The super yacht industry is booming. Sometimes, one multimillion-dollar boat is not enough
Inside the Hodor support vessel designed by Sydney's Incat Crowther. Photo: Clint Jenkins

The super yacht industry is booming. Sometimes, one multimillion-dollar boat is not enough

Spare a thought for the world’s ultra-rich.

They may have grown wealthier over the past two years but, for those in the market for a super yacht, it isn’t all fair winds.

Booming demand for super yachts has pushed wait lists out to anywhere between three and five years. The industry is facing scrutiny over its enormous carbon footprint. Then there’s the conundrum of where to fit the helicopters, dune buggies and decompression chambers that have become essential accessories on board these modern floating fortresses.

Sometimes, one multimillion-dollar boat is not enough.

“Traditionally, these guys just bought a yacht and that was it,” said Brett Crowther, whose Sydney-based naval engineering company Incat Crowther has carved out a niche designing “shadow” vessels for ultra-rich owners who have run out of room to store their favourite playthings on board.

“As the yachts have got bigger, you’ve got these very wealthy customers that want both a yacht and a shadow cat. The net cost of the two is about the same, and you can carry more stuff for a bit less money and more flexibility.”

Incat’s offices – on an industrial estate nestled between a national park and a golf course in the Sydney suburb of Belrose – are about as far from the excesses of the Mediterranean and Caribbean yachting scenes as you can get. But with 1024 super yachts on order for 2022, more than in any year since the global financial crisis, the company is seeing a rise in inquiries as wealthy owners look to out-do each other.

“The kid sees the other kid with the ice-cream and wants it,” Crowther said. “That’s just human nature.”

That ice-cream is a 66-metre catamaran called Hodor. Named after the burly accomplice of the Stark’s in Game of Thrones, Hodor shadows the $US160 million ($247 million) mega yacht Lonian, itself boasting a swimming pool with a glass bottom doubling as the ceiling of the floating beach club below.

“We’re not getting involved in all the hype around the industry and all the beautiful stuff. We see ourselves as naval architects and engineers that are there to solve a problem,” Crowther said. “That’s how we’ve approached it, and that’s worked for us.”

Crowther said demand for the vessels was linked to the ups and downs of financial markets, particularly for those who made their fortune in crypto.

“We had one project that was on the drawing boards and the cryptocurrency [markets] went down, and the project got pulled,” he said.

While economic volatility could temper demand, the market for support vessels is likely to only increase as the industry matures, says Rory Jackson, head of super yachts at maritime analysis firm VesselsValue.

“The super yacht market is still pretty young, in a professional sense it’s only really existed since 1997,” he said. “The market for support vessels is diversifying, which is probably a testament to its potential longevity, but demand for them is certainly increasing.”

Super yachts, and their various add-ons, are notorious emitters. An American-owned super yacht with a permanent crew, helicopter pad, submarines and pools emits about 7020 tons of CO2 a year, according to research from Indiana University academics Richard Wilk and Beatriz Barros. By comparison, the average American contributes about 15 tons of carbon to the atmosphere a year.

Jackson said the industry was working on hydrogen, sail-powered and electric alternatives, but bringing those technologies to market would require a wealthy owner to take the risk on a new technology.

Buyers are unlikely to come from the Russia billionaires who once pumped their riches into the industry. Dozens of oligarchs have had their super yachts seized since Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. The first of those to sell – the 70-metre Axioma owned by oil and gas tycoon Dmitry Pumpyansky – fetched $US37.5 million ($57.9 million) at auction in September.

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