Industry insight: The choppy waters of selling sailing yachts

Written by Ralph Dazert

A niche market encompassing both custom and series vessels, the sailing yacht segment is often sidelined in discussions of superyacht sales. SYT’s Head of Intelligence, Ralph Dazert, dives into the numbers.Perseus 3 yacht sailingPhoto: H&HTracking today’s fleet
As of December 2020, there were 825 sailing yachts over 30 metres in operation, equating to approximately 16% of the total 30m+ superyacht fleet. 2020 so far has seen the completion of 12 sailing superyachts, with another 32 in build and deliveries stretching into 2023. The past year ranks comparatively low in terms of finished sailing superyachts. Since 2016, sailing yacht completions have settled in the 13-15 units per year range, equating to 8-9% of the total. As the growth rate of the sailing yacht fleet is far lower than that of the motor yacht fleet, the share of the sailing yachts in the total fleet is gradually going down.

In numerical terms, however, the sailing fleet continues to grow, as does the average size of the sailing yachts added to the fleet. During 2010-2014, the average new sailing superyacht had an overall length (LOA) of 41.8 metres and an average gross tonnage (GT) of 227. In the second half of the decade (2015-2019), these averages had moved up to 44 metres and 467 GT respectively, thanks to the completion of several extremely large sailing yachts, such as Sailing Yacht A, Black Pearl, Aquijo and Badis I (ex Sybaris).Sybaris anchored off MonacoPhoto: Tom van Oossanen / SuperYacht TimesSuper sailing yacht sales: New and used
New sailing yacht sales remained relatively stable at 13 to 15 per year during the period 2014-2018. 2019 was a comparatively low year, with only 10 new sailing yachts changing hands. Just four new sailing superyachts have been recorded as sold by SYT in 2020.New and used sailing yacht sales 30m+, 2015-2020Photo: SuperYacht Times At this point, we can only speculate on the reasons behind the very sharp decline in new yacht sales in 2020. Of course, this can be attributed in part to the general negative impact of Covid-19 on the new superyacht market. However, the decrease in sales may also be ascribed to the highly specific, ‘tailor-made’ nature of building new sailing superyachts. This process requires very active involvement from the client: something which could prove difficult in the current global circumstances. Sailing yacht projects are usually started for a client, and speculation projects are still quite rare. Indeed, only one or two speculation projects are sold each year, while the rest are projects started for a client. Seatius yacht by Southern Wind Photo: Southern WindHowever, not all new sailing superyacht projects are tailor-made designs. Over a quarter of the new sailing yacht sales during the past decade concerned yachts which were built to a model, with Southern Wind, Nautor’s Swan and Perini Navi accounting for the lion’s share of these sales. However, it is also interesting to note that four yachts built to the Truly Classic 128 design by Hoek Design have been completed at three different yards since 2015.

Since 2015, an average of 30 used sailing yachts have been sold each year. The market has had a good run since 2017, with above-average sales and reaching its peak at 39 deals in 2018. While 2019 was still a good year (31 sales), numbers took a hit during 2020, dropping by 23% to 24 used sailing yacht sales. Sales numbers for used motor yachts, by comparison, remained almost unchanged at 264 yachts in 2020 compared to 265 yachts in 2019.

Sailing yacht shipyards: On course
With just 13 to 15 new sailing yachts being completed each year, the number of shipyards involved is also relatively small. During the period 2015-2019, 38 shipyards completed 66 sailing yachts. Only six shipyards completed four yachts or more. These six are the established names in today’s market: Southern Wind, Baltic Yachts, Perini Navi, Royal Huisman, Vitters and Nautor’s Swan. Meanwhile, 26 yards completed just one sailing yacht each in this period.Perseus 3 yacht sailingPhoto: H&HThe number of serious players active in the 30m+ sailing yacht market is very small. As a result, many yards have diversified into other activities, including motor yacht production, in the case of Royal Huisman and Perini Navi (although the latter looks set to discontinue the construction of motor yachts). The highly demanding nature of sailing yacht owners has given sailing yacht yards the capabilities to build very complex, fast and unique projects – and these capabilities can also be applied to high-end motor yacht projects.

Refit activities have also become increasingly important for sailing yacht shipyards, with Pendennis, Royal Huisman and Vitters all generating significant income from this field and Perini Navi also planning to increase its presence in this area. Meanwhile, builders like Nautor’s Swan and Southern Wind build multiple series of yachts according to models, although speculation sales still form only a small part of their 30m+ yacht sales.Seatius yacht by Southern Wind Photo: Southern WindSouthern Wind occasionally sells a speculation project, while Nautor's Swan only builds to order. Notably too, these builders have also recorded significant production activity below 30 metres. Finally, Baltic Yachts and Vitters offer proof that one can still be successful in today’s super sailing yacht market and focus their efforts solely on highly specialised, built-to-order projects.

This article was originally published in the Spring 2021 issue of The SuperYacht Times newspaper. To receive all future issues straight to your door, subscribe to the newspaper here.

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