Captain’s Insight: Bigger Yacht or Support Yacht?

Written by Charl van Rooy

Owning a support yacht and the effect it has on your experience as a yacht owner remain somewhat of a mystery to some. ‘Do I really need one? Does it not complicate things? How will I benefit from owning another vessel? Surely it would be easier to buy an entirely new, larger yacht, right?’

For the adventurous type, the obvious benefits that owning a support vessel hold, are clear: more toys = more fun! But is there more to this cruising-buddy lifestyle than just that? To answer these questions and shed light on other aspects of this topic, we have gathered together a few experts in the field with experience in the areas of building, captaining, and managing these type of vessels and the lifestyle associated with it.

Meet Adam Hart (AH), Filippo Rossi (FR), Mark Stothard (MS), and Ben Lyons (BL). Adam is Captain onboard the 55-metre shadow vessel Advantage (serving the 46-metre Palmer Johnson motor yacht, Vantage), with Filippo being the Sales and Marketing Manager of Lynx Yachts in the Netherlands. Mark joins the conversation as Director of Echo Yachts in Australia as does CEO of EYOS Expeditions, Ben Lyons, who knows a thing or two about leading the more off-the-beaten-track yachting lifestyle.

Why would an owner consider to buy a support vessel instead of buying/building a larger yacht?

AH - I would say the best reason is the massive amount of space a support vessel gives you. We are running a pretty exciting worldwide itinerary and we use Ad-Vantage for all of our tenders, toys, food supplies and spare parts. We have four very large tenders and a submarine which just wouldn’t be possible with Vantage on its own or even to a 70 or 80-metre superyacht as there just isn’t the space. The opportunities that such a fleet offer the charter market are also endless as more clients can afford to charter the two smaller vessels together against some of the massive weekly rates chartered by larger vessels.

FR - Time, money and flexibility. Ease of manoeuvring in certain bays, coves and marinas as the mothership can remain a manageable size and possibly below the 500 GT mark. All these fundamental elements mean more time spent enjoying life onboard.

MS - If you are into adventure-cruising and really getting out and seeing the world then having a support vessel is a very cost effective way of ending up with a good size platform that can carry the kit required to enjoy all sorts of aspects of water sports.

BL - First and foremost, you own a support vessel for greater capability and options. However, for many owners, a larger yacht is just a different experience - it may be more limiting in terms of ports you can dock in, or you simply prefer the more intimate size of the current yacht you own. You get a lot more capability at a very different price point per tonne than you would by owning a larger yacht.

Does owning a second vessel drastically increase the time management and operational costs of enjoying the yachting life?

AH - Certainly the operational costs increase as you are now budgeting for two vessels, but I think the reward that the owner gets from such a setup is far greater. In terms of time management, we manage everything in-house and have a captain running each vessel with our fleet captain running the shore side of things. I would say the biggest increase is the time spent on crew management, making sure both vessels are streamlined in the way they run, use the same procedures etc. We are setup in such a way that crew can change between the two vessels as required.

FR - Operational costs do not drastically increase, and neither does this have to become a time-intensive operation if managed correctly. In fact, the job of a support yacht is to allow guests on the mothership more time to enjoy their stay onboard. Being able to separate from the support vessel to offload and retrieve the toys, for instance, is just one such example.

MS - I think if you compared owning a second vessel to trying to build something big enough in a superyacht to carry the same kit, there will be considerable overall savings. Case in point, if our current 84-metre Trimaran was to be extended to be able to carry a heli deck, a 12-metre cat, a hovercraft, four jets skis, a luxury tender and two other RIB’s the vessel size would have increased considerably at much more cost than simply designing and buying a dedicated vessel.

BL - Certainly owning a second vessel will increase, naturally, the time spent maintaining and operating your yacht fleet. However, upgrading to a larger yacht also increases the costs and complexity - there are more crew, more costs, etc. So adding a support vessel does not necessarily represent a significant increase in complexity over what upgrading to a larger yacht would.

Have you noticed that owner’s use of their vessels change considerably following the addition of a support vessel to their fleet?

AH - Our owner’s usage has not changed drastically, I just think their experience onboard has significantly improved.

FR – I would say the owner enjoys his/her time aboard much more. The overall experience is more relaxing and, with a good crew, runs smoother. Guests are more likely to embark on a full day of watersports fun knowing that they will not have crew around the breakfast table offloading toys, for example.

MS - Having the additional vessel gives a lot of flexibility in the kit that can be carried and which vessel is used, or both together, for extended explorations.

BL – Yes, definitely. Adding a support vessel opens up a whole range of new experiences - even for yacht owners with vessels around 50-metres - including submersibles and helicopters. For the new type of owner that wants to maximise their experience, this type of support vessel change fundamentally and enhance their yachting experience.

Will we see an increase in the size of support vessels as the size of the top-end of the superyacht fleet keeps increasing?

AH - I am sure we will, yachts are always getting bigger, although I don’t really see the point in much bigger support yachts as, at their current size, they already offer so much. The great thing about our vessels is that we both have reasonably shallow drafts so we can get into places most bigger yachts just can’t go and I have noticed this is a real plus for the owner.

FR - For sure, but you will also see an increased number of shadow vessels built to match the same size as the mothership.

MS - I think there is no doubt that we will see an increase in these types of vessels as they are readily affordable and they can really boost the exploration experience.

BL - I would imagine so. Certainly, a trend we see in yachting is bigger and better, and I don’t see why that wouldn’t apply to larger yachts as well. The same equation and value proposition holds true— the support vessel, no matter its size, will naturally add more to the experience for a yacht owner.

This article was published in a recent edition of the SuperYacht Times newspaper. Subscribe now to receive your copy straight to your door and never miss another issue!



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