Whether it's providing a helicopter pad or installing jade-inlaid marble in the master bedroom, William Smith III has grown accustomed to satisfying every request from his custom-yacht customers -- except when it comes to finding places where they can park their outsized boats.
Many mega-yachts have grown so big -- sometimes as long as a football field -- that their size rules out docking at most marinas, which do not have large enough slips to accommodate them. To combat the crunch, Smith, vice president of Trinity Yachts in Gulfport, Mississipi, one of the top custom yacht builders in the world, has begun to design vessels based strictly on where the owners plan to take them.
"If an owner tells me he wants to be in St. Bart's on New Year's Eve, that means he can't build over 200 feet (61m)," Smith said. "If they tell us they want to do the Bahamas, which is relatively shallow, the boat can't have more than an eight-foot (2.4m) draft -- no matter what size."
Big and Better
More and more, limitations like these are frustrating the growing mega-yacht crowd. In recent years, the production of these nautical behemoths, which range from 24m to more than 61m and can easily cost as much as US$200
million, has been outpacing the availability of dockage long enough or deep enough to accommodate them.
There are an estimated 7,000 motor yachts over 24m long in use, said Jill Bobrow, editor in chief of ShowBoats International, a yachting magazine. That's up from about 4,000 a decade ago.
"Boats are getting bigger and bigger," Bobrow said. "It used to be that 200 feet (61m) was big. Now the largest boats are 400 feet (122m)." Contracts for motor yachts 46m and larger increased 15 percent, to 118 from 103, last year, according to ShowBoats International. Of those 118, 33 percent are more than 61m.
By contrast, there are roughly 440 marinas with berths big enough and water deep enough to accommodate vessels 30m or bigger, according to Superports, a British magazine that publishes an annual list of mega-yachts. It is a problem that has vexed Ira and Audrey Kaufman ever since they built their dream boat, Gray Mist III, a 46m yacht fashioned after their home in Illinois -- complete with antique furniture, a working fireplace and a dining table that seats 12 -- about five years ago.
"Many places that we go to, you can't get in the marina because our draft is too deep," said Kaufman, 77, a senior managing director. He ended up purchasing a dock slip at the Fisher Island Club, one of the few Miami-area marinas that can accommodate such a large boat. He estimates his dock slip would sell for about US$7,000 per 0.3m today.
Most marinas have only a handful of slips for these large vessels. And because boating is seasonal -- with owners typically heading to the Caribbean in the winter and the Mediterranean in the summer -- mega-yachts are constantly competing for the same dock space.
"There's so few marinas now that you can get a boat in," Kaufman said. "There's not room." Without a spot at the dock, mega-yacht owners and their passengers are relegated to dropping anchor off the coast and lowering a dinghy to get ashore. But after spending untold millions on a yacht and used to getting the VIP treatment everywhere else they go, most owners prefer not to do so.