World’s yacht brokers, buyers flock to Miami Beach

Yachts Miami Beach weekend gets underway as technology is transforming the yachting industry

Feb.February 17, 2017 03:45 PM

Yachts Miami Beach (Credit: Forest Johnson) Efrem “Skip” Zimbalist III

It’s been called the Super Bowl of yachting.

Every February, Miami Beach turns into a global destination for the floating 1 percent. Thousands of spectators, brokers and a much smaller number of buyers — those who can afford to drop millions of dollars on a tech-laden yacht — flock to Indian Creek and other locations around the city to gawk, pose, and in a couple of hundred discreet transactions actually sign a contract to purchase the ultimate status symbol; a world class yacht that can stretch up to 500 feet.    

Efrem “Skip” Zimbalist III, president of Show Management, which puts on Yachts Miami Beach, told The Real Deal that this year it’s all about the latest in tech. “The larger yachts have more toys on them. A lot of them have verandas that come out electronically, so that when you are cruising or moored you have multiple access points to the outside,” said Zimbalist who adds that some yachts are being turned into floating art galleries. “We’re seeing a lot more audio-video technology and a lot more art. We see a lot of owners designing waterfalls and sculptures from the day the boat is designed.”   

As every broker knows, there is a season to selling and that’s no different for yachts. Seventy-five percent of yachts are sold between January 15th and May 15th, so Yachts Miami Beach pretty much kicks off the yacht buying season.

Zimbalist said buyer profiles can vary depending on where they come from. “A number of South American, Russian and folks from the Middle East come here and they tend to buy quickly and on the spot,” said Zimbalist, adding that North American buyers tend to take a bit more time when it comes to writing a seven-figure or eight-figure check. “It probably takes a year from the time the potential owner decides to buy a boat until he or she makes the decision and buys it.”   

There used to be two mammoth boat shows in Miami Beach. Until last year, Yachts Miami Beach and the Miami International Boat Show were both held at the same time in February, but the Miami International Boat Show was moved to Key Biscayne’s Virginia Key last year after the Miami Beach Convention Center began a multi-year renovation.

Zimbalist said the move has made both shows a bit more specialized. “We specialize in boats 50 feet and over, and they specialize in boats 50 feet and under, not that we don’t have other types of boats, but that’s the center of gravity.”   

Boat industry veterans say the industry employs 200,000 people in Florida and is worth $17 billion to the Sunshine State. The industry is a powerful presence in Tallahassee where it actively lobbies for its interests. In 2010 it helped enact a law that capped the state sales tax on boats at $18,000 and in 2015 the industry got the legislature to cap the sales tax for yacht repairs at $60,000.   

Last year, environmentalists raised hackles, pointing out that styrofoam used on the floating docks at Yachts Miami Beach was breaking off into Indian Creek and floating out into Biscayne Bay. Miami Beach banned styrofoam last year and Zimbalist said Yachts Miami Beach “launched a multi-million dollar program to encapsulate the docks in a very thick rubberized material, so we have about seven miles of docks with thousands of slips so it was major project.”

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