Megayacht demand remains strong in North America despite virus impacts

Burger 122 Tri-deck

Twelve months ago, 2020 looked to be a banner year for megayachts. Sales were on the rise, clients were interested and yards were buzzing with projects. The 2019 fall boat shows, which informally kick off the yachting industry’s year, saw record attendance both in terms of exhibitors and visitors. The Marine Industries Association of South Florida reported that the 2019 Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show brought in more than $715 million in sales.

The 2008 economic crisis, it seemed, had run its course and a new chapter in yachting had begun. Not two months into the new year, however, the unexpected happened. Still, the industry has shown surprising resilience considering the unprecedented uncertainty caused by the coronavirus outbreak, mandated shutdowns and the uneven recovery through summer 2020.

Burger 122 Tri-deck
Burger has developed a 122-foot tri-deck concept.

Washington — home to several yacht building facilities — was the first state in the U.S. to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Mere hours before the state issued its first shutdown of all nonessential businesses, production megayacht builder Westport Yachts proactively paused operations at its Westport and Port Angeles shipyards in the interest of employee health and safety.

Because yacht building was deemed a nonessential business by the state of Washington, only contracted non-speculative projects were allowed to continue production. This mandate paused the anticipated spec production of Westport’s brand-new W117 and W172 models, but production was permitted to continue on contracted boats, and the yard was able to deliver two W125 yachts to their new owners. Work has resumed on a W164 and two W112 models with staggered shifts and social distancing protocols in place.

Two hundred miles north of Westport, the new year started with great excitement following the announcement that custom fiberglass expedition yacht builder Northern Marine was acquired by Seattle Yachts International and production would soon begin on their first project. With experienced yacht builder and naval architect Stuart Archer at the helm, Northern Marine set to work in January 2020 on its first project: a 57-foot, two-stateroom, raised-pilothouse, expedition-style vessel with a trans-Atlantic range. COVID-19 forced operations to cease for two-and-a-half months, after which production resumed in June on the custom build. Archer speculated that their next signing would be for a 75-foot tri-deck and noted numerous inquiries received recently on a 100-foot pilothouse. 

In the quiet waterside town of Manitowoc, Wis., Burger Boat Company is a mainstay of the local economy. After delivering the second Burger 48 Cruiser, Blue, to its owner on Lake Michigan in the summer of 2019, the yard reported a record-breaking winter of vessel refit, repair and maintenance projects ranging from the repower of a 50-foot water taxi to routine maintenance on a 19th-century three-masted Great Lakes schooner replica.

A current project in the works is a new Burger 50 Cruiser, which will feature a contemporary interior by Miami-based De Basto Designs. Designed for owner operation and equipped with Volvo Penta IPS propulsion with joystick control, the Burger Cruisers are developed in partnership with the naval architects at Vripack and incorporate the Dutch firm’s “Slide Hull,” a patented hull design that results in low resistance and drag for improved comfort and efficiency.

This year, the custom builder marketed its capabilities by introducing several new yacht design concepts, including a Burger 63 sportfisher, a 122 tri-deck and a 214 tri-deck.

Across the border in Vancouver, British Columbia, the largest recreational motor yacht ever built in Canada is under way at Crescent Custom Yachts. At 164 feet, Danzante Bay is in build for an American client. Styled by Greg Marshall, the hull of this super yacht was constructed at the now-defunct Christensen Shipyards in Vancouver, Wash., which also designed its naval architecture and interior.

Squeaking by for Maritime Labour Compliance (MLC) at just under 500 GT, the voluminous yacht will accommodate up to 12 guests in six staterooms. A crew of 10 are accommodated in five cabins. Little is known as of yet on the yacht’s interior design, but an advanced navigation package is planned that includes FarSounder’s Argos 500 Forward Looking Sonar system. Delivery is anticipated for 2021.

Perhaps the most exciting news, in terms of custom builds, comes out of Florida. Having launched a 78-foot sportfisher in 2019 for a repeat owner, Michael Rybovich & Sons Boat Works in Palm Beach Gardens now has a custom 94-foot luxury sportfisher under way.

Dubbed III Amigos, it will be among the largest builds for the sportfish builder, whose history dates back to 1910. Featuring interior and exterior design by super yacht designer Patrick Knowles Designs, the yacht will accommodate six guests in three en-suite staterooms, as well as four crew. The designer is quick to point out that while III Amigos will embody all of the power and performance necessary to tangle with monsters of the sea, its interior will be anything but traditional. Details are still forthcoming, but a sneak peek at the renderings reveals a Ferrari-inspired dinette and Florida alligator hide-upholstered barstools. Delivery is anticipated for 2021.

With so much attention turned to 2021, these new yacht projects delivering in that same year will be the proverbial icing on the cake. Spurred by the pandemic, boat sales have not dropped as precipitously as they did with the 2008 crash. Instead, builders are reporting increased demand, which is hampered only by construction delays due to social distancing requirements. While it is difficult to confirm the exact completion dates of any of the aforementioned projects in production — due to the risk of shortages in materials, components, the possibility of future shutdowns and the unknown timing as to exactly when restrictions will ease — it is safe to say that the pastime of yachting will carry the megayacht industry well into 2021.

By Professional Mariner Staff