On the first Wednesday in February (Feb. 5), we head over to check out the techy interactive showroom of The Yacht Group. What started as a distributor for boat remote control devices has turned into the place to find all sorts of cool and innovative equipment for yachts.
Join us on Feb. 5 from 6-8 p.m. in The Yacht Group’s showroom on 17th Street in Fort Lauderdale to get your hands on some of this cool stuff. Until then, learn more about the company and its background from owner Gerald “Jerry” Berton.
Q. Tell us about The Yacht Group. What do you do?
I started the company 16 years ago. I’ve been a boater since childhood. When I found the remote control device in Italy, I immediately decided it was a fantastic device to improve a boater’s experience, so I branded it Yacht Controller and installed it on my boat.
The industry wasn’t comfortable with remote control technology at the time, so it took years to turn a profit and make it as a signature product with the tagline “the most trusted device in the marine industry”.
That’s clearly a true statement as the operator has his entire investment in the palm of his hand when using our Yacht Controller system. Our team works with a lot of builders as well as captains, dealers, integrators and the retail public. It was on 35 new models of boats at the Fort Lauderdale show in November, and our Yacht Controller is now on 19,000 boats and more than 200 brands.
Since we were spending a lot of money exhibiting in boat shows to prove and establish the product (we do 27 boat shows a year), it seemed logical that we should add other products to maximize our efforts and presence, so we added stern thrusters, illuminated letters, the world’s best searchlights, thermal cameras and more.
Q. That seems like a lot of different kinds of things. What ties them all together?
We are a customer-driven company. That’s how our product line evolved. If you take it from the standpoint of the person buying or refitting a boat, what’s all the cool things and new innovations they want onboard? Everything we offer came as a request from our customers.
For instance, our YachtGraphx illuminated backlit letters. Our customers kept asking for letters, so we partnered with a German company that has provided those letters and more to more than 30% of the world’s top 200 yachts, many of those over 100 meters. We offer the highest quality and most advanced technology to help our customers design their letters.
The same is true of the searchlights we offer. We are the worldwide exclusive agent for the yachting industry for Carlisle and Finch, a 125-year-old company that invented the searchlight. Their lights are the standard for the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Navy, U.S. Corps of Engineers, every American lighthouse and virtually all tugboats and barges. Carlisle and Finch has provided searchlights for more than 95 superyacht companies.
We like to provide our customers with the best, and this is another example. We have found that by providing the best, our customers are appreciative and loyal and always come back to us for new products and ideas. And that is how we have further added to our product lines with thermal cameras, power boosters, converters and isolators, and even thrusters.
By the way, Garth Finch, senior vice president of Carlisle and Finch, will be at our event on Feb. 5 to talk more about the lights and to meet with the South Florida yachting industry.
Q. After 16 years in Miami, you recently opened a showroom in Fort Lauderdale where our event will be. Tell us about that space. What’s your vision there?
Although we have three company-owned buildings in Coral Gables as our headquarters, Fort Lauderdale is where the majority of customers, captains and brokers are, so we decided to bring the show to them in a modern showroom we built from the ground up.
So this was a great way to give them that direct product experience in a beautiful, easy-to-find space with lots of parking. And it’s getting better every day. Not enough people know it’s there, though. But when they do come by, they are always impressed.
Q. What’s your background? Are you a boater?
I had my first boat when I was 8 years old, growing up in New York and have had boats pretty much my entire life since. As an adult, I spent 13 years working with banks and insurance companies, reorganizing all the major banks in New York. And I would go boating every weekend.
My best friend told me I had to get in the boating business and he would find one if I would be his partner and run it. He was a Wall Street venture capital guy on the boards of 52 public companies. Six months later, he bought seven marinas with 3,500 slips and, presto, I was in the boating business. I turned my consulting business over to my partner and hung up my three-piece suit.
A few years later, we bought Cigarette Racing Team, and won the world championship in 1982 with Jerry Jacoby at the helm.
Later I moved to Florida full time and became totally involved in the boat sales business, selling hundreds of new boats and yachts, supporting the movie industry in over 20 movie and TV productions, participating in offshore events, etc. Following this, I focused on brokerage boats between 75 and 200 feet, working in cooperation with many brokers.
All this time, I always had my own boat, and with my master captain’s licence cruised thousands of miles between Key West to Nova Scotia, on the St. Lawrence Seaway, the entire Gulf and California coasts, the Medterannean Coast and even the South China sea on my boats.
In 2003, I began Yacht Controller and supported the company with my brokerage business profits for many years until it made money and then transitioned my time and efforts to it completely by 2015.
I went into boating as a career because of my love for the water and the freedom and challenges it provides every time you cast off and for the interesting places you see and the people you meet. That’s why I got into this business, even though it’s a tough business to make money in, certainly compared to my Madison Avenue and Park Avenue days in New York City, I can tell you that. But it is fun.
I worked at many places before I was in the marine Industry, including my own consulting business, where I hated going to work every day. Now, I don’t consider this business work since I am doing what I love, even though it has been more or less a seven-day-a-week on-call business. But I have never looked back on my consulting days.
Q. So what’s next for The Yacht Group?
We will continue to focus on innovative, interesting products for the yachting industry, like Carlisle and Finch. which few yacht captains know about. But when you are building or commanding a megayacht that is heading to the Arctic, you ask the internet “What do Coast Guard ice breakers use?” and up pops Carlisle and Finch Polar Class, up to 177 million candlepower with an 18-plus-mile range.
Or “what can I use at night for illumination and protection on a 70- to 120-foot yacht?” and up comes the CF 200 watt Xenon 15 million candlepower with focusing beam, built-in Flir and non-lethal strobe.
The yachting community doesn’t even realize this type of equipment is available to make yachts safer at night. Our job is to educate captains and owners who, if they knew about it, would want this equipment on board for everyone’s safety.
Additionally, we are looking forward to a number of projects with major companies soon to be announced such as the ones we have recently announced with Garmin, ZF and Volvo, and others soon to be announced, all designed to improve the boating experience for captains and owners.
Captains, crew and yachting industry professionals are welcome to join us for Triton Networking on the first and third Wednesday of every month. Only the location changes. This event will be held at The Yacht Group’s new showroom at 1300 S.E. 17th St. in Fort Lauderdale (33316). No RSVP needed. For more info about The Yacht Group, visit www.theyachtgroup.com or call +1 954-530-9299.