Any mention of yachts evokes images of the luxury boats owned by the wealthiest men in the world with the size of their ships directly proportional to the amount of money that's been spent on them. In that world, bigger is better, and around the globe, yachts have been a billionaire pursuit from Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis's 99-metre superyacht ‘Christina O’ to absconding billionaire Vijay Mallya's 95-metre ‘Indian Empress’. But what most may not know is that it's possible to sail like a billionaire even if for a day or two because most owners rent their boats out when they aren't using them. Case in point – can you rent ‘Ashena’ – a 45-metre superyacht with five cabins owned by Raymond's boss Gautam Singhania? It's possible if you cough up Rs 800,000 a day, and if that's too steep for the wallet, there are other options that cater to every budget.
In the island metropolis of Mumbai, the business of boats is a less flashy affair with most owners being avid sailors as opposed to grandstanding tycoons who throw champagne parties for hundreds of people after an F1 race when docked in Monte Carlo or Barcelona. Which also means that ‘Ashena’ is an exception, and most of the boats range between 10 metres and 20 metres. A 20-metre boat can host a party for two dozen people with ease. These boats can be leased for an evening or a weekend from any one of the couple dozen companies such as Gateway Charters, Sailing Stuff and Yacht Charters India in Mumbai. The upside: it's cheaper than shelling out a few lakhs for a ballroom at a five-star hotel in the city, and it's truly private.
Aashim Mongia, managing director of West Coast Marine Yacht Services in Mumbai says that there are at least fifty professionals who own boats and many do lease them out. The average cost of renting a yacht hinges on size and ranges from between Rs 20,000 for a few hours to a million rupees, depending primarily on size and amenities. He points to two broad sets of clients - those who throw corporate events such as TCS or Axis Bank, or then as a celebration for their clients or themselves. "We've had finance companies bring 25 top-end clients, and they use the boat and for around Rs 300,000 for 25 people in an ambience that is far more unique than anything on land. The only catch is that the gateway of India shuts at 11 pm, so you have to return by then," Mongia says.
Homi Motiwala who runs maintenance and charter company Sailing Stuff says that of late it's the sailing boats that are around 35-feet long can cost between Rs 8,000 and Rs 10,000 to rent for a couple of hours which are popular. A motor yacht that expends fuel could run around Rs 45,000 for a couple of hours, and on the smaller boats, it's as low as Rs 3,000. “It's typically young and middle-aged professionals who want to celebrate an occasion but there also larger companies who do rent bigger yachts for overseas visitors and clients.”
Of course, it's much more expensive to buy the sailing rigs with an oceangoing, A-classified, 55-ft long yacht that can accommodate 10 people costing anywhere between Rs 90 million to Rs 110 million. Smaller boats can be as low as Rs 10 million. Despite the higher prices for a leisure toy, fractional ownership programs have helped owners reduce the cost of ownership.
At Mongia's company West Coast Marine, he says he has four boats out of a fleet of 20 boats that are owned by multiple partners. That helps the price to come down to as little as Rs 2 million for a boat that's worth Rs 9 million, Mongia says. Shakeel Kudroli a former lawyer who founded Aquasail, a company that offers sailing courses and experiences and which owns boats across Mumbai and Goa, says that there are few buyers today because of the lack of servicing infrastructure. There are some 30 yachts of the 'passive leisure' variety which aren't used too frequently. Because of that, rates are relatively competitive for renting them.
Most management companies, of which there are around half a dozen look-after-owners boats, also rent them out and assist in the process for weekends and events. Kudroli emphasises that for charters and rentals the most optimum sea vessel is that which is low horsepower little or no cabins and designed with larger spaces for multiple people and are typically custom-built boats. The part of the business that does have takers is active leisure which included windsurfing, kite-surfing, kayaking, in other words, everything to do with sailing. He suggests that active navigation is the bright spot in sailing as opposed to parties on yachts. “That's where we see growth happening and have catered to 50,000 customers over the past decade,” he says.
Radhika Khurana, a financial services executive and boat owner says she started to rent out her boat because of the willingness of corporates to offer activities around yachting and sailing in India, which is tremendous. "We have a beautiful harbour, award-winning and highly skilled crew and skippers and lovely boats and the last mile in service delivery which would include a world-class jetty can significantly deepen the market," she says. Her point is, while still very niche and viewed as elitist, and interest levels have grown.
Equally, Malav Shroff, co-founder of Ocean Blue Boating cautions that the industry is still in a state of fragmentation and maturity may be a while to come. “Fuel prices are high, there's little that has changed with the infrastructure, and the requirement for a state-wise registration makes cruises tedious,” he says. The age-old issue is lagging infrastructure with not enough organised Marinas with refined access points.
Despite all the negatives, there is a small but tangible market that can be used to sustain the hobby. “It's not a money-making business but for those with passionate about sailing the dividends mean that you'll have fun and your running costs will be taken care of,” Mongia says.
In the big picture what is needed are more Marinas for each one created, adds hundreds of jobs for electricians, painters, maintenance and technical workers and so on. Singapore, as an example, has gone from being a non-yachting city to now being the leading destination for a super yacht in the last decade for a couple of reasons - the developed infrastructure as well the complementary retail around it. India has the history the coastline and the culture. All it needs is for the related ecosystem to get more organised. Until then, rentals are always an option for those who shy away from purchasing.