Power Yachts

Choosing the right model is as important as knowing port from starboard.

January 1 1989 by Peter Lacey


You’ve probably been a guest on a few gleaming cabin cruisers or impressive motor yachts. If your host lets you take the wheel, you’ve experienced the unique surge of energy as you cut through slapping waves to a distant horizon. And you’ve finally understood the meaning of “getting away from it all.”

“My yacht is another world,” says J. Al Wickland, chairman of San Francisco’s Wickland Oil Company. That world is a 70-foot Hatteras that Wickland finds ideal for both business and pleasure. He recently sailed The Regal Lady up the Pacific coast to Seattle, but cruising around closer to home, in the San Francisco Bay, also has its attractions. “Not moving at all can be enjoyable,” Wickland feels. “Just being on my boat in the Sausalito harbor, looking at San Francisco, gives me great pleasure.”

The versatility, comfort and luxury of power yachts make them ideal for family fun, business entertainment or simply a relaxing cruise over sunlit waters. Moreover, the yachting world seems to be one big, friendly community. So if you think you might like to own a power yacht, there are a few questions you should ask yourself: How much do I need to know about power boats to own one? What’s the best boat for me? How much will it cost?

The answer to the first question is: almost nothing. There are no formal requirements for owning and operating a power boat in the U.S. Some nations have stringent requirements and examinations; in the U.S., anyone can theoretically command a power yacht. As one broker put it, “A twelve-year-old can take the wheel of a 50-footer-if he has one.”

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Begin your education by looking at Boating and Yachting magazines; reading a book or two (unfortunately the power yachting sport has not yet produced its William F. Buckley, Jr.), talking to boat-owning friends and, most importantly, looking closely at the boats themselves.

Today’s power yacht is a far cry from the blocky model of the past with its summer camp-like interior and leisurely, rolling pace. Most contemporary cruisers and motor yachts are modeled in streamlined, European-inspired shapes. They have more power, more compact electronics (thanks to the chip) and a lot more style in their interiors: speed and luxury are the hallmarks of contemporary power yachts. The great majority of power yachts now being purchased in the U.S. are production models (usually called cruisers) in

the 25-to 55-foot range that sleep from two to eight people. Below this group are the smaller motorboats and runabouts with little or no cabin space and limited cruising ranges. Boston Whaler, for instance, offers a fine selection of such boats.

On the higher end, 80 feet and above custom-built motor yachts, the most famous name is Broward. Reaganomics have made this Ft. Lauderdale builder “the hottest in the country,” according to one broker. The average Broward ranges from 83 to 135 feet and costs $2 million or more. They are excellent, aluminum-hulled boats, sleep up to ten, and require a small crew.

Within the more affordable 25- to 55-foot spectrum, there is a bewilderingly large number of makes and models from which to choose. The best places to take in all the possibilities are at the big boat shows held annually across the nation, most of them in mid-winter (see sidebar).

CHOOSING A YACHT

“It’s a great way to unwind,” says Getty Petroleum’s CEO, Leo Liebowitz, in describing his 55-foot Gulf Star that sleeps eight. “I can bring work along and relax at the same time.”

Before looking at any boats, it’s wise to make a list of the main purposes for which your boat will be used. Will you be cruising inland rivers or sailing on the high seas? Do you enjoy water sports or fishing? Will you entertain primarily family or business associates?

None of these purposes necessarily excludes the others, as Liebowitz points out, but assessing your priorities insures you won’t get more or less boat than you need.

Look at as many boats as possible, and look at them closely. Lie down on the bunks (or the queen size bed), test the headroom, check out the heads (toilets) and galley (kitchen), stand at the wheel and study the controls, open the cabinets, find out how accessible the engine is, check the wiring and feel the hull and the trim. Is it all neat, firm and clean? Are there circuit breakers or fuses? (the former is preferable). Do all of this and then go back and look again. Ask questions, not only about features, but also about maintenance. What does the warranty cover? Does the dealer have repair and replacement facilities?

Another important consideration, according to John A. McKiernan, of Long Island’s Mattituck Inlet Marina, is the yacht’s resale value. “It may,” he says, “be worthwhile to pay more for a yacht with a better resale value.” These values are available from most dealers, since the resale market is large and well-documented.

At the boat shows you’ll be confronted by a vast array of white fiberglass-hulled power yachts, many of them looming high over the exhibition floor. (For yachts larger than 55 feet, you’ll have to visit a dealer on the water, or go to the Miami show, where many of the biggest models are floated.) At a typical boat show, colorful banners hang above the vessels displaying the names of their builders. You’ll go aboard via stairways and platforms manned by friendly crews of dealers ready to answer questions, show you the special features and-if fate permits-sell you a boat.

But rest easy; these are not used-car salesmen. The atmosphere aboard ship is generally low-key and helpful. The dealers know you’re going to think carefully about your purchase. On the other hand, most builders offer sizable special show discounts. This brings us back to J.P. Morgan: How much is it going to cost?

HOW MUCH?

Within the 25- to 55-foot range of production power yachts, the cost of the ready-for-running boat can range from below $25,000 to above $600,000. There are no hard and fast rules. Even at the same length, different models can vary widely in price: a 35-foot cruiser that sleeps four can cost $75,000 or twice that, depending on the structure of the hull, luxury of the interior, type of engine and range of on-board technology.

Minimum down payments are usually around 20 percent of the total cost and financing is readily available at market rates. (Shearson Lehman, for example, had its own crew at last year’s New York boat show.) Payments can be stretched over 15, even 30 years, depending on the amount. Consider your yacht a second home.

As for the cost of maintaining a power yacht, industry spokesmen advise planning on a yearly amount equal to about 10 percent of the total purchase price. This would include fuel (for an average of 100 hours of motor time), insurance (about 1.5 percent of the purchase price), taxes, dockage and minor repairs-but not the yacht purchase payments. After five years expect some major repair bills, but if you’re like most power yacht owners, you will already have traded up, in length and, of course, in price.

Those who’ve purchased their yacht wisely, maintained it well, and run it moderately can regain most, or even all, of the purchase price on resale. This is partly because many builders normally raise their prices twice a year ( January and August), for annual totals of up to 8 percent. By the time you’re ready to consider a trade-in, say after three years of ownership, the list price of a new model of your boat may have gone up by as much as 24 percent.

 

THE MANUFACTURERS

There are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of power yacht builders in America, most of them producing fine boats. At the boat shows and at dealers’ showrooms and docks you’ll see the better-known names, the companies that produce the majority of power yachts sold in America. Following are eight of those builders and some of the models they are best known for. These are by no means the only reputable builders in America, but a close inspection of their cruisers, convertibles (for fishing, too) and large motor yachts should yield a good idea of the state-of-the-art crafts available today. Prices quoted are 1988 builders’ base prices for fully-equipped boats. Most dealers will be flexible on pricing, depending on supply and demand.

Hatteras. One of the most respected builders in America, this North Carolina company produces very well-constructed cruisers and convertibles that range from 38 to 77 feet. Hatteras’ most popular model is a 53-foot motor yacht that sleeps six; an excellent boat for entertaining, it lists at $582,000. More affordable is the new 40-foot Double Cabin with two staterooms, including one with a walk-around queen-sized bed. Its base price is $216,000 with gasoline engines, $267,000 with diesels. Like other builders, Hatteras is also beginning to produce much larger models of up to 100 feet.

Bertram. If serious fishing is your main reason for owning a power yacht, this is probably the builder for you. Miami-based Bertram produces only ten convertible models, putting its main efforts into the hull and other structural essentials. These yachts are heavier than comparably sized cruisers and they handle better in heavy seas. One of Bertram’s most popular models is a 50-footer that sleeps up to six and costs $598,000.

Viking. Constructed on the New Jersey shore, these are large cruisers and convertibles with excellent reputations. Listing at $385,000, the builder’s diesel-powered 44-foot Motor Yacht sleeps at least six and is a quality party boat that’s also fast (26 knots). The Viking 45-foot Convertible, for fishing and cruising, boasts the same high speed (up to 30 knots) and rough water hull as the motor yacht; it also sleeps six or more and is priced at $375,000.

Chris-Craft. One of the oldest, and certainly the best known of American power boat builders, Chris-Craft offers perhaps the widest range of models. Long respected for quality construction, the independently-owned, Florida-based firm experienced difficult times in the ’60s and ’70s, but has come back triumphantly in the ’80s. With more than 47 models, from 16-foot outboards to 50-foot motor yachts to choose from, an owner can trade up for many years within the Chris-Craft range. Among the builder’s power yachts, the 320 Amerosport is a good entry-level choice: the 32-foot family cruiser sleeps up to four in a roomy cabin and lists at $65,000. A popular larger boat is the 42-foot 426 Catalina Double Cabin; it boasts an excellent hull, sleeps six and lists at $185,000.

Sea Ray. This company specializes in well-built cruisers ranging up to 43 feet with good hulls and attractive interiors. One of the most successful lines in America, Knoxville-based Sea Ray produces the sleek 300 Sundancer, a 30-foot cruiser that can sleep six and sells for $70,000. It also builds a luxurious 43-foot combined cruiser and fishing yacht (the 430 Convertible); its base price is $212,000 with gasoline.

Silverton. Good medium-sized cruisers in the 30- to 40-foot range, Silverton’s boats are sleekly designed, inside and out. The 34-foot Express Cruiser sleeps six and has been especially well received; it combines good performance with impressive below-deck areas, including two staterooms. The base price is $76,000. Its crafts are produced in New Jersey.

Bayliner. The biggest builder in America, Bayliner sold well over 40,000 boats last year, from 15-foot runabouts to 45-foot motor yachts. Bayliner is headquartered in Seattle and produces 39 different models at 19 plants across the country. The company has a reputation for delivering a lot of boat for the dollar. One of Bayliner’s widest-selling family boats is the 26-foot Sun Bridge Cruiser, sleeping six in two separate areas. Its base price is $39,000.

Carver. Known for their attractive interiors, these are especially popular boats with first-time buyers, many of whom trade up within the line. Carvers, made in Wisconsin, are completely ready to go, with all the options already there-another reason for the make’s popularity. Like Chris-Craft, the builder offers a wide range of cruiser and motor yacht models, in Carver’s case from 21-to 58-feet in length. The Carver 38-foot 3867 Santego sleeps four and is one of their newest models designed for comfortable cruising. It has an aft cabin and lists at $142,000.

A FINAL WORD

Diesel engines are generally more expensive than gasoline. Diesels are more powerful, last longer, are more dependable and use less fuel per horsepower. But they’re also big and heavy and result in less zip in a smaller boat. So most of the cruisers under 40 feet come equipped with gasoline engines, while those above have diesels or offer a choice between the two. The big boats always have diesels. Though diesel fuel is less combustible, today’s gasoline engines are as safe as your car’s, with proper maintenance.