Captains, boat shows feed the dream for yacht owners

Feb 24, 2015 by Peter Herm

The Miami boat show was an interesting experience, as always. Boat shows are not just about selling boats today or next month, but serve a valuable role in setting the hook for sales over  many years to come. Boat shows are a place where people can aspire to bigger and better boats.

I vividly remember as a kid of about 8 years old, lusting after a 13-foot Boston Whaler at the New York Boat Show. Many years later, I still dream about the next boat, bigger boat. Part of my dream was started by a nice salesman at that boat show decades ago who let me sit behind the wheel of that boat and dream.

Today, I own multiple Boston Whalers; I even have a 13-foot Whaler chandelier in my conference room. (No, I am not in the boat business.)

Boat builders would be wise to invest in dreams, especially at boat shows. Some do, some do not. I don’t envy the women at the counters of the yacht builder stands who have to separate out my kind of riff-raff (actual boat buyers) from the general riff raff (non-buyers).

Some builders and brokers seem to put you through an endurance test before letting you set foot on one of their boats: name, social security number, date of birth, shoe size, wait over here, come back tomorrow, etc. I understand contact management, but few of these companies ever follow up anyway, so I am not sure why the info is so important. I just wanted to walk through the boat, not test drive it to the Bahamas.

Here is an actual exchange I had at the Yacht & Brokerage Show last month: Woman at XYZ Yachtbuilder stand: “Only real buyers are allowed to go on our boats.” Me: “I have a 40m boat now; am I qualified to look at your 30m boat?” Her: “I don’t think so, unless you are a buyer.” Me: “How do I know if I am a buyer if you won’t let me look at the boat?”

Let’s just say I will not be dreaming about buying one of her company’s boats.

What does this have to do with captains and crew? A lot, actually, as captains and crew can make or break the boat show experience for people like me, just as they can make or break the ownership experience.

I have been told by more than one broker that captains are their most important source of new listings of yachts for sale. Captains are responsible for nurturing the dreams of owners as they climb up the boat-ownership ladder. A broker at Westport made the most impressive statement of the weekend when he said that more than 70 percent of their new boats are sold to current Westport owners climbing the ladder. From 85 to 164 feet, they have a path for owners to aspire to.

I believe that the captain and/or experienced crew are often the best people to “show” a boat. Certainly, many of the great yacht brokers are former captains themselves, but no one knows a boat like the current captain. He/she is best suited to share the details of a boat with a prospective buyer. Certainly the broker should be present, but the captain should “drive” the showing in most cases.

Captains also have a strong influence on a boat buyer’s choice of new or next boats. I can think of one nice 150-foot boat that went unsold for several years, reportedly due to the lack of a captain’s stateroom on the wheelhouse level. Important to the owner? You might think not, but when it is time for resale, captains matter.

I looked at one boat in Miami with a full-beam captain’s cabin. My hunch is it will sell faster than the sister ship with twin beds in the captain’s quarters.

A quick tale of two showings, both larger than 40m. (I am still dreaming of that next, bigger boat.)

Good: The captain introduced himself on the aft deck and the stew offered my broker and I a cocktail or water. The captain then gave us a great tour. Just the right amount of details and he, of course, knew the answer to every question. He handed the broker his card at the end of the tour and suggested that the broker call him personally if there were any follow-on questions. There was even a chair to sit in while removing and replacing our shoes.

Not good: The captain, sitting on the aft deck, said “Feel free to show yourself around.” He was still sitting on the aft deck when we left.

Boat shows are where dreams are not only fulfilled, but the seeds are planted for the future. It will pay off for everyone involved to make the most of them. My feet still hurt, but I wouldn’t miss a boat show for the world. Next stop: Palm Beach.

High tide only, bow west!

Peter Herm is the pen name for a real yacht owner who is an entrepreneur based on the East Coast of the U.S. It comes from Pieter Harmensz, original owner of the oldest known stock certificate in 1606, issued for a Dutch company with the largest shipping fleet in the world. Comments on this column are welcome at