Superyachting is a place of opportunity – although Covid-19 presents significant challenges
The superyachting sector “has always been a place of opportunity” according to Dominic Bulfin, the newly appointed senior associate at luxury asset law firm, Bargate Murray, while acknowledging the tremendous challenges faced by the COVID-19 outbreak.
The biggest opportunities are improving the pace of technological progress and delivering social good to the world, which is highlighted in the burgeoning trend of explorer vessels, Bulfin told Superyacht Investor.
“The biggest opportunity in the superyacht sector, as I see it, is the opportunity to use superyachts to deliver social good and technological progress around the world,” he said. “We are seeing the growth in explorer yachts and development of new engine technologies, which should be embraced as we harness the power of the superyacht for scientific research, the development of cleaner fuels and power plants and even humanitarian purposes.”
Turning to the impact of Covid-19. Bargate Murray is navigating these largely uncharted waters with minimal disruption, so far, he said. Furthermore, the wealth of experience within the team is helping clients to weather the growing storm. “Obviously yachts are moveable assets, however we are working with clients whose yachts are engaged in maintenance and refit periods in Italy where the outbreak is creating major issues and the yachts are not in a position to leave. I am pleased to say that we are navigating these largely uncharted waters well and so far been able to manage the situation with limited disruption to work.”
Bulfin added: “Since joining Bargate Murray I have been impressed by the wealth of knowledge possessed across the team, to which I am able to add my own experience, not only from my career to date, but as a lifelong sailor and boat owner. Together we have wide experience, which we have been able to draw on to provide our clients with the practical, real-world advice they need to weather the Covid-19 storm.”
There are too many challenges posed by the virus to mention them all, said Bulfin. However, crew retention has created significant difficulties. The firm is currently working a number of crews in Italy.
“Superyachts are fairly unusual in that the onboard environment is relatively easy to control – one can limit who boards and disembarks, and when and how they do it. Most surfaces are smooth and easily cleaned so hygiene is not necessarily a problem. However, by virtue of being on a yacht, the crew live in a relatively confined space, so limiting the spread of any illness between crew members is difficult once present.”
Covid-19 aside however, Bulfin notes there are other threats to the yachting industry – namely the climate crisis. Bulfin considers clean energy will have an even more important role to play in future.
“Plenty of ink has been spilled about environmental challenges faced by the superyacht industry”. Now you cannot attend a conference without at least one panel discussion being dominated it he said – possibly overshadowing other challenges. “I am a strong advocate of any move towards clean energy from the smallest speedboat to the largest superyacht. But there are other related issues developing which perhaps haven’t had the airtime they deserve.”
To give an example, Bulfin said: “One of the greatest challenges we will face over the next decade is working out the best thing to do with a superyacht at the end of its life. Whilst today’s superyacht fleet includes classics yachts well over 100 years old, these have only survived as labours of love by owners who we probably don’t applaud enough for what they do to maintain our maritime heritage. However, it will be interesting to see how the less nostalgic models built over the past 30-40 years will fare and what will happen to them when the market falls out of love with them.”
However, many of the sector’s opportunities grow from the challenges it faces, according to Bulfin. He said that industry has always been a place of opportunity for those with big ideas and finances to match. Moreover, the technological advancements made in recent decades have seen yachts constructed that once would have been thought impossible. “The biggest opportunity in the superyacht sector, as I see it, is the opportunity to use superyachts to deliver social good and technological progress around the world. We are seeing the growth in explorer yachts and development of new engine technologies, which should be embraced as we harness the power of the superyacht for scientific research, the development of cleaner fuels and power plants and even humanitarian purposes.”