Shared yacht ownership schemes have seen unprecedented demand over the past two years. To those short on time and wanting to sail regularly with all the maintenance taken care of, it sounds an appealing prospect. But how does it really work in practice?
Neatly coiled lines, highly polished stainless steel and a sense of order tends to grace berths in marinas serving professionally maintained yachts, seemingly in a permanent state of readiness for their owners. However much of a hands-on sailor you might be, there is something undeniably appealing about having everything taken care of.
Shared ownership schemes
The appeal of owning a yacht is obvious, but ownership itself can be time consuming. In today’s time-poor environment, it is far from surprising that access to ready-to-go yachts, with sailing days booked online, is proving more popular than ever.
James Walker took ownership of FlexiSail last year. A naval architect by training, he divides his time between designing yachts and running FlexiSail. He believes he now understands what an increasing number of sailors want, and it doesn’t involve full ownership and the responsibilities that go with it.
“What we offer to the market is a clear contrast to regular yacht ownership that’s defined by its transparency. A fixed cost, everything included, nothing hidden. Anyone that’s ever owned a yacht knows that’s the opposite of what sole ownership entails. For those that haven’t ever owned a yacht, and perhaps would never consider it, we offer a way to sail very easily.”
Walker is seeing a new type of customer with a different view of how they want to enjoy their sailing time. “A lot of our new customers have no real connection to a sailing club at the start. They are looking for an experience, easily accessible, like their other pastimes. Something social, but without protocol.
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“We have a role to play there in breaking down the boundaries to access sailing, including training. We take a personal approach that doesn’t overwhelm. Interestingly, for most customers, they see sailing as a great way to socialise, so the yachts we’re ordering now have as many cabins as possible. Book online, turn up, and the boat is ready. Have a great weekend on the water, then hand it back and forget about it. That’s very appealing to a lot of people.”
There are several shared ownership schemes in the UK. Some offer a fixed number of days on a specific boat, while others operate on a points-based system with access to multiple boats, including powerboats. Both have guarantees of use built into the contract. Some are beginning to expand to popular European charter destinations, meaning members’ days could include use of yachts abroad for holidays.
Pure Latitude Sailing has operated from Hamble for over 14 years and was one of the first schemes for shared ownership. Owner Martin Gray set up the business after seeing the success of car clubs where fees gave access to sports cars over several weekends.
“We decided against a physical share model right from the start because of its inflexibility. So, if you are going out with a friend you might take a small yacht out, but the following weekend you might be taking a group, so you can also access something with more cabins. It is also worth noting that sometimes, on a windless day, sailors admit to wanting to take out a motorboat!
“Flexibility is our core selling point and it means that no one is frustrated by not being able to access a boat because they only have a share in one specific yacht,” he explains.
Martin Gray has seen a big uptake in scheme membership, but highlights that the demographic has changed a lot since Pure Latitude began. “When we started out, I would say that half of our members couldn’t afford outright ownership of a yacht of the same size and condition. Today, the majority could probably own outright if they really wanted to, indeed some have, but they see our offering as fundamentally more practical.
“Interestingly, there’s some psychology in it too. If you know that you have so much use paid for, you use it, especially when you know that the boat is ready to go and you are not plagued with things to fix; sailing weekends are sailing weekends, not fixing!
“Because we buy the boats ourselves, instead of relying on external owners, we can control what we offer to exactly what members.”
One characteristic of new sailors coming to shared ownership is their expectations, he explains. “Some of our members have never owned a yacht. It means their expectations are in line with something else you might rent. They expect the boat to be ready to go and in good order and, while boats are complex, that’s what we deliver.
“We are also seeing younger members come through too. They have made the decision right at the start that they would never own outright – it’s simply access they want and fun, in line with the service economy we are seeing grow more widely.
“The thirst for organised events is something else we didn’t foresee at the beginning. Racing, Fastnet campaigns and family social events are all available to members too.”
While not as simplistic as membership schemes, buying into a yacht syndicate can cut the costs of ownership dramatically.
David Watts has run Yacht Fractions since 1991 and specialises in buying and selling shares. “The obvious appeal of buying a share is the heavily reduced investment and ongoing costs. We sell shares of varying values, but a typical share might be between £15-20,000 for one third, meaning the initial investment is relatively low. It’s an accessible path to a lot more time on the water if you are already chartering a lot.”
While a lot of Watts’s business is in trading shares of existing yachts, he also advises potential buyers on what might make a great shared ownership prospect. “We recently had a customer who was buying new from the start with a view to sharing the yacht by selling two shares, to buy a much bigger and more comfortable yacht at a third of the cost and running expenses.
“It changes how you think about your budget and what’s possible. At present shares are selling very quickly and, as with the rest of the industry, supply is short.”
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