Boca Office Of Economic Development Hosts Yachting Experts Panel Discussion

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By: Marisa Herman Associate Editor

There is more to yachting than a recreational activity for the rich.

And what that more is was the topic of the city of Boca Raton’s Office of Economic Development’s “Making Waves” Executive Event that dove into the topic of “The Business of Yachting.”

Held at a Boca Raton Mary Widmer Luxury Collection home on the water that is up for sale, an expert panel discussed the yachting world and what it means to Boca. The event was invite-only to selected Boca executives.

Panelists included CEO of Boca-based online yacht charter company Yachtico Steffen Brünn, National Yacht Sales at U.S. Trust Lisa Verbit and special guest Superyacht captain and star of Bravo’s “Below Deck” Captain Harold Lee Rosbach. President of the U.S. Superyacht Association Kitty McGowan served as the moderator.

Topics covered were how much money superyacht owners spend that goes back into the local economy, who owns superyachts, where superyachts are built, how chartering yachts helps people then purchase their own and how yachting can be looked at as a family vacation.

The term superyacht is used to describe a yacht that is more than 80 feet. There are about 6,000-7,000 superyachts worldwide, according to the panelists.

Verbit said the sweet spot for lending is between $3-10 million. The company offers loans as low as $1 million.

She said 40 percent of the world’s superyacht owners are American, but most superyachts are built in Europe. She said there are only two companies based in the United States building big yachts while there are dozens in Europe. She said many shipyards stopped building the bigger yachts when the recession hit.

For folks who live inland the thought of superyachting or even going on a yacht is something they have only seen on TV or in the movies.

And it’s shows like Bravo’s reality tv show “Below Deck” that stars “Captain Lee,” that helps introduce people to yachting.

The captain grew up in landlocked Saginaw, Michigan. He got into boating when the restaurant he was managing in Turks and Caicos was struggling and someone invited him to serve as a mate on a sailboat to earn extra cash.

He said he was sick every day for a year, but he stuck with it and at 35 got his Captain’s license.

“Every hour of my day was spent on the water,” he said. “It takes a lot of time and a lot of dedication.”

He said you have to log 720 days at sea before you can take the first test to become a captain.  Since then, he has led the ship on superyachts like 163’ Cuor di Leone, 162’ Mustang Sally, 155’ Ohana, 140’ Just Enough, 135’ Atlantica, 135’ Feadship Sea Ghost, 120’ Sovereign, Pauly D, Insatiable, Morganstar and Mostro.

He has traveled the world and said his favorite spots include Tahiti, which he compared to Jurassic Park, and Exuma Islands in the Bahamas.

For people who can’t afford a superyacht but want to experience one, Yachtico is an online marketplace for charters. What Expedia is to hotels and Airbnb is to home rentals, Yachtico is to yacht charters and rentals.

Brünn said he started the online platform after he noticed a lack of transparency in the yacht charter business. Now, with a click of a mouse you can book a vacation for three couples in Bimini for a week for $5,000.

He said popular booking destinations are the Caribbean and Mediterranean, specifically the South of France. He said he is working on getting people to consider a yacht trip as a family vacation the same way family’s book trips to Disney.

“Why isn’t there a booking for yachts?” he said before creating the company. “It’s a vacation.”

He said the sweet spot for rentals and charters are boats between 35 and 70 feet.

Their inventory includes access to sailboats and motor yachts across the world. The company works with local charters and aggregates them to their booking platform. And what you see on the website is what you get when you show up— no surprises, he said.

Superyachts also provide career paths. While not everyone can create a booking platform or become a captain, the panel said skilled laborers and crew members are always sought after.

McGowan said she worked as a chef on yachts for 10 years. Now, her role as association president is to promote the industry and jobs.

“We don’t focus on the 2 percenters,” she said. “It’s a real valuable career path.”

She likened owning a superyacht to owning a business. Between financing, hiring and managing a crew and learning international maritime laws, superyachting has a lot of aspects.

“It’s a massive corporation,” she said.

Finding people who want to make it a career path and not just a way to see the world for a few years is something Captain Lee said is a struggle.

But it is a lucrative career path, he said. All expenses are taken care of so an entry level salary of $35,000 is all disposable income.

If you join a crew, everything is paid for he said, “All you have to do is bring is your underwear.”