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A Flood

Not a Trickle

CONTENTS


A CONFLATION OF ISSUES

PORTALS FOR THE REDISTRIBUTION OF WEALTH

BUYERS ALREADY PAY A PREMIUM

MODEST CREW BACKGROUNDS

STATE-OWNED HARBOURS

REDUCING DEMAND FOR PROPERTY

HIGHLIGHTING MARINE POLLUTION

YACHTS INSPIRE SOCIETY

OWNERS INSPIRE CREWMEMBERS

CONCLUSION


A CONFLATION OF ISSUES


By far the majority of large, permanently-crewed yachts in existence today have only been launched since 2000. They’re new, and their positive impact is poorly understood by the general public, pressure groups and authorities alike.


Yachts are increasingly becoming the targets of conflated environmental and political protests. As well as causing inconvenience in the short term, politicians may, in the long term be more reluctant to allow more marina developments, for example. After all, a small numbers of owners can only wield a small number of votes.


It’s clear that yachting’s positive impact is woefully underestimated and misunderstood. Being confrontational will be counterproductive. As owners, we don’t want yachts to be on the political agenda. They exist, after all, for quiet enjoyment. But it’s as well to be prepared, with facts and figures at the ready, to respond to false accusations. And we may need to educate stakeholders and agitators quietly behind the scenes.


PORTALS FOR THE REDISTRIBUTION OF WEALTH


The most fundamental error is to consider a yacht purely as an asset – rather than a place of employment and worker accommodation. They are communities of individuals, most of whom are very well paid, and many of them are also entrusted to spend significant amounts of their employer’s hard-earned money.


Whatever one’s views on the technical efficacy of trickle-down economics as part of a macroeconomic strategy, the boost to coastal economies is difficult to ignore. And this isn’t money being paid to an élite of lawyers and investment managers: it’s being paid directly into the accounts of waterside retailers and suppliers. Who, in turn, buy stock, employ staff and pay tax, leading to a significant quasi-Keynesian multiplier effect.


BUYERS ALREADY PAY A PREMIUM


Yachts are easy targets, because they are perceived – rightly – as being luxurious. But luxury isn’t just about opulence. Luxury is the combination of desirability and scarcity.


Taking this to an extreme to illustrate the point, consider an expensive 50 year-old single malt Scotch whiskey. It’s matured in white oak barrels which – very slowly – allow some of the liquid to evaporate. There’s less and less of it as the years pass. So if this is what your heart desires you’ll pay more for it. The whiskey may or may not be any better than a 10 year-old dram, but it’s subjectively more desirable and objectively much scarcer.


A yacht’s component parts are made in small numbers and/to an unusual specification. Producing them can be risky and unattractive for suppliers so they will demand higher prices. And precious few yards have the experience or equipment to craft the vessels themselves. All of this means that buyers pay significant premiums for yachts. As Mark Twain put it in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876): "Tom … had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it – namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain."


MODEST CREW BACKGROUNDS


Long gone are the days when crewmembers came from privileged backgrounds – perhaps the children of the owner’s friends, or just sporty types whose leisure and social lives centred around prestigious yacht clubs.


Like owners today, crew come from a wide variety of backgrounds – maybe having grown up in workaday towns situated far from the sea. They also come from all over the world, and must adapt quickly to a life afloat.


The Owners Club is actively looking into ways to widen further the appeal of a career working on yachts – helping to make the industry as professional and meritocratic as possible.


STATE-OWNED HARBOURS


Mooring fees – together with harbour dues and associated services costs – form a significant outgoing for many yachts. While most marinas operate on a concession basis, it is usually the government or local municipal authority which owns the facility, and to whom the operator pays significant sums. These boost local coffers which are used to pay for vital local services which the whole community benefit from.


REDUCING DEMAND FOR PROPERTY


Recent decades have seen demand for property rise steeply. And as, in the most part, they stopped making land years ago, prices have risen accordingly. Starting in European capitals, a ripple effect then affects all parts of the relevant country. The result is property which is too expensive for most first-time buyers. They end up without a physical stake in society. Their lives are more transient, less settled and less secure. At the top of the property-owning tree, the world’s wealthiest can own multiple residences, each of which is perhaps only occupied for part of the year.


Reducing a property portfolio in favour of a yacht purchase reduces demand at the highest end of the market, which should – eventually – reduce inflationary pressures at the bottom. Not by much, one suspects, but every little helps.


HIGHLIGHTING MARINE POLLUTION


The more time one spends afloat, the more one is aware of the amount of pollution entering the sea and the food chain – especially in the form of plastics. The owners of large yachts are better placed than anyone to actually address the issues beyond making changes to their own habits. They are likely to own companies which can introduce behavioural changes on a massive scale. Or they may own media outlets which bang the drum of change. Or they may know politicians who can enact change. It is impossible not to be moved by the beauty of the marine environment, or outraged at seeing it compromised. Owners are in the position to act.


YACHTS INSPIRE SOCIETY


French philosopher Roland Barthes wrote in Mythologies (1957): “I think that cars today are almost the exact equivalent of the great Gothic cathedrals; I mean the supreme creation of an era, conceived with passion by unknown artists, and consumed in image if not in usage by a whole population which appropriates them as a purely magical object.” In today’s context, this description applies to yachts far more than cars.


And such sentiment is nothing new. Economist and key Enlightenment figure Adam Smith opined in his 1759 book The Theory of Moral Sentiments: “The pleasures of wealth and greatness … strike the imagination as something grand and beautiful and noble, of which the attainment is well worth all the toil and anxiety which we are so apt to bestow upon it.”


And so it is that, by symbolising wealth and success, yachts serve to inspire entrepreneurs to redouble their efforts. They encourage everyone inclined to do so, to work hard, take risks and use their imaginations.


OWNERS INSPIRE CREWMEMBERS


Owners’ energy, work ethic and meritocratic outlook often rubs off on the crewmembers who work for them. As crew usually do not have to pay income tax, and have little in the way of daily outgoings, when the time comes for them to come ashore they often do so with sufficient capital set aside to fund a new business. Many such enterprises will be related to yachting, but some will have nothing to do with their previous seagoing careers. Either way, yet more of the owners’ capital will be injected into economies far and wide.


CONCLUSION


Since the detention of certain Russian-owned yachts in early 2022, it looks at last as if large yachts can be rehabilitated from being seen in the popular imagination as icons of oligarchy to that which they were in previous times: symbols of success and the rewards for hard work and entrepreneurial élan.


The possibility of future minority kickback shouldn’t be ignored. The benefits of yacht ownership are manifold for society generally. It is incumbent us owners to ensure, by supporting the Club and its aims, that all stakeholders understand the scope and extent of such benefits. The good news will be developed and deployed as needed. Other than that, let’s just get on enjoying the fruits of our labours and investments.


To quote Eleanor Roosevelt: “The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear, for newer and richer experience.”

Thank you to all our Members who provided perspectives for this white paper.

It is possible that political protests targeted at yachts and yachting infrastructure become more common. But such outcries are based on a complete ignorance about the nature and scope of the societal benefits flowing from ownership. It is up to us owners to inform and educate, as and when this is needed, and undertake research to support axiomatic assertions.

15 November 2022

Last revised

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15 November 2022

Last revised

It is possible that political protests targeted at yachts and yachting infrastructure become more common. But such outcries are based on a complete ignorance about the nature and scope of the societal benefits flowing from ownership. It is up to us owners to inform and educate, as and when this is needed, and undertake research to support axiomatic assertions.

Large, permanently-crewed yachts face misconceptions and challenges related to their environmental impact and public perception. It is important for us, as owners, to understand and communicate the positive aspects of yachting to counter this. Yachts are not just assets; they are floating communities, providing employment and contributing massively to local economies. Crewing provides employment for indivuals from all backgrounds. Yacht purchases can also reduce demand for expensive property and inspire society as symbols of success. We are in a position to drive environmental change through our businesses. Yachts can also inspire crewmembers to pursue entrepreneurial endeavors. Ownership should be seen as a positive contribution to society, and we have a responsibility to promote and educate others about its benefits.

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White Papers   |   A Flood Not a Trickle

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