Depending on the size of your yacht and the distance between ports, the difference in price between yacht delivery and yacht shipping may be smaller than you think. Will Bruton reports

A transocean passage can be a cruising delight, but it can also represent a logistical challenge. Owners who are constrained by time through work and family commitments, or who need to have their boat in a certain place at a set time, be it for a regatta or a charter, may not be able to sail their own yacht to its next destination.

Over the past ten years the business of moving yachts has seen significant developments. Several delivery companies now offer the services of qualified crew, 24-hour engineering support and satellite tracking as standard. In parallel, global yacht shipping has expanded vastly, resulting in faster deliveries and more destinations covered.

What is the difference in price between yacht delivery by sail and yacht shipping?

We requested a quote to move a Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 44DS with a value of £250,000 from Antigua to Palma following the 2017 ARC.

By ship: we were quoted £12,900, including insurance and cradle rental. However, the shipment offered was later than the departure date we initially requested.

By sail: quoted £8,500, not including fuel (estimated at £1,400), marina fees (est. £250), and return flights for three crew to UK (est. £1,800) giving a total of £11,950.

Jeremy Wyatt, director of World Cruising Club, sees many yachts moved by both methods following events like the ARC.

“In general there are two types of cruisers, the ‘traditional’ liveaboards who will cruise the Caribbean then sail home to Europe or the US. More recently, though, we have seen more time-poor sailors, usually because they have not retired or are not able to spend extended periods sailing,” he comments.

“These are the owners who would be expected to ship back home. The convenience to them is not needing to spend six weeks preparing and sailing a boat back via the Azores and [that convenience] outweighs the cost of shipping.

“There is also the argument that shipping saves wear and tear, which is a hidden cost of sailing it back. Some boats, particularly catamarans, are also not really suited to the North Atlantic route back to Europe.”

ARC Europe: Crossing the Atlantic west to east is a very different experience

Trusted hands

Engaging a delivery company involves putting a valuable asset in the hands of a skipper and crew you have probably never met. So how do you decide if they are up to the job?

Simon Weeks is a freelance delivery skipper, based in Hamble, UK, who sails worldwide. “As a minimum, I would always ask for a skipper’s CV, verifiable references, and some contact well in advance of the trip,” he recommends.

Pete Green, owner of Halcyon Yacht Delivery, has developed clear criteria for both skippers and crew. “We run with a minimum of three crew on short and medium trips and four crew on transocean deliveries,” he comments.

“Our minimum skipper qualification is RYA Yachtmaster Ocean with lots of previous experience. In terms of crew, on medium to long trips we insist that one of the two crew must be a RYA Yachtmaster Offshore and, on shorter trips, a Yachtmaster Coastal. The third crew member must have RYA Day Skipper or equivalent experience.

“Anyone going on a Halcyon delivery has to supply two referees who are followed up, plus either a face to face or telephone interview during which a short theory exam is undertaken to assess the extent of the crew’s knowledge.”

It is perhaps not surprising that, in a market where margins have been squeezed in recent years, not all yacht deliveries go to plan. “There are certainly some cowboys out there,” comments Weeks. “We pick up numerous deliveries every year from owners that have been let down.”

“There was one yacht we delivered from Spain to the UK that had been left by another skipper who decided he didn’t want to finish the trip. We were given a list of defects that the previous skipper had identified.”

“We were prepared for some maintenance before setting off but were surprised to discover that the yacht was absolutely fine. It turned out the list had been created so that the skipper could justify going home early.”

How yacht delivery companies operate has also been publicly called into question on several occasions. Many operations rely on unpaid volunteer crew keen to build their experience, a practice that not everyone in the industry supports.

There have also been reports of skippers pressured to sail into unsuitable conditions. In 2012, Farnborough-based Reliance Yacht Management was successfully sued for negligence after the deaths of a delivery skipper and two crew.

The wear and tear inflicted on a yacht on a delivery passage is a major consideration. With brand new yachts, the job becomes particularly involved, explains Green.

“It’s always a challenge to deliver a brand new yacht thousands of miles in perfect condition. We spend time bubble-wrapping every inch of the interior to protect it. Also, we don’t use certain items, including the oven, and we put foil on the top of the hob to make sure it is protected.”

“On the exterior, we check all fixtures and fittings before setting off to make sure blocks are secure, winches have been tightened to the deck sufficiently, and sails have been bent on correctly. Lifejackets and harnesses stay on deck to avoid scratching the interior.”

At the other end of the scale, some yachts being delivered haven’t been sailed in years. “It can be a tricky issue,” comments Green.

“Nearly all delivery companies and skippers specify minimum levels of equipment as part of the contract, but boat condition can be more problematic. Contact will be made with the owner beforehand to establish the yacht’s age and whether there has been a recent survey, but this only gives half the picture. My checklist includes all the seacocks, the rig, engine and much more.”

Shipping routes

Shipping yachts has become an increasingly popular option for many owners in recent years. It’s an appealing prospect, largely due to the inherent predictability of an operation that relies on big ships that can handle all but the worst weather with ease.

Credit: William Bruton

Shipping companies increasingly charter purpose-built vessels that speed up the operation further.

“It’s possible to ship with the mast left up, the shore power connected and crane the boat straight into the water at the other end,” explains Josh Flavell, a former delivery skipper who now works for Peters & May.

The list of destinations covered has also grown. “Whilst routes used to be dictated by the traditional yachting seasons and its major events, such as the ARC, today we are delivering to some of the world’s remote cruising grounds as well. Alaska and Tahiti are two of the more far-flung places we sailed last year,” reports Sander Shuurman from Sevenstar Yacht Transport.

The Oyster Yachts team in Palma manages many yacht handovers to and from shipping companies on behalf of owners. “It’s a very popular option,” explains Mark Durham, Oyster Palma’s operations manager.

“Although the shipping fees appear higher than the professional delivery companies, higher wear and tear heading east across the Atlantic means many are choosing what is a much more predictable option.

“There are some downsides. One is [to do with] the vagaries of loading dates. It can lead to multiple rescheduling, both of the loading and offloading team’s plans, and of course the planned program after arrival.

“Although the passage time will almost always be shorter than the own-hull sailing time, the additional costs incurred at each end due to delays can add substantially to the basic charges, so they should always be budgeted for as well.”

Whilst yachts won’t incur sail or motor maintenance issues, Hamish Burgess-Simpson, project manager from Oyster, warns that shipped yachts can arrive “truly filthy”, depending on their loaded position on deck.

“The dirt washes off the topsides with a bit of effort, but it can be permanently ingrained in the canvas work,” he adds. This dirt, generated largely by the ship’s stacks, can be mostly avoided by ensuring your yacht is placed forward of the exhaust system, but it’s still advisable to stow all canvas.

The price of moving a boat, whether by ship or delivery crew, can be hard to estimate. “In recent years the bottom line for owners has become increasingly price driven, so we try to provide quotes that include all of the major expenses, including cradle hire and insurance whilst the boat is in our hands,” says Josh Flavell from Peters & May.

“Our costs vary quite significantly. If we are utilising a scheduled ‘liner’ service, then the cost can be higher as the ship sails whether it is full or not.

“However, where we are using a chartered service ship, [which accounts for] about 70 per cent of our shipping, we can often offer a much lower price.”

Despite an ever-increasing choice of routes, some destinations will always require a delivery crew, or a combination of shipping and delivery. “We recently delivered a yacht to her owner’s private island in the Western Isles,” says Pete Green of Halcyon Yacht Delivery.

Photo Wayne Larris Photography/Peters&May

Hidden costs of yacht delivery and yacht shipping

Both shipping and sailing a yacht can potentially incur hidden costs:

Ship

  • Cradle hire: yachts being shipped are secured to the deck in cradles. Whilst you may own one, it may not be suitable for shipping. If it is, there will also be an additional cost of shipping the cradle itself or storing it ashore.
  • Insurance: many shipping companies include insurance from when the yacht goes into the ship’s crane to when it comes out, but not all – check with your insurer in advance.
  • Berthing: ships are delayed sometimes, particularly due to loading and unloading.

Sail

  • Satellite communications: one owner we spoke to reported a satellite phone bill in excess of £15,000 following a transatlantic delivery. The data connection had been left open by accident by the delivery skipper. If allowing use of your own satellite communication equipment, agree terms in advance in writing.
  • Wear and tear: on long passages, particularly heading into prevailing weather systems, some wear and tear on equipment should be expected. Consider timing of cosmetic work to the yacht carefully and ensure running gear works freely before handing over to a delivery company.
  • Insurance: again, check your policy. Your insurer may specify requirements for the delivery which may go beyond the skipper’s qualifications. Crew may also need to meet certain requirements.

William Bruton, 27, grew up in Lancashire and learned to sail in 2012. He now works as a freelance skipper all over the world, specialising in Oyster yachts. He is currently based in Japan.