Floating asset

Investing in a yacht can form part of a diversified portfolio, but cost of upkeep can be prohibitive.

The idea of sailing off into the sunset or spending weeks floating around the Mediterranean sounds like the perfect summer holiday.

But while the practicalities of owning a boat soon bring the notion back down to earth for some, a growing number of people now desire this so-called socialite lifestyle, which is helping the industry prosper when many others are affected by the downturn.

UAE-based luxury yacht manufacturer Gulf Craft has seen a growth in customers in recent years as people increasingly view boats as a solid investment.

Erwin Bamps, the company's Executive Manager says: "It's worth buying a boat because I can guarantee the return will be more than if you buy a house."

This, however, can be difficult given that owners must consider that a vessel's annual upkeep averages 10 per cent of the purchase price – much more than maintaining a home – but Bamps says a good second-hand market helps to keep the industry afloat, even during economic crises.

Boats can last up to 50 years, but average ownership is three, providing a strong second-hand market. Gulf Craft has recently done Dh27,000 worth repairs on a yacht bought 25 years ago for Dh30,000. It might sound a lot, but the vessel is now valued at Dh80,000 providing a tidy profit for its owners.

"What's important is convincing people that buying a boat is worth it. Our most important clients are existing ones so we have to reassure them they have made a good investment. By doing this, we are able to control the re-sale value of the product," Bamps adds of his seven years' experience. "The recession has been a good thing as there is still money being spent in the region and that won't change."

Prices start from Dh1.2 million, rising to Dh55m but 70 per cent finance, or loans up to Dh3m with payments spread over 60 months are available through Gulf Craft's partner Gulf Finance.

There are three types of boat buyers, says the expert, but the credit crunch has seen a blurring of categories. There are those who simply love boats, those who view the purchase as an investment and those who buy one as an extension of their wealth in order to show off among friends and associates.

The nouveau riche class that grew out of the dotcom boom is a prime example of the latter. However, as the internet era has developed, many of those who made a quick buck at the start have seen their fortunes fall, making way for those purchasing for investment purposes to become more prominent.

Belgian expat Bamps says: "Every time there's a recession, clients and markets change."

It is not just the type of customer that is shifting but also the location. Gulf Craft has seen a base emerge in the United States, southern Europe and the Far East over the past two months as attitudes shift to the point they are willing to buy from a Middle Eastern company.

"The United States is recovering slightly as it is further ahead in the cycle than other economies and people are more open to outside companies," explains Bamps.

"One of the fastest-growing markets, however, is Southern Europe. We have improved sales there over the past 12 months, which is against all the trends, but in line with what's happening in the industry worldwide."

By this, he means the shrunken market the yacht set has seen of late, allowing the company to take a larger piece of the pie. It is also helping to promote the local market internationally, which is not a typical boat-making region and once potential customers come round to the idea they realise then can save money thanks to cheaper labour costs.

"We've enjoyed being able to take advantage of this. The materials are the same as every other company uses but we can produce cheaper boats through saving on wages," explains Bamps.

The UAE is not known as a manufacturing haven in the same way as Germany and other European nations but the growth of Dubai has also been positive for the company as it "piggybacks" on the country's success, adds Bamps.

But while this makes the investment potential look favourable, financial advisors do not advocate the practice.

Gurnos Stonuary, business services manager at Nexus says: "Boats can be expensive to build, moor and maintain. From experience they do not provide a good form of investment, as they, like vehicles depreciate in value.

"The boat market is a very expensive and select market, look at the number of people who own boats in Dubai compared to the number who own cars. People who have the money to own a boat tend to be focused more on what they personally require as opposed to saving money, or buying a second-hand boat. They often want it to be built in a specific way, some for comfort and some for speed and you can't second guess what other people want so could end up with a boat that no-one wants."

Not surprisingly the salesmen still insist they are a valuable asset, especially considering some second-hand vessels have proved to be more valuable than new ones – if they have been owned by an A-lister or royalty.

"Yachts can become a collectors' item just like a Ferrari," says Bamps.

"It's about brand image and ownership – it's nice to say your yacht used to be owned by Bill Gates. And if you put it out to charter, using these names can allow you to charge more."


FAMOUS YACTHSMEN

Phillip Green

The British retail mogul upgraded to a 208ft Benetti yacht named Lionheart in 2006. Green has received much publicity for the £32 million (Dh141m) floating home this summer thanks to supermodel Kate Moss who holidayed on it in May.

Alwaleed bin Talal

Kingdom Holding's Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud's 282-foot Kingdom 5-KR was built for businessman Adnan Khashoggi. After appearing in the Bond film Never Say Never Again, she was bought by Donald Trump, who sold it to bin Talal.

Roman Abramovich

Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea Football Club, was reported to have invested £200m (Dh1.2 billion) on a 500ft yacht last year to join the fleet that includes Ecstasea, right. The new super vessel, Eclipse, will come with a submarine and bulletproof windows.

 

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