Innovation & Design

My Yacht Is Bigger than Yours


Slide Show >>These days, the rulers of the boardroom also want to rule the waves—not to mention the harbors. And nothing shows your status on the sea better than a yacht, or in the case of a corporate titan, a so-called "mega-yacht."

Technically, yachts qualify for such elevated status if they are 80 feet (24.4m) or longer. While a decade ago, a vessel that size would raise eyebrows, today, there are more than 6,000 such boats plying the world's oceans, according to recordkeepers. Moguls such as Oracle Chief Executive Larry Ellison and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen have upped the stakes in this game of conspicuous consumption, commissioning personal cruise ships longer than football fields.

For a corporate titan, no expense is spared when it comes to construction and design. Most such mega-boats boast full-time crews and are outfitted with a mind-boggling array of accessories, including swimming pools, helipads, and even submarines. Of course, it comes at a price: Allen's 414-foot Octopus, built by Germany's Lürssen, reportedly cost him upwards of $100 million. And don't forget annual running costs, which average at least 10% of the purchase price.

PORT TROUBLE. The explosion of mega-yachts, powered by a new breed of Russian and Middle Eastern super-rich mariners seeking to flaunt their wealth, has created problems for ports as owners seek to dock their vessels. "These yachts got so big so fast that the marinas of the world couldn't keep up," said Diane Byrne, executive editor of Power & Motor Yacht magazine, which publishes an annual list of the top 100 mega-yachts and provided information for this story.

Oracle's Ellison reportedly considered selling his Rising Sun because its length—nearly 453 feet—means sometimes he can only dock at commercial ports. Mega-yachts have also created opportunities for developers. The $200 million Yacht Haven Grande project under construction in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, will have a marina specifically designed to accommodate yachts like the Rising Sun.

Yet for all the one-upsmanship between owners when it comes to a craft's size and features, it's a notoriously discreet club. Shipbuilders won't disclose who has commissioned a yacht. It's only once the vessel has sailed that the owner may be confirmed. Similarly, the industry closes ranks when big yachts are for sale.

YACHT-SPOTTING. That secrecy has only bolstered the mystique of the mega-yacht. A community of yacht-spotters keeps a close eye out for the latest luxe vessels and trades information and pictures on the Internet about recent sightings.

If you're on the beach with your wireless laptop, our slide show will give an idea of what vessels to look out for. And if you're stuck in the office this summer and not able to "yacht-spot" on the Cote d'Azur or in the Virgin Islands, have a look at what you're missing.

Click here for the slide show.


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