Looking for the Silver Lining

9 April 2009 By Alex Scott

The recent Dockwalk forum, “Is the Economic Downturn Good for Yachting?” posed an intriguing question.

Good for yachting?” says Wes Sanford. “No. A sour economy is bad for everybody, especially in this industry.” Sanford is an ex-captain of 15 years; he holds a Quantitative Economics degree from Stanford University and worked as a financial analyst for the aerospace industry before running boats. He now works for Northop and Johnson.

Over the past several months, we’ve seen a lot of yachts downsizing their crew and salaries slipping southward. And it’s not just flutter-by crew who are feeling these effects; a lot of extremely professional crew are struggling to stay integrated in the industry. Related businesses also are suffering: marinas, canvas shops, carpenters, shipyards, brokerages, purveyors…the list goes on. They too are laying off workers, cutting services and downsizing, and some are folding altogether.

Sanford says, “All of these indicators are very bad for the business of yachting and it makes life extremely difficult for the workers who have dedicated their lives to a very specific niche industry. There are highly skilled, hard-working people with families who surely find little ‘good’ in today’s economy.”

Maybe a better question would be, is there a silver lining for yachting? To this question, Sanford says, “Yes, there are going to be consequences we will see fairly clearly that will help to stabilize the industry.”

As was pointed out in several forum posts, when the yachting industry was going gangbusters, the scene became a bit polluted with jaded crew and substandard yet overpriced services. These fringe elements will be expelled quickly in the current economic conditions, and likely won’t be missed.

As a result, the culture of the industry will improve and the quality of crew will be better,” Sanford says. “To stay afloat, services will have to become better and more competitive. Costs across the board will have to come down for the same reason; boat prices and charter prices will come down, dockage prices will come down and salaries will better reflect the capability of the crew or quality of service. These can all be considered a silver lining to a bad situation, which will revitalize the appeal of yachting as the economy eventually improves.”

Deborah Blazy, crew placement manager for Camper & Nicholsons in Antibes, sees a definite silver lining for yacht owners and captains. She says, “Crew are staying longer in their current positions and giving 100 percent to ensure they keep their jobs. They know that if they move on – or are asked to move on – there are fewer positions out there.”

This may be perceived as more bad news for crew, but Blazy explains, “This is positive for the owners and industry in general, but it could also be seen as good for crew: making efforts to get the best of their yacht, possibly learning new skills, gaining new responsibilities. Perhaps the priority will be less on salary and more on the individual merits of the [job].”

Certainly renewed stability within the economy and the industry will gradually attract the very wealthy back to yachting. When the tide finally turns, there will be a fresh allure. Sanford says, “Theoretically, crew will be better and have tangible value. Services will be vastly improved. And, most importantly, the cost of yachting will become ‘reasonable’ again. It may never return to the same heights; it may be a rough passage ahead, but it will get better.”