Trenton Gay, a Gold Coast marine industry expert. Picture: Richard Gosling
Trenton Gay, a Gold Coast marine industry expert. Picture: Richard Gosling

Why ‘uber-rich’ superyachts are hitting our shores

The uber-rich ranks of the world's superyacht owners are getting younger, more adventurous and charting a course for a new playground - the waters off Queensland's coast.

For this new mega-wealthy generation, the traditional "milk run" of glam destinations such as the French Riviera, Mediterranean and Caribbean just doesn't do it for them anymore.

The new cruising frontier for the world's 5000-plus strong fleet of superyachts is the South Pacific and the waters off the Australian coastline.

And according to Trenton Gay, a Gold Coast marine industry stalwart, Queensland is strategically positioned to become a key hub for the expected influx of seagoing behemoths - many of which now range in size from 60m to a staggering 180m - and their big-spending passengers.

With the likes of Google co-founder Sergey Brin's sleek 73m Dragonfly superyacht already regularly plying local waters, the state's status as a world class cruising destination is hitting the next level.

"They're coming - we're on their radar now," Gay says. "Traditionally, the Med and Caribbean have been their cruising grounds. But this new generation of owners is really interested in travelling further afield and their vessels are capable of longer passages."

Size, luxury and toys - such as helicopters, deep sea submarines, on-board sand beaches (fair enough, I wouldn't want to get off one of these boats either), full-sized basketball courts, and infinity pools - still matter in the superyacht stakes.

"It's out of control," says Gay, whose family owns and operates the Gold Coast City Marina & Shipyard and has stepped aboard his share of superyachts over the past two decades.

"And these days there are owners in their 30s with five or six of these superyachts. If you're someone of note or great wealth these vessels are like floating private resorts that offer them a place without the daily pressures or prying eyes."


Superyachts on the Gold Coast. Picture: Richard Gosling
Superyachts on the Gold Coast. Picture: Richard Gosling

At last count, there were around 200 superyachts operating in Australian waters.

Superyachts injected $630 million into the state's economy and supported 4500 jobs in 2016 and this is expected to increase to $1.1 billion and 8000 jobs by 2021.

In Cairns and the Whitsundays, the $320 million and 2660 jobs generated by superyacht activity is forecast to rise to $580 million and 4500 jobs.

"It's a low impact, high yield market," Gay says. "A superyacht with 12 guests on board will spend the same as a 1200 passenger cruise ship."

Gay cites how one visiting 50m superyacht spent $3.2 million while here just on provisions and repairs. "But when the owner arrived he fell in love with Australia and spent tens of millions of dollars more investing here," he says.

"They go to the local butchers and fruit and vegetable suppliers. They go shopping and to restaurants and are using all sorts of local services throughout the community, plus they get work done on the boats while they're here."

Nevertheless, there is a lingering sinking feeling within the local marine industry that the future growth potential of Australia as a superyacht destination could easily be lost.

Federal Government red tape, particularly relating to the charter laws for foreign flagged vessels and the need to upscale marine facilities to accommodate the new breed of super-sized vessels are seen as major constraints.

Earlier this year, the Queensland Government launched a five-year Superyacht Strategy, in a bid to attract 10 per cent more of the global market and refit and repair facilities by 2023.

Superyacht Queensland chairman Cameron Bray says facilities are needed to tap into the riches of the superyacht market.

"If there's nowhere for them to pull into, they'll just bypass us and go straight to Sydney," he says.

Gay and his family have recently unveiled plans for a $100 million-plus expansion of their Coomera marina facilities. Upstream, another prominent entrepreneurial family - the Longhursts - is also planning a $100 million expansion of its Boat Works slip way and marina.

"At the end of the day, we've got to make it easier for these vessels to come here, not harder," Gay says.