Owner’s View: We are not all the same

Jun 18, 2020 by Melvin Miller

Owner’s View: by Melvyn Miller

I have found it difficult to describe an average owner of a crewed yacht, but I understand the temptation to stereotype minorities.

There are approximately 7.8 billion people on this globe, of which only approximately 275,000 (an exceedingly small minority) have Ultra High Net Worth and are thus able to afford the cost of a crewed yacht. There are only approximately 10,000 yachts over 24m that employ crew, so the 10,000 owners are only 4% (a small minority of an exceedingly small minority) of those who could afford a crewed yachting program. 

It is useful to consider why the 96% prefer to spend their income elsewhere, in order to understand the extent of the uniqueness of the owning 4%, and thus the uniqueness of the crewed yachting industry.

Many of the 10,000 yachts are 35-40m, so a typical annual cost might be $1 million-$2 million, including cost of money. The vast majority of the UHNW do not see this as a justifiable cost, noting that it is possible to spend every night of the year in a five-star hotel, eating five-star meals, at a lower cost. 

Further, since very few owners spend every night on their yacht, the annual cost divided by the nights on board can be more than the cost for chartering an equivalent yacht for those nights. Perhaps I shall explain in a subsequent column why I no longer charter out my boats, but for now let us assume that the 96% are aware of, but are not persuaded by, the ability to obtain some revenue by placing a yacht in charter.

The strange 4% understand fully that they support all those boats, and all the crew, and all the yards, and all the builders, and all the brokers. These owners are an unusual breed, especially those that stay in the game longer than the many who stay for only a few years. 

The strangest part of this strange tiny minority is how much they differ from each other, to the consternation of production yard marketing managers, some captains, and some brokers.

Broward and Burger both enjoyed production runs of aluminum RPH yachts, but most of those boats were customized by subsequent owners. Westport has enjoyed FRP production runs that seem to justify mold costs, but many of the earlier boats have already had some customization and the life of an FRP hull implies there will be more changes. 

In spite of the best efforts of marketing managers and some brokers to guide buyers, the very strange 4% seem determined to be unique.

This uniqueness seems to be a problem for the many captains and yard project managers who believe that they should follow standards and recommended procedures, and who feel the need to lecture owners against unique ideas. Balancing uniqueness against necessary standards is not easy, which may partially explain the unusual turnover in the tiny 4%. 

Perhaps it is useful to assume that every owner who left the industry found that the program(s) did not satisfy the owner. Each owner was sufficiently motivated by a perception of the ownership and use of the vessel, and that motivation evaporated when that perception was found to be inaccurate. The vessel probably did not change significantly, but captains, crew, yacht managers and yard supervisors did not make the effort to understand the unique details of the motivation and nurture it. 

And the odds that any new owner will be satisfied are no better. 

Although far too many in the industry do not, some captains, chefs, engineers, chief stews, yard managers and brokers understand that owner uniqueness is the thread that runs through a small and unique industry, which implies that they must listen carefully for the differences, and find some way to accommodate enough of them.

Melvyn Miller is an American yacht owner from the U.S. East Coast. He has owned and operated yachts for six decades and employed crew for more than 30 years. Comments on this column are welcome below.