yacht swift underway

Open-boat market shows signs of cooling as client profiles change

28 November 2023 • by Gemma Harris

The open-boat market could be facing a slow-down according to the latest BOATPro data, with new open-boat listings falling by 19 units so far this year when compared to the figures from 2022.

Global Order Book figures mirrored this reduction, with 55 open yachts (24m or more) under construction this year, compared to 61 in 2022, representing a decrease of around 10 per cent. 

Henry Smith, partner at Cecil Wright & Partners, thought that the low demand could be explained by the lack of new inventory.  "The reality is that there are now only a handful of builders producing these yachts, and if you compare order books of those building them to years gone by and then relatively by the global order book, you really notice the decline," he said. 

Another explanation for the recent dip may point to the post-pandemic landscape. Cromwell Littlejohn, chief commercial officer of Northrop & Johnson, said that the open-boat market saw an uptick in popularity "during the key COVID periods, 2020-2022" but now, it appears that priorities may have shifted. "After recessing needs and desires, many of these have returned to the brokerage market as sellers look to longer-term ownership," he explained. This may explain the slightly reduced number of open yachts for sale between 2021 (105) and 2022 (115 units) as shown by BOATPro data.

The new landscape has given rise to clients seeking new and farther cruising grounds, continued Littlejohn. "We're seeing clients looking for extended experiential opportunities in their cruising plans. The world has opened up again, and while the favoured cruising areas, such as South of France, The Bahamas, Croatia, etc, many boaters are now looking further over the horizon, which often requires a much different platform than an express-style vessel," added Littlejohn.

Despite the popularity and increase of experiential travel, there is still demand in certain markets however, as  Burgess' head of sales and senior partner Richard Lambert highlighted: "While there has been a move in design over several years to longer-range yachts, there is still demand for performance yachts in some markets, including the South of France and South Florida."

Naturally, compromise is at the fore throughout any yacht-ownership decision-making process. Smith speculated: "I think people weigh up the trade-off for speed versus stability and largely conclude that when at low speed or stationary, it is far more appealing to be on a semi-displacement or displacement platform."

This availability of appealing alternatives is playing a significant role in shaping the market. "There are good alternative options like 'fast displacement hull form' (FDHF) platforms that look sleek and sexy but offer much more to the end user regarding usability, efficiency and stability," added Smith.

Clients are now favouring practicality and comfort, giving weight to weather protection and comfort over high speeds. Lambert backed this, saying: "There has been a move toward comfort, stability, low vibration and noise as well as longer range in combination with an evolution of design which has focused on greater connectivity with the water."

Also adding to this comfort factor, Smith added: "The busy-ness of anchorages means increased stability concerns caused by other boat traffic at anchor, despite improvements in stabilisation technology."

BOATPro data highlights an average listing price of €5,175,041 in 2023. This is an increase on 2022 and 2021 ( €4,659,583 and €3,690,437 respectively)  and this increase, coupled with running costs, could also be contributing to this market cooling. Smith explained: "Fuel costs are an obvious factor; I suspect running costs are a main driver behind their decrease in popularity. Certainly, for charter clients who, in my experience, always change for a more economical option."

In a nod toward the industry-wide environmental consciousness, this prioritised agenda may also explain a move away from these more performance-based yachts, particularly regarding fuel usage. Lambert noted: "Increasingly, there is a greater awareness of environmental impact throughout, and the yachting industry has been working hard to offset the impact of usage and how we can improve what we do for a better future. Burgess has an Alternative Fuel Group that is dedicated to looking at this with a view to educating the company and clients."

Looking ahead, this may catalyse a change in design and technology utilised within the open-boat sector. Littlejohn concluded: "We believe there will always be a market for the express-type yachts, and advances in technology and systems are improving efficiencies while reducing impact on the environment."