On the Job

The Dockwalk Guide to Yacht Transport

22 April 2022By Louisa Beckett
Photo: Sevenstar
Louisa Beckett

Written by

Louisa Beckett

Louisa Beckett is the former editor of Motor Boating, ShowBoats International, and Southern Boating magazines, and a longtime contributor to Dockwalk. Over her career, she has written about a wide variety of vessels ranging from Sea-Doos to superyachts, and has had many adventures on the water, including riding in a U.S. Coast Guard “rollover” boat in heavy surf off Cape Disappointment, Washington.

Even now, in the third year of the pandemic, we’re seeing headlines about global supply chain disruptions caused by worker shortages and other factors related to COVID-19. In particular, the maritime shipping industry has been affected, with long lines of cargo ships frequently sitting idle as they wait to be unloaded in port.

“It’s a very difficult marketplace at the moment. The freight rates are higher than they’ve been in decades. Congestion in ports is at an all-time high, all these things are affecting our ability to get ships where they need to be on time, and space on ships is at a massive premium,” says Simon Judson, CEO of global logistics firm Peters & May, which organizes passage for yachts on board a wide variety of commercial cargo ships.

Right from the start, the pandemic dramatically transformed the yacht transportation industry. In early 2020, the number of bookings by the usual clients, including owners and captains wanting to move their yachts to seasonal cruising grounds and sailing yacht owners and captains following the regatta circuit, fell off dramatically. At the same time, bookings increased from yacht owners who were unable to travel to their vessels and wanted to have them shipped home instead. Then, as COVID-related lockdowns and sheltering began to fuel the demand for new and brokerage boats, yacht manufacturers, dealers, and brokers around the world began to use yacht transport companies to ship boats to clients who couldn’t get to the vessels or send crew to pick them up. “I think COVID has changed everybody’s way of doing business,” says General Manager Laura Tempest of DYT, which owns and operates semi-submersible yacht-transport ships.

Port closures and travel restrictions also made it difficult for yacht transport companies to move their loadmasters into position around the world in order to supervise loading and unloading. In addition, “We have had a shortage of loadmasters at times when they came down with COVID,” said Uta Scarlata, who handles transatlantic and Caribbean sales for Sevenstar Yacht Transport, which operates its own fleet of 120 cargo vessels.

Photo: Sevenstar/Drone Caraibes

“Everything about the logistics of shipping a yacht from A to B is ten times harder,” Judson says, but he adds, “As we moved through the pandemic, we learned a little bit about how to adapt. Today we are using what we’ve learned to be better placed. That means making sure we’ve got the right people in the right places a lot further in advance [and] thinking about relocating our cradling and lifting equipment and everything we need to load the boats a lot further in advance.”

While internal logistics such as these typically are handled by a yacht transportation company behind the scenes without affecting its clients, industry experts agree that this year, yacht captains are going to have to act earlier than usual in order to secure transportation for their yachts.

If you do need to ship a yacht overseas, there are two basic means of transport: on the deck of a commercial ship or inside a semi-submersible vessel.

“It’s kind of going back to old days when if you didn’t book well in advance, you are not going to have a space…. People are done [with sheltering]. They are going to start using their yachts whether it be in the Med or in the Caribbean,” says Tempest. “We are seeing all of our repeat customers coming back, and the ones we met in the last year and a half that we didn’t know before are coming back.”

“Every ship that we’ve put on from the middle of last year has been fully booked probably a month before it comes to port. That was never the case before. We would always have some space a week before,” says Judson, who also predicts that demand for yacht transportation will increase in 2022 as owners return to pre-pandemic levels of cruising and racing. “If there’s a reason to book early, it would be to avoid disappointment in the fact that there may not be space,” he says. “To be safe, you should be thinking at least two months out.”

Photo: DYT

Cargo Ship vs. Semi-Submersible

There are a variety of reasons why an owner or captain would want to arrange to have a yacht transported from one location to another. It might be to change cruising grounds with the seasons, or to take the yacht to an event. Some yachts are able to make the voyage on their own bottom, but others must be shipped because they may be too small or have an insufficient fuel capacity to make the trip, their owner wants to avoid wear and tear on the vessel, or the yacht is booked for a charter in the new destination and the timing is just too tight.

Booking space on a cargo ship gives you the advantage of being able to transport a yacht pretty much anywhere around the globe where that vessel is scheduled to deliver freight.

If you do need to ship a yacht overseas, there are two basic means of transport: on the deck of a commercial ship or inside a semi-submersible vessel. Which method to pick depends on a variety of considerations, including the location where you want to ship the yacht, the flexibility of your schedule, whether or not you want to use the transit time to get work done on board, and the price.

In the most common scenario, the yacht is lifted by crane onto a commercial ship and secured in a custom-built cradle on its deck, where it shares space with other cargo for the duration of the passage. Since cargo ships typically make multiple stops and can experience delays in loading and unloading cargo, it’s important to have a flexible schedule. “Shipping is not an exact science. You can’t expect to ship on a certain day and unload on a certain day. You have to give yourself flexibility,” Judson says.

On the other hand, booking space on a cargo ship gives you the advantage of being able to transport a yacht pretty much anywhere around the globe where that vessel is scheduled to deliver freight.

The other yacht-transport method, pioneered by Dockwise Yacht Transport (now DYT) in the 1980s, is “float on/float off.” DYT’s semi-submersible ships are partially submerged in the water; the yacht floats into it and is secured in a cradle on the deck by divers. Then, the water is drained from the hold. At the end of the voyage, the process is reversed and the yacht floats out.

“When the world woke up with a bang, the amount of consumer goods to be shipped outweighed the space available to ship them. That will take some time to stabilize,” he says.

DYT offers a limited number of routes designed to match typical yacht-shipping patterns, such as from the Mediterranean to Fort Lauderdale and the Caribbean and back. “What I think sets us apart from anyone else is that we have a set schedule — there is no deviation; there is no change. That is why charter yachts depend on us,” Tempest says.

When clients want to ship their yachts off the beaten path, DYT will refer them to its sister company, Sevenstar Yacht Transport, for bookings on board its cargo ships.

DYT recently launched a third ship, Yacht Servant, which was built in China and is scheduled to start transporting yachts in May. For a short window in 2022, DYT will have three semi-submersible vessels in operation, which should help to meet the rising demand for yacht transportation.

Photo: Sevenstar Yacht Transport

Riding Along

Before the pandemic, captains typically could send one or two crewmembers along with the yacht during either type of transportation, enabling them to use the passage as a mini yard period to get a variety of jobs done on board.

While most cargo ships do not permit riders to sleep in their yachts while in transit, before the pandemic, they often would assign them cabins in the ship and let them eat in the mess hall and recreate with the ship’s crew. However, when COVID-19 hit, most ship operators suspended this courtesy in order to reduce the risk of the disease spreading on board, which could lead to serious delays if the ship was forced to quarantine before unloading in a port.

“When things calm down, we will accept riders again,” Scarlata says. On DYT, “We still allow riders as it’s such a crucial part of the service that we offer,” Tempest says. In fact, the semi-submersible ships provide power to the yachts so that riders can sleep and work on board. At the height of the pandemic, however, the company limited the riders’ interaction with the ship’s crew. “They needed to provision their yacht for the duration of the voyage. They had to stay in the yacht and on the deck of the ship; they could not go into the ship’s superstructure.”

Insurance

One thing that has not changed in the yacht transportation industry is the need for owners and captains to ensure their vessel is properly insured for the passage. “Some people get caught out on this. They think their hull and machinery insurance will automatically cover them. They need to take out a separate marine cargo insurance policy,” Judson says.

Both Sevenstar and DYT include an all-risk insurance policy in the rate they quote for yacht transport. “Usually, one of the questions we get is, ‘Can we leave it out?’ It’s not optional,” Tempest says. “It covers everyone on board and eliminates the need for multiple underwriters.”

Photo: Peters & May

Price Increases

Captains booking transport for their yachts today are finding that insurance rates have gone up. “The whole insurance market has hardened over the last couple of years,” Judson says.

As for shipping, no matter what method you choose, you are bound to see a COVID-related price increase. “DYT rates have increased over the past six months. Many factors have attributed to this but certainly a large portion is a consequence of the global pandemic,” Tempest says.

“In the last ten years, freight rates have been very low…. Now the market has flipped a little bit,” Judson says. While there are a number of reasons behind this, the main one is the reduced amount of cargo space currently available.

“When the world woke up with a bang, the amount of consumer goods to be shipped outweighed the space available to ship them. That will take some time to stabilize,” he says.

As for shipping, no matter what method you choose, you are bound to see a COVID-related price increase. 

In early 2022, Judson reported that his company had seen rates for shipping yachts between the U.S. and the Caribbean go up 15 to 20 percent; transatlantic shipping rates had increased a 60 to 80 percent, and rates to and from the Far East had gone up 200 to as high as 300 percent. “Coming out of Asia, every ship is full to the gunwales and if you want some space, you have to pay through the nose for it,” he says.

“There are not as many people who are prepared to pay the increased freight rates we are seeing at the moment. There are a lot of people who are holding back…,” Judson continues. “Not everyone who ships a yacht is a multi-millionaire. We’ve got lots of clients who are dealers, brokers, and manufacturers who are moving their boats where they need to be to be sold as new boats…. I think the people and companies who are shipping their boats now are the ones who have more of a commercial need.”

This feature originally ran in the April 2022 issue of Dockwalk.

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