How Covid has changed the process of buying a superyacht

“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new.”


The National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) reported that new yacht sales (defined as boats 33’ (10m) in length or longer), increased 51% in 2020, with many dealers reporting first-time boat buyers.

With price tags of a newly built superyacht beginning in the low millions and going up from there, the pandemic is now forcing shipyards, builders and designers to look for new ways to connect with their high net worth clientele and sell a dream through a screen.

Here at Patrick Knowles Designs, we have spent the last 30 years of business, doing things face-to-face. It is not rare for myself or someone on my team to be jetting off to the Caribbean or the Middle East to meet with a client. There is something to be said for being able to see someone’s body language, the slight change in energy when you present an idea, and to be able to truly hand-hold a buyer through the process.

Our own process on a new build or even a refit, is to first sit with the client, paper and pencil in hand, and discuss their goals and desires for the vessel. From there I would begin to sketch by hand, often even as they spoke, conceptualizing and bringing to life the ideas that had previously only existed in their heads. The moment has a different feeling when those meetings are done via Zoom.

In the past we have flown to Italy to hand pick a specific species of marble for a yacht project. We have visited many showrooms globally in search of a single item to perfectly fit a specific need on a yacht we were designing. Yet now we are receiving sample packages of materials shipped to us for viewing. And in cases of heavy or unshippable items, there are a multitude of detailed images, videos, renderings and AV/VR components being sent.

In turn we too are creating packages and presentations for yacht owners, with virtual walk-throughs of their projects, rendered in daytime and evening views to show every detail down to the effects of lighting and shadows.

Even outside of design, every aspect of the yacht buying process has changed, with online platforms becoming the “new normal” for small boat shows, and larger events like the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show leading the way on covid-safety for in-person shows. And though I attended FLIBS in 2020, it was evident that many chose not to, particularly many of the International exhibitors who usually account for a large number of superyacht showcases in the show.

Where do we go from here? While travel, in-person meetings and “business as usual” may pick-up as vaccines are distributed and people feel safer going out, but will the new normal of online interactions persist? Will there be a comfort zone in Zoom that people find hard to break once the pandemic has passed or is there simply an aspect to bespoke luxury that can’t be reached without that personal connection?

I for one look forward to finding out what comes next, and in the meantime, I am truly enjoying the creativity that the covid constrictions forced us to explore. I’d love to hear your thoughts and innovations in the comments.