JOHANNESBURG - South Africa’s luxury boat building sector exports 90% of the locally built boats, mostly in the Western Cape, generating more that a R1billion for the economy and creating employment for more than 3000 people.

According to Vanessa Davidson, executive manager of Sabbex, the South African Boat Builders Export Council, the country’s luxury market is dominated by boutique luxury catamaran-builders.

She said South Africa is the second largest producer of catamarans globally.

“We have one production yard - Robertson and Caine - who supplies to the Moorings and Sunsail Charter industry and one superyacht builder, Southern Wind Shipyard, who produces award-winning monohulls in the superyacht category. South African-built boats also regularly win international awards and we are at the forefront of global build standards and design,” said Davidson.

She added that a new luxury yacht costs upwards of R12million, depending on design and specifications.

“The local market is still relatively small but we see a market interest in new and second-hand imported power monohulls which are not produced in South Africa. The industry is worth about R1.4bn and 90% of boats produced here are exported. The main market for South African boats is the US and the Caribbean. But we export boats all over the world including Africa, Asia and Australasia,” said Davidson.

About 70% of boat builders are located in the Western Cape with the rest of the builders in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.

There are about 45 boat builders in South Africa of which 20 build large luxury yachts in both sail and power versions. And about 3200 people are employed in the boat building industry.

There is a Boat Building Academy at False Bay College where people looking to enter the industry can undertake a three-year learnership and qualify with a National Certificate in yacht and boat building. The course is practically based with learners spending 50% of their time in a boat building yard, acquiring real time skills and knowledge, Davidson said.

Economic opportunities MEC Alan Winde said the Western Cape is the hub of South Africa’s boat building industry, with a particular focus on catamarans and the luxury sector. And it is an important creator of jobs in the province and generator of foreign exchange.

Winde said that while the US is one of the province’s major trading partners in this sector, the African market is also showing growth potential.

“Our focus for Saldanha Bay under Project Khulisa is to develop our oil and gas sectors, as well as the marine economy. A thriving boat building economy with the requisite skills is an important part of the Western Cape’s marine economy,” Winde pointed out.

Suzanne Levy from Boating World, a leading African importer of luxury sailing and motor yachts, said the price is relevant to the type of investment buyers are looking for. A pre-owned 12m yacht would retail from R2m upwards depending on the condition, while a new yacht of the same size would start at a retail price of around the R6m mark.

Levy said there is also the option of co-ownership, which brings the price down further as the costs are shared. “The market in South Africa is not as large as international markets, but we have seen a growth in sales in the past year.

“At Boating World we find that most of the local sales we conclude are with our South African clients.


“A small percentage is to owners from other SADC countries.

“These are generally buyers who spend a lot of time in Cape Town. But the majority of SADC buyers want their yachts closer to home, so the boats are shipped to their nearest port and delivered to their preferred marina.

“Most boat building activity takes place in Cape Town and is focused on the building of catamarans and smaller boats,” said Levy.

Davidson said South Africa has an established global reputation and the outlook of the industry is stable.

“The depreciating rand can be advantageous in certain instances, but with a build time of up to 18 months for a luxury yacht and with a significant level of imported components going into the boats, it can also work against the boat builders,” she added.

“It is not an industry for the faint-hearted but it is an exceptionally rewarding industry, driven by people with passion.”

- PERSONAL FINANCE