Want to Fly old Glory?
a change in law means americans with yachts over 300 gross tons can now have the U.S. flag on their transoms.
President trump recently signed the John S. Mccain national defense authorization act of 2019, which included a provision directing the U.S. coast Guard to develop—within one year—a non-commercial code for recreational yachts over 300 gross tons.
Since 1920, those yachts have been required to register as commercial vessels to be flagged in the United States. Many owners have instead flagged their yachts in other countries with open registries, because U.S. commercial rules for cargo ships and the like weren’t compatible with yacht construction and operations. the new law brings the United States in line with Britain, which has the large yacht code (ly3).
But more than a month after it was passed, it was still unclear exactly what the impact of the U.S. law would be.
“We don’t know what we don’t know yet,” said kitty McGowan, president of the U.S. Superyacht association, which was the law’s primary backer. “one of the most difficult challenges we’re going to find at the beginning, if we have a lot of folks deciding to do that, is having enough american crews. that would be an interesting problem.”
the new law includes U.S. citizenship requirements for yacht owners and their crew. It also bars yachts over 300 gross tons from carrying cargo or passengers for hire, so the yachts cannot be chartered. McGowan said that bareboat chartering may be allowed, but details still need to be sorted out with the U.S. coast Guard. despite the uncertainties, leaders in the yachting industry are optimistic. “While the change in tonnage restrictions won’t completely change the yacht business, it is a removal of a barrier to commerce,” said Paul Flannery, executive director of the International yacht Brokers association in Fort lauderdale. “this is important for the entire industry because it positively impacts all of us. More boats mean more jobs, and if they are flagged U.S., there is a greater likelihood they will spend more time in domestic shipyards.”
While the new code is still being written, McGowan said, the coast Guard can immediately approve U.S. flagging for large yachts. the push to enact the law received support from several U.S.-based yacht owners—especially tilman Fertitta, who stars in the “Billion dollar Buyer” tV show and owns landry’s restaurants, as well as the Houston rockets basketball team.
“I know of two large vessels that are registered in Jamaica, which is more commercial than yacht-focused,” McGowan said. “these owners now are looking to flag U.S.”
America’s most prolific builder of large yachts, Westport was founded in 1964 to supply vessels to the Pacific Northwest’s commercial fishing fleet. Over the years, the shipyard moved to yacht construction and helped to advance composite construction technology. Westport currently has six boats in build, half of which are sold. They include two W112s, two W125s, a W130 scheduled to launch this fall, and a W165.
“Westport’s business model is to start boats on spec, and an owner comes along and buys the next one on the line,” Wakefield says. This program lets owners take delivery sooner than with a fully custom project, and Wakefield says there is still plenty of opportunity for customization.
“There was some misunderstanding over the years,” he says. “People thought that you could have it any way you want it, as long as it’s Westport’s way. No. We have always accommodated customers.” The yard even will move structural bulkheads “if we have the lead time,” he adds.
In 2014, a former customer acquired Westport. “He said, ‘ Keep doing what you’re doing and let me know what you need,’” Wakefield says. That acquisition led to the introduction of the W125 model, which made its debut in 2016. “We had the opportunity to take a lot of the new systems and innovations considered state-of-the-art today and put them on that boat, and then added them throughout the line,” he says.
Four years ago, Westport started an annual owners’ rendezvous that has become popular. “Our sales guys aren’t too happy because we won’t let ’ em come,” Wakefield says. “It’s all about the customer.”
Based in the Pacific northwest, Westport has found its niche building semi-custom yachts up to 165 feet.