dock, waiting, how much would you say the yacht directly contributes to a local community in an average week?
Nearly half said between $1,000 and $5,000. Slightly more than a quarter said between $5,000 and $10,000. The rest rounded out the low and high ends.
In this scenario, we thought the non-yacht expenses would be significant, so we asked How much would you say the yacht indirectly contributes to a local community in an average week?
More respondents said the yacht contributed less indirectly than it did directly. The largest group — at 60 percent — spent between $1,000 and $5,000. The next largest group, 21 percent, spent less than $1,000.
In addition to the hard currency that yachts, their guests and their crew spend in locales, we wondered about influence. In the past decade, many South Florida-based companies have opened offices outside the region to better serve traveling yachts. We asked captains Has your business influenced a vendor to open a satellite office to better serve you?
About 65 percent said no.
“Mechanics I used from another state moved to Florida to open their own shop,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet. “Not to serve me alone, but their exposure to South Florida made them aware of the opportunities.”
Sometimes influence has political impact. Look at any number of marketing images of Ft. Lauderdale, for example, and yachts will have a prominent position. We wondered if that was true in other places, so we asked Has a photo of your yacht ever appeared in marketing materials for a town?
Slightly less than half said no, with 21 percent more noting that it was possible since plenty of photos have been taken of the yacht in towns. A third of respondents said their yacht had appeared in marketing materials.
Has a photo of your yacht ever appeared in a newspaper?
Nearly 70 percent said it had not. One captain whose yacht of 80-100 feet was photographed and used in marketing materials as well as in newspapers doesn’t mind at all.
“We like to stop at very small marinas and enjoy what small towns have to offer,” this captain said.
And finally, we asked for any thoughts as South Florida politicians begin to discuss and plan for the redevelopment of several marine properties, including the city-owned Las Olas Marina.
“The yachting industry is one of the top contributors to South Florida,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet. “If South Florida cannot keep up with the demand and make it a great place for yachts, another area will. Owners are from everywhere in the U.S. and the world; yachts come to South Florida for the yards and ease of things. If South Florida stops providing this, the yachts will find another area.”
“The significance of yachting to the economy of South Florida is immense due to the large concentration of yachts there at all times,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet. “Local government should do everything possible to promote and provide incentives for marine businesses, including facilities for operation and expansion. Yachts are mobile. If they go elsewhere — and they can — cities like Ft. Lauderdale would suffer immensely. Imagine if tomorrow you woke up and all yachts over 50 feet were gone. Think how many people would lose their jobs and how many businesses would close.”
Lucy Chabot Reed is publisher of The Triton. Comments on this survey are below. We conduct monthly surveys online. All captains and crew members are welcome to participate. Email us to be included.