Frances and Michael Howorth look at the yachting industry in the United Kingdom
Very few will argue that, when it comes to crewing, insuring, and designing superyachts, Britain lies at the fore. Just about every superyacht built today, is constructed to regulatory specifications laid out by the Maritime Coast Guard Agency, an executive agency that is responsible for implementing British and international maritime law and safety policy. Certificates of competency issued to superyacht crew stem from standards set and created in Britain. Germany build the biggest superyachts with the Dutch coming a close second, and the Italians claiming responsibility for 40% of the global fleet of yachts over 24m, but it is expertise that makes Britain a global hub for the industry.
The global recreational boating market was valued at £23.0 billion in 2019, and is projected to reach £27.6 billion by 2027, registering a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 5.1% from 2020 to 2027. The good news is that Britain is hanging on in there. The UK’s leisure, superyacht and small marine commercial industry was estimated to generate £2.9bn in revenue in the year 2021 to 2022 and employed about 30,000+ people. New companies are being formed and shipyards created, the future of British boating is looking rosy.
Britain has always had one of the most important roles within what we call the superyacht industry. Even the word superyacht is a British invention! Because before Bannenberg first coined it, the word to describe what we now know as a superyacht, was always referred to as a ‘gentleman’s yacht’. Most of those had been built by Camper and Nicholsons in Gosport who were back then considered to be the world’s leading yacht builder.
Dickie Bannenberg, co-founder of Bannenberg and Rowell and son of Jon, takes up the story explaining how his father laid the foundations for the superyacht industry as it is now. “Australians: over- egoed, over-successful and over here. So screamed the headline of W Magazine in December 1987. Clive James and Nigel Dempster were briefly name-checked, but it was my father who had the main coverage, chronicling – albeit briefly – his career since leaving Australia.”
“Many workers up to foreman-level middle- managers were relatively untrained and untutored. They had trouble embracing the assertive Australia, wearing his sharp London clothes, and enjoying his client’s patronage and support. Many at Campers thought him a wretched person who demanded the impossible, though, meeting by meeting, Bannenberg gradually won their respect.”
Some forty years later, after his death, an infographic was published showing Jon as the centre of the yachting universe in the UK, with orbiting design studio planets of various degrees of separation, the majority of which owe their existence to people who once worked for him. There are a cluster still in SW London – though none a scale rule away from the King’s Road as Jon’s studio was for over 30 years. And another grouping down on the south coast, not many miles away from where Jon’s first project was first delivered. The original Bannenberg studio hatched some very smart minds in the British superyacht industry. Some of them are still around today leaving their own individual great British stamp on the design world.
Among them, Tim Heywood. He told us, “I have been a member of the British yacht industry for over 50 years now and it is time I hung up my pencil, but as always, I am driven by my clients, often, driven to building yards abroad! I have worked in a couple of yacht building yards in England, Brooke Marine, building Stefaren now Maridome. I worked with Camper & Nicholson, on Stilvi, but most of my projects have been in Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, France, the USA, and Australia. Currently, this is where the work lies.”
Heywood continues, “I am pleased to see so many successful yacht tender builders now established in this country. I have worked with Compass, Pasco, and Falcon. I’m pleased to say the yacht design sector of our industry is extremely strong in the UK.”
Another Bannenberg protégée is Andrew Winch titular head of the Winch Design a company that has become a multi- disciplinary studio, specialising in the bespoke design of superyachts, residential and commercial properties and private jets. The studio was founded in 1986 by Andrew Winch and his wife, Jane, and now comprises of over 150 individuals. In July 2021, it became fully employee owned. Employee ownership sits beautifully with the Winch ethos which has always placed value on people, whose loyalty, talent and commitment have played a part in the success of the business. It is a studio that prides itself on having no house style. Each project is completely unique, and the firm takes pride in having no ‘one size fits all’ approach to design. Relentlessly creative, they find solutions to design challenges, be it on a grand, breath-taking superyacht or a pared back, contemporary sailing yacht. The yacht studio currently has 16 yachts in build, including a 44m explorer yacht with a fully sustainable interior, multiple 70m to 100m+ projects and a day boat.
Slowly but surely, new blood filters into the industry nurtured by the big names that have preceded them. John Vickers’ career in yacht design started when he visited the London boat show with his father, when he was 7 or 8 years old. It was big British brands like Oyster, Princess, Sunseeker and Fairline that inspired his imagination and studies in design, and seafaring.
After 15 years apprenticeship with companies that were direct o shoots from Jon Branenburg’s London studio he started Vickers Studio years ago which still makes him ‘a new kid on the block’ in superyacht design terms. He told us, “After many years, working in northern European shipyards almost exclusively, starting Vickers Studio gave us the chance to work with great British yacht builders, such as Sunseeker and Fairline, as well as other tender manufacturers in and around Southampton such as Falcon Tenders.”
A recent highlight for the Vickers studio has been the full interior refit for 75m Leander. First built for a British-based client in the early 90s, then owned for many years by a very respected English owner she was a holiday retreat for the British Royal family after Britannia was decommissioned. For many years Leander was seen at Cowes weeks anchored o the Royal yacht Squadron.
Despite the early success of Camper and Nicholson in Gosport, Great Britain has never spawned many successful large yacht builders. True Brooke Marine had a stab at it. Devonport Yachts became so tied up with dockyard dogma that it never stood a chance, and Pendennis became too well established as a refitter of classic yachts to make a name as a yacht builder. But Britain still rules the waves when it comes to building smaller yachts.
When it comes to blue water sailing yachts another British brand tops the list. With over 20 million sea miles and 100 circumnavigations of the world, Oyster Yachts has come a long way from the company’s beginnings in 1973 in a boatyard in Norfolk. Celebrating 50 years this year, the company boasts over 600 employees in the UK, USA and Europe, with a range of blue water sailing yachts handcrafted in the UK, and an order book stretching to 2026. Oyster Yachts was started in 1973 by Sir Richard Matthews.
His vision for the Oyster 34, a cruiser racer designed by Don Pye of Holman and Pye and built using local boatbuilders Landamores in Wroxham, Norfolk. This mould-breaking design was to lay the foundations for 50 years of success. Combining build quality and interior features that made Oyster Yachts synonymous with long-distance blue water cruising.
Perhaps the best-known performance motor yacht brand of all is, Sunseeker. Originally named Poole Power Boats, the company was founded by brothers Robert and John Braithwaite in 1969. The company changed its name to Sunseeker International in 1985 and has since become a global British icon, with every Sunseeker the result of an uncompromising and unmatched approach to design, craftsmanship and performance. From its numerous manufacturing bases in Dorset, Sunseeker employs c.2,300 people and produces around 140 boats every year ranging from 38-131 feet. The British brand exports 98% of its yachts something that can best be attributed to the investment it makes in the strategic growth of its global dealer network.
Poole in Dorset on Britain’s south coast is also home to Sunseeker’s Design & Technology Centre. It is a facility which vertically integrates every detail of the yachts from the initial concept designs through to the finishing details including furniture, complex electrical systems, helm consoles and soft furnishings. Over the past few years, Sunseeker has brought more work in-house to increase its UK supply capability. It has invested in its Technology Centre with over £1.5m spent on new machinery and innovative processes within the past 18 months alone.
Last year, Sunseeker International revealed its product development plans for 2022-2025, with the unprecedented recent launch of 12 new models and an expansion of its portfolio to a whopping 22 yachts. Moving forward, Sunseeker has committed £40m for new product development and production capability – a record investment for the company. This continued investment in new products and constantly bringing new innovations to the market is what sets Sunseeker apart from its competitors across the globe. Despite having been sold out of Britain to Chinese interests, Sunseeker remains a proud British brand that remains true to its roots. It continues to develop and invest in its UK manufacturing facilities and employees and is fully committed to growing and nurturing its talented 2,300-strong team in Dorset. The company is proud to be in a very strong sales position with a forward order book of over £500m.
Fairline is another great British success story. The brand has been at the heart of British boatbuilding for more than half a century and has earned a reputation for its enduring designs, craftsmanship in construction, and performance in use. From its humble beginnings in Oundle, Fairline has built a British brand in yachting worldwide with a range of boats spanning four model lines from 10 to 21 metres. The company’s recent collaboration with Italian yacht designer Alberto Mancini has added contemporary style to a long-standing heritage design range that has always been famous for its seakeeping performance. The company began in 1963 when Jack Newington acquires an assortment of disused gravel pits by the river Nene, as well as the land between the main lake and the road. By cutting a route through from the lake to the river, and erecting workshops, oﬂces, a chandlery shop, and slipway, he transformed the area into Oundle Marina and began building boats. In 1967 Jack launched the ﬁrst Fairline boat, a 5.8 m handcrafted GRP river cruiser. When his son Sam, took over in 1971, the company employed just 14 people. Sam expanded the company’s sales network overseas to take advantage of the expanding Mediterranean marketplace and by 1979, the company employed 140 people and turned over £5 million. The company expanded in the 1980s developing lines of high-speed cruising yachts and in 1986, was awarded the Queen’s Award for Enterprise.
Smaller in production terms, but nevertheless now an important player is, Cockwells who have in the past 25 years, made their mark as modern and classic boatbuilders on the British yacht building industry. Based in Cornwall, Cockwells is now one of the biggest bespoke yacht builders in the UK, with more than 140 employees and three sites stretching across the county. Although based in a small, sleepy corner of the UK, the ﬁrm is no stranger to international success. The company recently, delivered two tenders to Lürssen Shipyard in Germany, for the 160m superyacht, Blue, including one 12.3m Limousine Catamaran and an 11.7m Open high Speed Sport Catamaran. The team also delivered four large tenders to Freire Shipyard in Spain, ahead of their completion of Renaissance.
With an order book stretching into 2025, the future is looking bright for Cockwells. Owner and Managing Director, Dave Cockwell, said: “I think that Great Britain still has an amazingly good reputation for building outstanding marine craft to the highest quality, and its global reputation for ingenuity and problem-solving is second to none. The British marine industry has focused on high quality boat building as opposed to mass produced factory-built products – a principle we strongly adhere to. I believe this is our key strength. We will always be a proudly British company, keeping as much and abiding by traditional British principles of high standards and quality service.”
Arksen is another company that has set out to build the most authentic, capable, and eﬂcient explorer vessels of their kind. The company is the brainchild of tech entrepreneur and investor Jasper Smith, who brings knowledge from a career spanning 30 years in the games and tech industry, including companies such as PlayJam, Fantastic Corp, Vala Capital, Optimistic, PlayStack and PlayWorks. Smith has recognised the opportunity within the marine sector and is looking to provide a positive impact through technology, research, exploration, and adventure.
Designed for explorers and made for adventure, the yachts have been designed to meet the requirements for true explorer vessels in the 20 to 30m range, and that can be manned by minimal crew. On strength, range, environmental impact, life-cycle management, usage opportunities and maintenance, the design mantra is that they should stand out. All interior layouts are easily reconﬁgured so they can be used for leisure, research, and commercial purposes.
Through different ownership models, the company has created a series of platforms that they hope will inspire the next generation of explorers to embark on their dream adventures. Designed for 50-year service life, built using sustainable and recyclable materials, the ﬁrst Arksen 85 has been launched and o¦ers 6000+ miles of cruising on a single tank of fuel of around 16,000 litres.
As powerful as Britain might be, when it comes to yacht design and small boat building, it is not that well known for the power modules. That might well be on a course of change. In recent years, diesel-powered outboard motors have been gaining popularity as the preferred choice for powering tenders in the superyacht market. There is still not a huge choice when it comes to diesel outboards in the 200hp+ size bracket required to power planing craft, but two new manufacturers have been quick to the market, neither of which, to the surprise of some market commentators, represent the existing US and Japanese ‘household names’ that had dominated in gasoline outboards for so many decades. Of these two enterprising entrants, Cox Marine is very much flying the flag for high quality British manufacturing, with its state-of-the-art facility in Shoreham- by-Sea capable of producing more than 4000 of its CXO300 motors per year.
Great Britain is certainly not a low-wage economy, though, so any fool could tell you that an (outwardly) similar engine could be built more cheaply elsewhere, particularly if using the far east or other areas with unprotected labour. However, the watchword at Cox is ‘quality’, and when this enters the equation, everything changes.
CEO Gavin Wesson says, “Introducing our manufacturing facility to our UK-based headquarters allows us to continue to focus on building a no-compromise ethos; in both how the business operates, the product quality and the talent of the team. It also allows us to work closely with our UK-based suppliers to deliver a quality-assured product to the global marketplace. Our production facility is fitted with a ‘no-fault forward’ system; in conjunction with Wi-Fi-controlled tooling, we track every item fitted to an outboard throughout the build process, greatly reducing the margin for error.”
Additionally, Cox has recently formed OEM partnerships with Finland-based crossover boat manufacturer XO Boats, Florida-based USV manufacturer MARTAC and world-renowned yacht manufacturer Hylas Yachts, providing a number of models with the CXO300 as the default, factory- fitted propulsion option.
Another man with his eye launching a new outboard motor is billionaire entrepreneur, John Caudwell, who is himself a superyacht owner. Based in Lowestoft, Caudwell Marine is a start-up marine engineering company created to bring new technology to the marine market. It is hoping to elevate outboard boating systems to a new level. Currently a small but growing team, the company has announced that its new diesel 300hp outboard will be delivered in early 2024. The company is confident that its first outboard product will exceed the expectations of the market. The outboard is primarily aimed at the commercial and military markets which require their high- performance outboards to work, day-in and day-out, in all conditions. That sort of sales pitch will undoubtably ignite interest in the superyacht market where fuel economy, performance and reliability are also important requirements.
The outboard features a, 300hp, V6 turbo charged diesel engine and is undergoing fierce durability testing in the UK, northern Europe and hot environment testing in Dubai. “Watch this space” says Caudwell.
The final words in this round up of British talent rests with the designer John Vickers.
He says, “There is incredible talent and expertise in Britain with many of the most experienced captains, crew, project managers, not to mention yacht brokerages and of course the MCA regulatory bodies and insurance teams here. While the assembly of luxury yachts seems to have moved away to other shores, there are a huge number of yacht critical component makers and interior finishing teams that are successfully based here in the UK.”
The yacht industry has a strong future in Britain. The passion and huge expertise in many cases is world leading. The intricacies of our new relationship with Europe are challenges which we are all working round but our British yacht industry is a huge export and something we should all be very proud of. The large yacht business has a very real home in the Britain.”