A tender says a lot about a boat. It speaks to the program, the aesthetic, the atmosphere. It speaks to the opportunities and passions of a guest or client. It encompasses the overwhelming sense of possibility that drives so many to seek out yachting.
“The tender is the first and last impression of the client’s experience on the yacht,” says Josh Richardson, managing director of Superyacht Tenders and Toys. “It is the first thing owners and guests touch, feel and get the exclusive feel of the yacht they are about to board…It is fundamental for a quality yacht to have a good tender that looks great, keeps guests dry and is practical for all guests and watersports duties.”
Richardson’s response also points to a dynamic which has restructured the tender industry: the need for an ‘everything tender’. In many ways, this trend has been building for some time, but it has begun to reach a new level as yachts – especially charter yachts – aim to be ‘everything yachts’.
“Watersports and recreation, in general, have taken off,” says A.J. Nickel of National Marine Suppliers. Many tenders are now being equipped with storage space for many of the popular toys, like Seabobs. “It’s kind of a big race to see who can get everything, especially in the charter market…And we’re starting to incorporate these into the tenders.”
The tender market is very diverse but as trends rapidly fall in and out of favor, a tender’s utility can sometimes be overlooked. The health of the yachting industry as a whole is another major factor influencing choice. Leading manufacturers and dealers are reporting a busy start to the year, but the question is: When do you repair and when do you replace?
It’s a question with an imprecise answer, since it all comes down to each yacht’s particular circumstance. However, there are some points worth discussing.
Repair vs. Replace
Within the broad spectrum of issues which could prompt a captain or owner to confront this dilemma, there are some obvious scenarios that we can dismiss outright. For example, if a tender has been poorly maintained, severely damaged, or is simply a poor fit for the program, it ought to be replaced.
As much as we’d like to say otherwise, crew mishandling has caused more than one tender to be replaced and repaired. “The problem is that a lot of these people are given these tenders to operate in their first season when they’re really not prepared at all to deal with it,” says John Wyborn, the co-founder and training director of Bluewater Yachting. “Before they know it, they’re driving something really quite expensive that they haven’t had a great deal of training on.”
The real problems arise when inexperienced crew handle a tender at night at high speeds, he says. Most crew get their Powerboat Level 2 certificate from the RYA. “However, not many people realize it only qualifies someone for daytime operation. But they’re often expected to operate these tenders at night. It’s not so much a problem on the larger yachts, but on the medium yachts and the small yachts.”
There is a reason for the “incompetent crew” clause in many insurance contracts, though Wyborn feels it’s the duty of an owner and captain to make sure the crew are properly trained. The PYA is working on a training program and code of practice to resolve this potentially weak area, he says.
Most yachts, however, keep their tenders in top condition, says Richardson. “We must say that often we replace tenders which have been specified and fitted by a previous owner, or a shipyard, and these tenders can be quite new and are simply not the style, quality and performance the new owner expects.”
This will most often happen with change-of-ownership. A new owner wants a tender that is unique to his interests – a tender outfitted to accommodate his passion for diving or sport fishing or entertaining guests.
“Especially if it’s a charter boat and the owner has a new program, that’s probably a time when they would switch gears and find something more suited to their needs,” says Nickel.
However, there are times when an owner simply chooses the wrong tender due to an emotional draw of some kind.
“Inevitably, most tenders are a compromise of aesthetics and functionality,” says Simon Billington, managing director of Tendacentre. When the balance shifts too far either way, it can throw off the purpose of the tender.
“Unfortunately owners sometimes chose completely unsuitable tenders based on advice from a friend that saw something that looked nice in a magazine. It is surprising how often this sort of completely unqualified advice can be very influential,” Billington continues. “The need to replace nearly new tenders can arise because the chosen vessel was very stylish but turned out to be completely unsuitable for the intended use.”
This is perhaps the most important factor these days: having the right balance – the aesthetics and the functionality all balanced out and even. If you don’t have that, and the money can be freed up, the tender should be replaced with something more appropriate to your yacht’s needs.
Normally this isn’t a major problem, says Nickel, especially for a charter yacht where a quality tender can make or break a program.
The line blurs significantly, however, when a tender is neither damaged nor unsuitable, which is, admittedly, where the vast majority of tenders fall.
In these cases, it becomes an issue of weighing the pros and cons. In some cases, owners tend to be slightly rash, or prone to jump at the newest design. Richardson has had an owner purchase a new tender to transport his shot game back to the boat, and another so he could try wakeboarding.
“We used to see tenders getting upgraded every three years, four years, six years. Now we’re seeing them upgraded every two years, three years. The tender market is constantly changing,” says Nickel. “People are seeing the new stuff that’s out there and there’s some of that factor of wanting to have the latest and the greatest. Other people just want the functionality that they want.”
The more practical owners tend to benefit from the whims of others, as a market has grown for second-hand tenders through the past five years. Often these tenders can be used for up to 10 years with proper maintenance and care.
However, the best reason to replace a tender is for “safety and comfort,” says Billington. “The single most important factor is reliability and given the heavy use that many tenders experience and the remote locations they may be visiting, the consequences of a major mechanical or structural failure are significant. Yachts in refit will often take the opportunity to update tenders earlier than they otherwise might, simply for peace of mind, if they are about to embark on a busy period of charter or long range cruising.”
The perfect tender
Given the diversity of yachting, there is no single answer to what makes the ‘perfect tender’. There will be as many answers as there are yachts. However, there can be a perfect tender for every yacht.
“Tenders are not the after-thought they once were,” says Billington. “Instead, they are often custom built to reflect the overall design philosophy of the mothership and represent a significant amount of development and investment in their own right.”
Beyond aesthetic consistency with the mothership, a tender’s function becomes the other side of the balancing act.
“There are tenders that are used for different things. You’ve got the people-movers. You’ve got toy tenders. You’ve got the tenders that are used for fishing and the ones that are used for shuttling people limo-style. That all plays a role,” says Nickel.
When helping a buyer settle on a tender, Nickel generally asks about capacity, function, storage and use. He wants to know if it will be used for watersports, or for lounging; whether it will need to do beach setups or if it needs to be able to handle open seas for sport fishing.
“We go so far as specialized tenders,” he says. “So for a boat that has a really heavy duty dive program, we look for a boat that has ample space to put compressors and tanks and gear and that sort of thing. So we’ll specialize down to the specifics.”
Nickel has been particularly impressed by Novurania and Yellowfin tenders. Both have made their tenders easily adaptable to a client’s taste. Novurania especially has established a solid reputation for its quality and finish, and the company has been innovative with their inflatables and folding bow tenders. “Their interior and finish is, as far as I’m concerned, of the top, highest quality,” Nickel says.
Lately, tenders have become much more complicated, says Richardson. Electronics and sound systems have become more important. The D-RIB style has caught on, as it maximizes guest space while retaining usability of the RIB.
Whitmarsh Ribs is offering a low-profile 6m-7m range of tenders with innovative features and a low profile for easy garage storage.
Limousine tenders have become more popular, says Billington.
“As yachts get bigger they need to anchor further out and the distances covered by tenders taking guests to and from shore has increased,” he says. “The need to keep guests protected from the weather and choppy seas has lead to a rapid increase in the number of fully enclosed limo tenders being built.”
There has been a noticeable rise in the chase tender, Billington says – a larger option than what’s carried on board, which moves separately from the mothership.
With this in mind, Wajer & Wajer has released the new Wajer Osprey 38 is an eloquent mix of power, elegance and luxury.
Over the past five years, the tender market seems to have fared slightly better than the rest of the superyacht industry. The reason for this can be fairly easily understood.
“People operating at a specific level are going to find the tools they need to operate their charter or to operate their private yacht, regardless,” says Nickel. “You know, a lot of these people operate at the level where, between $50,000 and $250,000 for an integral part of their program – that isn’t going to really affect them either way.”
Owners may not have been as enthusiastic about buying a new yacht, but they were willing to do what needed to be done to maintain their current yacht, and a tender is an integral piece of that equation.
Still, the tender market wasn’t untouched. Billington says he is optimistic about the coming year. “After such a prolonged recessionary period we find that owners and captains are eager to move forward with projects that may have been sidelined for the last few years because of financial uncertainty,” he says.