Since 2020 and the pandemic the yacht market has been busier than ever before, but has the madness finally come to an end?
For anyone who’s been holding off buying, or selling a yacht things have shifted. “The reality is that the market is not how it was this time last year. We’ve reached a level of relative normality now. Today we are seeing a slower moving market, with more carefully thought-through sales and purchases,” explains broker Alex Grabau.
“Clients are expressing what they are looking for with a view to it coming on the market in the future, while sellers are taking their time – either holding off selling or coming to the market with a higher price and being prepared to wait a little longer to sell. Those holding onto boats are having an influence on pricing staying high.”
In other words, while time scales have slowed down a little and buying a yacht is no longer quite so frenzied, prices are holding firm.
Another big change of recent years noted by Viktor van Savooyen, founding partner in yacht buyer consultancy Yacht-Match, is an increase in first-time buyers that has brought new clients into the market, often with less knowledge or experience. This is a change he believes is set to stay.
“We have seen more clients seeking expertise to help them navigate the complexities of a first-time boat purchase and ownership, but equally many of them have ambitious plans. One customer recently purchased a Nautitech Open 40 through us – their first sailing yacht, learned to sail it with our help, then covered 8,000 miles across the Mediterranean in their first season.
“Inexperience is not necessarily an indicator of a lack of commitment to big plans, they just want more help to get there. While the market has slowed, that new – often younger – customer, will remain a feature.”
Ticket to ride
Alex Grabau believes he’s seen a parallel change amongst bluewater sailors over the past three years that looks set to stay. “One shift from the past three years appears set to remain: yacht buyers are embarking on bigger sailing adventures earlier on in life. The global pandemic has had a marked influence on how people see the time in front of them.
“Whether it be taking a sabbatical to go sailing, retiring early, or working remotely afloat, buyers are making that shift consciously and doing what it takes to make an adventure happen, committing to a high quality of life.
“Something that’s fuelled that is the yachting press explaining that it is something most people can do. The longstanding efforts of the World Cruising Club in breaking down the perceived barriers to ocean cruising has also contributed, and of course, the surge of YouTube channels promoting sailing as an accessible adventure.”
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Rupert Knox-Johnston, broker at Oyster UK, has also seen a market almost exclusively fuelled by those with big sailing ambitions.
“Anything manageable by two, without the need for professional crew, has been in high demand. Even though buyers are making purchases with perhaps a little more consideration, they generally want an Oyster to fulfil big plans that have been in mind for a while. Many of our sales span over five years from the first point of contact to the boat being handed over.”
Oyster’s own Oyster World Rally continues to fuel sales for Rupert and his colleagues selling new yachts. “The rally is still wildly popular, largely because I think people can see how buying an Oyster unlocks access to that supported experience. It’s currently full for 2026 and has a waiting list for the departure after that and many are still coming to us seeking a yacht with that in mind.”
New world order?
“The market for used yachts has slowed, but I’m not sure it’s stagnating. Demand is still high for good quality boats, there’s just fewer of them about. Owners are holding onto them; perhaps that is partly in view of economic uncertainty. Of course, that becomes challenging when fewer boats are being openly marketed.
“What is very different from a year ago is the waiting times for a new yacht. We were seeing waiting lists of up to three years, particularly for multihulls. While the appeal of multihulls is showing no signs of abating, you’re now looking at under a year from the point of placing the order, which for those which want to move fast, is much more palatable,” explains Viktor van Savooyen.
“We’re also seeing market separation between regions. While the UK is quiet compared to how it was, yacht sales in the US for Oyster are flying now” explains Rupert Knox-Johnston.
It’s also something Alex Grabau has seen playing out between the UK and Europe. “What we have seen following Brexit is effectively the emergence of two different markets that sometimes intersect because, if you’re buying in Europe or the UK, there’s now the fundamental question of the status of the boat when it is delivered in either direction. A purchase by someone in Europe to use the boat in Europe, or someone buying in the UK, to use the yacht in the UK is a far simpler prospect; not that that’s how people want to use their yachts of course!”
“Brexit remains frustrating for some transactions. While we’ve got used to some aspects of it, it remains challenging paperwork wise. Different EU states have different rules governing each transaction, while the issue of EU VAT paid, and being able to prove it, adds layers of complication. Proving where the boat was in February 2020 often underpins this. At the end of the day, it is the buyer that needs to be satisfied. That means providing a basket of evidence that is beyond reasonable doubt. Proof can be almost impossible,” explains Knox-Johnston.
For sellers, having a good body of evidence of where the yacht has been and when can make a transaction go through far more easily. “I’d really advise anyone to keep everything they can that proves movement of the boat, even if you’re not thinking about selling now! Fuel receipts, marina bills, boatyard work paid for; all can help prove the boat’s VAT status. It is also worth asking the marina the yacht was in when Brexit went through for a letter stating this.”
A wild west?
With many first-time buyers in the market over the past three years, and a white-hot market stretching to accommodate them, new brokers inevitably began operating. “Sadly, what we have seen recently is a few yachts going back on the market, with the buyer now turned seller, refusing to even engage a broker after a bad experience. Trust has been eroded by a handful of bad people. A purchase or sale going wrong can be very sobering, not to mention expensive.
“Some of the brokers we saw start up over the past three years have not served their clients well, in some cases not doing the correct due diligence on behalf of their client or obtaining complete paperwork.
“That can rear its head many years down the line,” says Viktor van Savooyen.
For Alex Grabau, also deputy chair of The Association of Brokers and Yacht Agents, quashing myths around the roles of broker is something he feels strongly about.
“Our business is about much more than simply placing an advert for a boat and then taking the money. That’s the easy part.
“It’s having the technical understanding to deal with aspects such as title, VAT, registration and CE/UKCA, as well as having access to the best possible legal contracts (and being trained on how to use them), that will make the difference between a safe transaction for all parties and one which carries risk.
“A good broker wades through a lot of paperwork on behalf of their client, even more so after Brexit. It’s likely that the customer doesn’t see much of that work being done.
“A big part of the job is checking that every part of the sale is legitimate, all the correct documents are in place and, though it’s often forgotten, providing a client account for the transaction itself so that all parties are protected. Keeping those standards high is important,” says Grabau.
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