First let me say this, or I will never forgive myself: I’m not writing this column to imply in any way that brand-new superyachts are better than yachts with a few years of cruising under their hulls. Any time you can book a charter on a yacht whose crew has had a couple of months to gel, and whose shakedown list of fit-out details has been completed, you are going to have a really good chance of enjoying the vacation of a lifetime.
Now, with that said, superyachts these days have star power. Serious yacht-spotters don’t even need to know a boat by name to be impressed. All you have to say is “the new Amels” or “the new Lürssen,” and people who know superyachts start to salivate. This is why, when a leading shipyard announces a contract to build a new superyacht, charter brokers sometimes get calls for charter bookings before the keel has even been laid in the construction shed. It takes a good two or three years for a superyacht to go from contract to completion stage, and by the time the boat exits the slipway and heads out to sea, her first charter may have already been on the books for a year or longer. As with any hot new restaurant or buzz-worthy dance club, brand-new superyachts often enter the marketplace with a waiting list to get through the (watertight) door.
The tricks to booking first are paying attention, remaining flexible, and, as with so many things in the world of superyachts, being willing to pay a premium.
Paying attention means watching not just for the announcements of yachts entering the charter market, but also for the announcements of owners signing contracts to build the yachts in the first place. Often, with superyachts 150 feet LOA and larger, the deal with the shipyard has been made through a sales broker at a company that also has a charter division (such as Burgess Yachts, International Yacht Collection, Fraser Yachts Worldwide, or Camper and Nicholsons International). As soon as you see the announcement about the build, give the company a call—because while any charter broker worldwide can book any yacht, a charter broker working for the same firm as the sales broker is going to have access to inside information about construction schedules and projected launch dates.
Remaining flexible has to do with that launch date. “Projected” is an important word when it comes to building a superyacht, and all kinds of things can happen in the shipyard that might stretch the launch date well beyond expectations. Owners can change their minds about design details and order changes mid-build, the shipyard can fall behind on construction because of a delay in getting materials—really, building a superyacht is a lot like building a huge house that has to be safe at sea. If you’ve ever lived through something as “small” as a kitchen or bathroom renovation, then you understand how projected completion dates for entire superyachts can be guesstimates at best. The way to handle this as the yacht’s first charter client is a contract clause that says you get the first available charter dates, whenever they happen to be. You can write in the projected dates, but be sure there’s a clause that says they are subject to change, and you will be the first guest onboard at the first mutually convenient time for both you and the yacht’s owner.
That kind of VIP treatment, of course, comes at a price. Virtually all brand-new, pedigree superyachts enter the charter market at a premium rate, usually at least five figures per week higher than their charter rates might be just a few years later. Prepare yourself for sticker shock, and be ready to lay down a sizable deposit.
And know, deep down inside, that the yacht’s owner is doing the same exact thing—and that he wants the yacht ready on time even more than you do.