They’re the preferred luxury vacation transport of millionaires and billionaires from Bono to Stephen Spielberg to Jay Z, conjuring images of the mega-rich cavorting off some dazzling foreign coastline.
“Super yachting” is officially one of the world’s most extravagant hobbies. And there’s a very good reason for that: It costs a massive amount of money. Luxury yachts are among the most expensive asset purchases. And it’s not just that the initial capital, which can run tens to hundreds of millions of dollars, is high. Yachts also come with tremendous annual running costs that often soar over $1 million.
There is no legal definition of “super yacht.” The term generally applies to yachts that are 75 feet or more in length, have a full-time professional crew, and are enjoyed for pleasure or commercial operation. Of course, no two super yachts are the same, and no two super yacht owners have the same taste or yacht aspirations. So outlay and running costs can vary significantly.
- A super yacht describes a personal boat that is both larger and more extravagant than typical private yachts.
- These are a luxury item that belongs to those ultra-high-net-worth individuals who can afford them.
- Up-front purchase prices can be in the several millions of dollars, and then ongoing operating and maintenance costs could run another million dollars or more each year.
Post-purchase, an owner should expect to pay around 20% or more of a yacht’s initial purchase price annually to keep it running. So in theory, a $10 million yacht would set you back $2 million a year in operational costs. Fuel (lots of it), vessel insurance, dockage fees, maintenance and repairs, and crew salaries are typically the heftiest running costs.
Dockage fees can run about $350,000 and administration about $70,000. Maintenance and repairs can be in the millions, as can crew salaries. The upkeep of the 590-foot super yacht Azzam, owned by President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates, is estimated at $60 million per year, although it does come with two helipads and a missile defense system.
Luxury Yacht Group provides salary guidelines for a standard boat crew. It prices the captain of a 100-to-170-foot vessel with more than five years of experience at anywhere up to $192,000 annually. And you’ve still got to factor in chefs, stewards, deckhands, engineers, and more. Just so new yacht owners don’t get hit with any rude cost surprises, Luxury Yacht Group has developed a handy crew costs calculator and another one for operating costs.
Prices vary from port to port around the world, but parking your boat at the most exclusive marinas in high season can set you back well over $4,000 per night. Berthing spots during prime-time events such as the Monaco Grand Prix can cost up to $85,000 or more for a five-day stay. Superyachts.com provides a global marina map with which to search the world’s marinas and their seasonal mooring fees.
Keep in mind the obligatory “toys.” No floating playground is complete without resident fun machines like Jet Skis and submersibles, not to mention crucial, state-of-the-art leisure amenities like an infinity pool cinema or floating beach club. Eclipse, owned by Russian businessman Roman Abramovich, features two helicopter pads, a three-man “leisure” submarine, and two swimming pools—one of which converts into a dance floor.
Several banks and marine lenders will finance the purchase of a super yacht, either via a leasing transaction or via a marine mortgage. And offering your super yacht for charter can fetch attractive returns. However, if you have to cost-rationalize the purchase, perhaps buying one of these vessels isn’t the best way to go. Instead, you could always charter one for the same floating luxury feeling without all of the ownership responsibilities. There are also fractional ownership schemes that share financial responsibility (and super yacht enjoyment) among a party of investors without the full capital outlay.
The Bottom Line
If you happen to be one of the world’s ultra-high-net-worth individuals (UHNWIs), a lavish floating playground could be right for you. However, if you’re not in the billionaire’s club, don’t despair. You can still charter, share in a fractional arrangement... or simply opt for a more affordable yacht—less “super,” that is. Still, there will always be a place for the opulent, and incredibly expensive, among the world's elite.