A New Yorker article discussed the rise of “super yachts” among the rich and (in)famous. Any Russian oligarch who matters has a yacht longer than a football field moored somewhere exotic. American “Captains of Industry” are not far behind. Since 1990, the number of American billionaires has increased from 66 to more than 700. Thanks for those tax breaks, George W. and Donnie. Over that same time span, the median hourly wage increased by only 20%. Of course, the minimum wage in Pennsylvania didn’t increase at all. Joe Average is not buying a luxury watercraft any time soon.
How do we define a “super yacht”? A privately-owned boat more than 98 feet long qualifies. That’s longer than the longest dimension of the average house so there’s plenty of space for a family of four. There are roughly 5,400 “super yachts” sailing the seas. How common. You can’t throw a stone in Monaco harbor without hitting one.
The “cool kids” luxuriate in a “giga yacht”, more than 295 feet long or roughly the length of a football field (less end zones). There’s plenty of room for nubile playmates and lots of armed guards. Luxury yachts run about $1 million per foot of length. A “giga” runs in excess of $250 million explaining why there are only about one hundred of them around.
Alas, government regulations affect even luxury watercraft. After the Titanic went down, the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea limited the passenger capacity for “pleasure boats” to twelve. Of course, that capacity limit does not hold for crew. Most “giga yachts” carry a crew of fifty or more. If a “giga” strikes an iceberg, there are life boats for the twelve passengers. Meanwhile, the fifty crew cling to flotsam pledging their undying love just like Leonardo DiCaprio.
By the way, a luxury yacht generates as much CO2 as 1,500 cars.
A true luxury good especially one that is custom-made like a “super yacht” reflects its owner’s taste. Aristotle Onassis had no taste. His yacht had a swimming pool that converted to a dance floor which was sort of practical. It also had whale’s teeth carved with pornographic scenes from “The Odyssey” decorating its bar and bar stools upholstered in whale foreskins. Apparently, Ari had a thing about Jewish whales. Also, I must have missed the good parts of The Odyssey.
Russian oligarch Andrey Malnichenko spent $300 million on his “giga”. It included a master bedroom suite set on a turntable that captures the best view and a swimming pool set on a gyroscope to eliminate that pesky sloshing when traversing heavy seas. Andrey spent his millions on comfort.
“A boat is a hole in the ocean that you must fill with money.” Maintaining a luxury watercraft costs about 10% of its price each year. That bracing sea air and salt water accelerate wear and tear. Andrey coughs up $30 million per annum.
The super-rich flaunt their wealth, while their “bought and paid for” lackeys in government cut their taxes and refuse to raise the minimum wage. What’s wrong with this picture?
By Ed Dufton