BT Reports: Singapore’s big boat boom

BT Reports: Singapore’s big boat boom

By JOYCE HOOI on Saturday, May 14, 2011 at 9:27am

‘When you have enough money to do whatever you want, you can sit down and write out your dreams. ‘I want a helipad – no, I want two helipads,’ said one of the yacht dealers in Singapore, as he talked about the seductive prospect of custom-making your own boat.

While Boat Asia 2011 – which opened on Thursday – had been mostly about production – or off-the-rack – boats, that deluxe and indulgent statement had captured the general haute sentiment.

Singapore-boat-asia-2011

In a year when the market for floating dreams looks set to take off, it is the recent recession that is looking more and more like a distant dream for a monied slice of the population.

Asian wealth is flowing into anything that floats, from jet skis to superyachts, even as the West conversely experiences the twilight of prosperity and conspicuous consumption.

‘We’re seeing a lot of European brands looking to Asia to save their bacon,’ said Paul Whelan, general manager of major yacht dealer and broker Simpson Marine (SEA).

This bacon-saving part of the world is clearly running to fat. Even before the show started, a Russian had marched in the day before to view and immediately buy a 45-foot Lagoon 450 for slightly over half a million euros (S$882,000) from Simpson Marine. ‘He couldn’t wait to see it, so he came down here,’ said Mr Whelan. The boat had a base price of 350,000 euros, but the Russian had ‘put a lot of options on’, according to Mr Whelan.

The firm’s expectations of this year’s Boat Asia – now in its fourth year – are greater, given the industry’s return to buoyancy, post-recession. Last year, it had five boats on show but this year, it has eight – with the cheapest one going at US$18,000, a Sea Ray 185 , and the most expensive one, the Azimut 58, priced at 1.5 million euros. The optimism is reflected in the overall scale of the show itself. Boat Asia 2011, which runs until tomorrow, opened 15 per cent larger compared to last year in terms of on-land and on-water display space, with more than 70 boats on show.

For the first time, the show has spilled over from Marina at Keppel Bay to another site – The Promontory@Marina Bay.

‘Right now, the time is right to really push recreational boating in Singapore. The economy is improving,’ said Mr Whelan.

This is if the economy had even soured for the yachting class, to begin with. In Singapore, the superyacht segment – where yachts starting out at 60 feet are seen as modest – has displayed a haughty indifference to the recession.

In 2009 and 2010, five superyachts were sold during Boat Asia, according to Herman Ho, the managing director of TMX Show Productions, which organises Boat Asia. That trend is poised to continue well into this year.

‘When we were gathered here last year, Boat Asia had its first ever superyacht segment with three superyachts participating . . . this year, the number of participating superyachts has doubled to six,’ Mr Ho said at the show’s opening on Thursday evening.

And while Asians might be diminutive in size relative to their European counterparts, their starter boats are not.

Over at the berths of Hong Seh – the dealer for brands including Riva, Bayliner and Maritimo – first-time boat-owners are enquiring about the $4.5 million SportRiva 56, a 56-footer.

‘In Europe, people start with the 20-footers. In Asia, we notice that there is a market for big-sized (boats),’ said Giuseppe Zecchin, area manager for Asia Pacific at Ferretti Group, which counts Riva among its portfolio of yacht brands.

Just recently, another first-time owner in Asia bought an 86-footer, he confided.

Even in the mid-sized range, brands such as Fairliner are seeing strong demand, with its dealer – SGBoating – bringing in a 42-foot Squadron for delivery to a Singaporean later this month and another two 38-foot Targa express cruisers in June. All three boats had been sold in rapid succession starting from late last year.

Even then, these boats are simply gateway drugs to the greater trip that superyachts offer. Increasingly, the usual length of ownership for boats that can last 40 years is only two to five years, after which owners look to trade up.

‘They can start with 40 or 50 feet and after one year, they’re talking about buying something bigger,’ said Bryan Jones, president of Fairline Boats Asia.

In an area of some low-key but serious spending at the Marina at Keppel Bay, however, the industry assures you that boating is one of the best ways to redistribute wealth, with spillover effects for all of the barnacles that thrive in the ecosystem of boat ownership.

Everyone gets a place at the trough, it seems – the restaurants that dot the marinas, the staff that crew the boats and the liquor firms that keep the party nice and mellow at sea.

‘Singapore has seen the economic benefits of marinas. The knock-on effects of boating is huge. If you want to transfer wealth from the rich to the worker, boating is a great way,’ said Mr Whelan.

It is not clear if this is more assertion than fact, but if there is any indication of a win-win situation, it is from one of the tanned boat-hands at the marina. While scrubbing down a 56-footer that he will most likely never own himself, he had failed to recognise the relative penury of a journalist and tried his hand at salesmanship. ‘Just buy one,’ he urged, his eyes shining with hope. ‘You’ve got to start somewhere.’

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