Australia: Superyachting Update

Posted: 5th March 2015 | Written by: Guy Waddilove

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There cannot be many countries with coastlines as diverse and unique as Australia’s. The nation spans 34 degrees of latitude in one direction and straddles three time zones in the other and with 36,000 kilometres of coastline, it offers a wide range of different climates with a massively varied array of scenery.

The harsh conditions inland have led to the majority of Australia’s population being scattered around the coast and, being an island continent, seafaring has always been crucial to Australia.

Recreationally, Australians typically have a strong affinity with the sea. All along the coast each weekend local beaches teem with ‘nippers’ – junior lifeguard training on a Sunday morning; local fishing enthusiasts in their open aluminium fishing skiffs or ‘tinnies’  heading out before dawn; local racing fleets from the many yacht clubs staging their weekly racing; and many boat owners out pottering on their local waterway.

sydney harbour

Domestically Australia has a robust boating scene; it seems that every few weeks there are new development applications for marinas being submitted. In Sydney, many prime location moorings have waiting lists that you could sit on for 10 years before being allocated a space and, nationally, if boat show organisers are to be believed, even in years when there is a decline in foot traffic at a show, the quality of the visitors is apparently higher and sales seem to increase year on year.

Internationally Australia is very well represented in terms of superyacht crew. In superyacht marinas around the world you never have to walk far before you hear the inevitable twang of ‘strine', the unique Australian drawl, coming from one of the many thousand Aussies working in the industry and, despite the fact that Australian commercial qualifications are not compatible with the MCA system, many Australians make long and very successful careers aboard superyachts.

Yet Australia remains one of the smaller players in the superyachting world in terms of both new builds and as a cruising destination.

Each year between 60 and 70 superyachts will visit Australia, their main destinations for cruising will be the Great Barrier Reef, including the Whitsunday Islands and Cairns, and Sydney which is particularly popular around Christmas and New Year for its world famous fireworks on the harbour.

map of islands

Some will stop for refit work in Brisbane and Cairns, the more adventurous yachts may also take in Tasmania and Melbourne and the very adventurous few will head towards remote Darwin and around the north west of the continent to a further flung wilderness - like Western Australia.

Cruising Australia is geographically challenging both internationally and nationally. Internationally it is a big commitment for a European or American owner to decide to cruise the continent because of the time that it takes to relocate a yacht from the Mediterranean or Caribbean, and also the time that it takes for the owner and guests to travel to the yacht from Europe or the US. Once on board, the cruising areas are spread wide around the continent with long distances between:

Cairns is 1,300nm from Sydney and Darwin is a further 1000nm after that; if you chose to go on to Perth after Darwin around the spectacular north-west coastline it would be another 2,500 nm. While undoubtedly more adventurous than a two hour cross Europe flight for a weekend cruise from Nice to St Tropez, the time and financial costs are significantly higher, and maybe this is why Australia remains an uncrowded and pristine destination.

melbourne harbour

Unfortunately Australia’s government has not embraced or supported the superyacht industry unkike neighbouring New Zealand, and this has affected the growth of the industry with respect to cruising, chartering and new builds.

While some of Australia’s superyacht owners do keep their boats around Australia’s shores, many others keep their boats overseas (though often retaining a smaller, less conspicuous boat in Australian waters for local use).

Australian owners have been discouraged from bringing foreign flag vessels into Australian waters for a couple of reasons. Firstly tax regulations dictate that a foreign flag vessel which is more than 50% owned by an Australian resident has to be imported which attracts import duties and has tax implications.

The second reason that puts some owners off is the lack of discretion in the Australian media and what is termed ‘tall poppy syndrome’; the desire to cut people who have been successful down to size. As soon as a superyacht arrives in Sydney, details of who owns it (whether accurate or not) and some vague (normally wildly inaccurate) approximation of the yacht’s value are splashed around the social pages of even supposedly serious newspapers.

Any superyacht owner with the slightest concerns about personal privacy may have good reason to be conscious, or maybe self-conscious about taking a superyacht into Sydney.

The superyacht build industry has two main players at the moment; Silver Yachts and Echo Yachts. Silver Yachts, formerly known as Hanseatic Marine has to date built three yachts over 70 metres as part of its Silver series and has an 80+ metre currently in build.

SILVERYACHTS YACHTS silver square 3D 1

SILVER Square 83m Pre-Production Phase

Echo is currently building an 84 metre trimaran and a 46 metre catamaran support boat for the same client. The yacht will be the largest superyacht to be built in Australia and the largest tri-hulled superyacht in the world. The yard was originally established for the purpose of building these two vessels. Management report that they are tendering for more projects to follow on from these and have had numerous exciting enquiries as more has been learnt about current builds.

The common theme here is the independent manner in which the two yards have evolved; rather than go to an established shipbuilder the principals of each have both decided to go it alone and set up their own facility to build. This approach reflects what Australians consider to be the ‘Australian spirit’ handed down from the days of the first settlers two hundred years ago when, if you wanted something done, you just had to get on and do it yourself.

While it is good that these two Australian yacht building companies have managed to retain workers with superyacht building skills, the fact that these yards needed to be established in this manner points to a lack of continuity in the superyacht building industry over the last two decades.

Various yacht builders have come and gone from the industry but whether it is unfavourable exchange rates, lack of government support in terms of tax breaks, the GFC or the high cost of labour, none of these yacht builders have managed to stay the course. Hopefully the current high level of interest in the two yards will be fruitful for the future of Australian superyacht building.

The Australian coast is a spectacular destination to cruise with scenery ranging from the wooded hills and sheltered bays of Tasmania to the tropical reefs of Queensland, the metropolitan chic of Melbourne and Sydney to the wilderness of the Kimberley region with spectacular gorges and waterfalls spilling into the ocean.

echo yachts rendering

Echo Yachts 84m Trimaran Superyacht

If you haven’t got time to visit, the weakening Australian dollar may make building or refitting ‘down under’ more attractive; perhaps the build slot at Echo for an 80 metre in the first quarter of next year is something you should be considering?

*Image credits: Shutterstock Flickr/Jimmy Harris Flickr/Yasser Alghofily Silver Yachts Echo Yachts

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