We get press releases every day from sales brokers announcing another yacht has sold and celebrating another new-build contract being signed.
And then we talk to yachties around Ft. Lauderdale who are still part of a skeleton crew, waiting for the yacht to sell or for the owner to have time again to use it.
We’ve given up trying to figure out if this recession is over for yachting and instead thought some details about summer plans might shed light on what’s really happening out there.
After all, shipyards all across South Florida are jam packed, which isn’t unusual this time of year. But are all those yachts getting ready for summer cruising, or just waiting for a sale?
So we asked: What is everyone doing for the summer?
There’s not a lot new on yacht itineraries this summer, according to this month’s Triton survey. With about 100 captains and crew piping in, we learned that those who are cruising aren’t going very far.
Every regular cruising destination also was the leader for the summer cruising destination. For example, if a yacht primarily cruised the eastern United States, the leader in the summer cruising destination for those yachts was the eastern United States.
For yachts venturing outside their home cruising grounds, the U.S. East Coast and Bahamas tied for the top answer, followed closely by Florida and the Western Med.
Other cruising grounds include South America, the Great Lakes, the Baltic and the somewhat sad “nowhere.”
In addition to seeing where yachts were cruising this summer, we were curious to see if that itinerary was different for them. We have heard many anecdotal stories of yachts that normally go to the Med that are now doing the U.S. or Bahamas for various reasons.
So first we asked Where does the yacht primarily cruise?
A strong majority of our respondents primarily cruise the United States East Coast. The next largest group — by half — cruise the Bahamas. That was followed — again by half — of those who primarily cruise the Western Mediterranean and the Caribbean.
When we asked Where are you going this summer, the top three destinations landed the same, though with fewer going to the U.S. East Coast and nearly twice as many heading to the Western Med.
“It’s the first time for this boat in the Med, and it’s been 10 years since I’ve been here,” said the captain of a strictly private yacht less than 80 feet. “I’m happy to be back in all the old places. I’m looking forward to showing the boss around.”
We crunched these numbers a couple more ways and discovered that the strictly private vessels in our survey are mostly hitting the U.S. East Coast this summer, followed by half to the Bahamas and fewer still to the Western Med.
But there are still many other places to cruise.
“The Eastern Adriatic seems the place to be this summer,” said the captain of a predominantly charter yacht less than 80 feet. “We’re in Porto Montenegro now and it’s already getting busy and full quickly, so are all the marinas around Croatia, Montenegro, etc.”
We neglected to offer “in the yard” as an option for the summer, and several respondents mentioned that that’s where they will be, some for a big refit, some as just another part of their schedule.
“Summer is strictly maintenance and upgrade time.”
“Two-month yard period for a complete re-paint.”
“Boat just sold; we’re doing a refit.”
Based on the comparative results between regular cruising grounds and summer plans, it comes as no surprise that when we asked Are any of these a new destination for you on this vessel, nearly three-quarters replied “no, nothing new.”
“I’m hoping for a stormy hurricane season so I will have to move the boat,” said the captain of a strictly private yacht 80-100 feet. “Sitting at the dock is boring.”
About 11 percent said the travel plans for summer were new for the boss but not for the crew member taking the survey.
Nine percent said summer held plans that were new for both the owner and the crew member. Just 7 percent of respondents said their summer held new destinations for them, if not for the boss.
Given those results, however, we were surprised by the answers to our next question: How would you describe your upcoming summer cruising schedule?
The largest group — 30.3 percent — described their summer cruising schedule as new and exciting.
“Excellent charter bookings already in schedule,” said the captain of a yacht 200-220 feet that normally cruises the Western Med. This yacht is heading to the Eastern Med this summer.
“Our shore business manager has told me that we have a full dance card of advance reservations,” said the captain of a strictly charter yacht of 80-100 feet that will be cruising the Great Lakes area this summer.
That exciting group was followed fairly closely by “pretty slow” (25.3 percent), “same as always” (22.2 percent) and “same as last year” (22.2 percent).
Not everyone was sad to have a slow summer.
“Woo-hoo! We are staying at our home port this summer, for the first year in many,” said the captain of a private yacht of 100-120 feet. “We (the crew) finally get to plan our own summer.”
We suppose that, added together, those unexciting responses total about the same (69.7 percent) as those who said they were going no place new (72.7 percent). Still, that makes the “new and exciting” group nearly twice the size of those who indicated the summer held plans new to them.
So we crunched these numbers a little more. We were curious to discover just who these crew were who saw their summer as “new and exciting.” More than half (53.3 percent) were on strictly private vessels, but the next largest group (30 percent) were on vessels with a good mix of charter and owner use.
This was even more interesting when we consider that the “good mix” group was just 17 percent of our total respondents. Having this group show up so strongly in the “new and exciting” group suggests that these yachts offer crew a variety of cruising that keeps them engaged.
Several international yachting events are taking place this summer, including the Olympics in London and America’s Cup regattas in the United States and Italy. We were curious if any of our audience was taking part.
Few are. Just 1 percent will be doing it all; about 10 percent will do some of it. Close to 90 percent aren’t participating in any of it.
We were curious to know what might be influencing summer plans, including the economy and diminished wealth. But we didn’t want all the options that might impact yachting in the negative, so we added a few positive ones.
It’s a good thing we did because those landed on top.
The top influence in this summer’s cruising plans, chosen twice as often as any other answer, was a veteran owner who is still enthusiastic about yachting.
The next two largest responses, which totaled about half the top reason, was a new owner still enthusiastic about yachting (a positive) and the cost of operations (a negative). The owner’s financial health was far down on the list. The new tax laws in Italy, Spain and Florida did not influence summer cruising plans for this audience at all.
“The boss is busy with work; I never see him,” said the captain of a strictly private yacht less than 80 feet. “I still go through the motions and am ready for any last-minute changes. Being in New York for the summer (as we always are) allows the boss to be on the boat more than when we’re in the the Bahamas (our winter home) because we’re close to his office.”
“Summer is always dead on this yacht,” said the captain of a strictly private yacht 80-100 feet who summers in the shipyard. “It has nothing to do with the economy, tax laws, etc.”
We forgot to ask about the obvious things that impact cruising, including the weather.
“If the forecast for September looks grim, then we will likely head to the Caribbean a month earlier,” said the captain of a strictly private yacht larger than 220 feet. The owner is expected onboard all summer.
“Early season sun and higher water temperature.”
And there a whole host of other reasons owners can’t get to relax on their yachts:
“Owner traveling abroad.”
“Boss is selling the boat and doesn’t want to put too many more hours or wear-and-tear on the boat.”
“We were scheduled to cruise Southeast Alaska and had a contract with [a transport company but it didn’t work out] so we are now doing San Diego, San Francisco, the usual.”
We were also curious to learn if summer translates into holiday time for the owner or merely another season change, so we asked How much of the summer will the owner be on board?
More than half of our respondents reported that the owner will be aboard less than a month, with about a third of those onboard for less than a week.
About a quarter said the boss will be onboard two months or longer. Twenty-one percent said the owner would spend about six weeks aboard this summer.
So if the owner isn’t onboard, will guests be? We asked how much of the summer will the yacht be in use?
Things look much more promising here. More than half our respondents said the yacht would be in use more than two months this summer, with the largest single group choosing “all of it”. Less than a third will be busy less than a month.
“People may say things are slow but if you price your charter yacht correctly and the owner and his family still enjoy and can financially use it (which our yacht has both going for us), the summer can bring amazing new and repeat adventures,” said a veteran captain on a yacht of 120-140 feet. “Having been in the industry for 24 years now, I have seen owners come and go, but our owner is smart in every way. He knows how to work the industry and economy to make himself and the charter industry happy. Owners like that are hard to find.”
Lucy Chabot Reed is editor of The Triton. Lawrence Hollyfield is an associate editor. Comments on this survey are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org. We conduct our monthly surveys online. All captains and crew members are welcome to participate. If you haven’t been invited to take our surveys and would like to be, register for our e-mails online at www.the-triton.com.