You’ve got the superyacht with pool, helipad, minisub and missiles. Now get the Royal Navy to train the crew. The craze for vast “superyachts” – the ultimate status symbols of the billionaire set – has become an unlooked-for money-spinner for the Royal Navy.
The superyachts, which are hundreds of feet long and boast mod cons such as helipads, indoor swimming pools and miniature submarines, are so large that crews are receiving Royal Navy training to handle the craft.
In an unprecedented arrangement, the Navy is benefiting from a series of contracts signed by a private company called Flagship Training. Based in Portsmouth and largely staffed by ex-naval personnel, the company is in partnership with the Navy, which receives a share of the profits.
Although Flagship Training refuses to disclose the names of clients, they could include Roman Abramovich, the Russian owner of Chelsea Football Club, who has three vessels, Pelorus, 377ft long, Ecstasea, 282ft, and Le Grand Bleu, 370ft. He has a fourth superyacht under construction called Eclipsewhich, at 550ft, will make it the biggest yacht in the world.
Other superyacht owners include Philip Green, the retail magnate, with the 206ft Lionheart, and the Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, with the 282ft Kingdom 5KR.
Flagship Training has 1,300 former Royal Navy staff and is providing navigation and seamanship training for the crews of the superyachts, some of which are bigger than the Navy’s latest Type 45 destroyer. It signed a Private Finance Initiative contract with the Navy in 1996 to provide similar instruction for naval personnel.
The tie-up is now proving highly lucrative because under the deal it was agreed that whenever there was any “spare capacity” in the training programme, the private company would be able to tout for business elsewhere, with a large share of these profts going into naval coffers.
Rear-Admiral John McAnally, retired from the Navy and now senior military adviser at the company, told The Times: “Some of these superyachts have two helicopter pads and a submarine, but the crews have not had special training for this size of boat, which is why they have turned to us because the Royal Navy has a reputation for training around the world. Apart from navigation and seamanship we provide firefighting training and damage control courses.”
Admiral McAnally, who during his naval career served as a navigator in the Royal Yacht Britannia, added that names of clients could not be divulged because they were confidential.
Although the Navy is not involved directly in training the superyacht crews, the money has begun to flow in because of the terms of the contract with Flagship Training, which has set up its own superyacht academy.
“We plough the money back into our own training,” said Captain Mike Davis-Marks, of the Royal Navy. “This is a good deal for us and it raises seamanship standards, which is beneficial for everyone.” The Navy has had to suffer significant cutbacks in its fleet in recent years and now has fewer than 100 ships all told, about 40 major surface vessels and 13 submarines.
By contrast, the annual production of superyachts has nearly doubled in the past five years, with more than 250 new boats delivered last year, according to the Yacht Report, which registers every superyacht.
The proliferation of luxury yachts since the 1990s means that only vessels longer than 65m (213ft) now stand out.
Yachts of this size are almost always built to individual commissions and cost tens of millions of pounds. They usually have four decks above the waterline and one or two below.
Extra facilities compared to those in a 50m yacht may include whirlpool baths, sauna and steam rooms, a beauty salon, massage and other treatment rooms, a medical centre, a discotheque, a cinema with a film library, plunge pool (possibly with a wave-maker) and a playroom.
They may also have additional living areas, such as a separate bar, secondary dining room, private sitting rooms or a library.
The burgeoning number of “small” superyachts has led to the introduction of the hyperbolic terms mega-yacht and gigayacht to demarcate the elite among luxury yachts.
The Ultimate Status Symbol
— Annual production of superyachts has nearly doubled over the past five years, with 253 new boats delivered last year, according to the Yacht Report, a magazine that maintains an international yacht registry. There are 3,706 superyachts in service or on order
— To be in the superyacht category, the vessel has to be at least 30m (98ft) long. Twenty-nine superyachts are in the 100m (328ft) or more category and the top ten are up to 162m (531ft) long. These range from 6,200 tonnes to 13,000 tonnes
— Accessories include a swimming pool that can convert into a helicopter pad or a disco dance floor; a garage for luxury cars and motorcycles; a sound system worth hundreds of thousands of pounds; a mini-submarine; an antiaircraft missile system; an underwater viewing deck
— One company builds “shadow superyachts” - support vessels the same size as their mother boat, which are effectively floating garages for a multitude of luxury cars