Friday, 27 February 2009

The South African Yacht Industry Review

The following was dated mid 2008

Cape boat builders set sail for a bright new future

Chris van Gass
Cape Correspondent Business Day

ORDER books of some boat builders are bulging. Prospects look bright for members of the South African Boat Builders’ Export Council (Sabbex), the newest export council in the country.

With the formation of the council, there has been a shake-up among members to put the industry on a more solid footing and enhance its standing and reputation internationally, says the council’s CEO, Veda Raubenheimer.

With government support, the estimated R1,5bn industry is set to move forward with clear targets of retaining the foothold it has in foreign markets, especially in catamarans.

About 12 years ago, SA had 0,5% of the sailing catamaran market, but today, it accounts for 30% of global sales.

The South African boat-building industry has grown more than 120% since 1994, with 84% of growth in real terms driven by exports, especially to the US, the Caribbean, Holland, UK and Spain.

Western Cape accounts for 75% of the country’s boat-building companies and 87% of industry turnover.

Three flagship companies — Gunboat, Southern Wind and Robertson & Caine — are a reflection of the health of the industry, says Raubenheimer.

Gunboat built three yachts for R60m last year, and has nine more boats on order up to 2011, three of 90ft with price tags of about R70m each, and six of 66ft (about R25m each).

Southern Wind builds an average of five yachts a year in a price range of € 8m-€ 12m, and their order book is full, says Raubenheimer.

The largest boat builder in Western Cape, Robertson & Caine, built 84 boats last year priced at $380000 to $600000, for the charter market in the US and Caribbean.

This company has built more than 500 catamarans over the past 10 years.

Raubenheimer ascribes the success enjoyed by some companies to their strong brands. “People want to buy their boats,” he says.

Those companies have good reputations for boat building, and they have “a lot of good skills”.

The quality of their products is reflected in the technology applied in manufacturing, and it is cutting edge including the use of composite materials and vacuum-infusion construction techniques.

Employment provided by the top three companies numbers close to 1000, but many more workers with the necessary skills can be employed.

Raubenheimer says that it is in the skills field that the influence of the industry is being manifested and where there have been exciting developments.

The industry is establishing a boat-building academy with the False Bay College.

A new partnership, which will include the day-to-day management of the college, has been established to teach the skills the industry needs.

The academy will open in June, and provide teaching for a three-year academic qualification and short courses to fill skills gaps.

Raubenheimer says that the three-year South African Qualification Authority-recognised course would be akin to apprenticeship training, with six months of academic work and six months workplace training.

The shorter skills programme would be ideal for companies that need to expand their labour force, and assess skills levels of the existing labour force and scale up skills as required.

Her enthusiasm for the skills project is echoed by Roy McBride, owner of CKD Boats, a small boat-building business that specialises in exporting kit boats to up to 17 countries.
note: February 2009,we have now sold to twenty one (21) countries.

McBride says he believes that government support has made a “big difference” in the industry’s advancement.

He contends that the key to future success lies in expanding the skills base in the industry as “there are so many thing people can do with their hands. You have to keep training — you can’t build a business without the necessary skills,” he says.

The need for more skills is reflected in the industry’s steady growth of 10% a year in recent years, despite certain hardships being experienced in medium and smaller-sized businesses, says Raubenheimer.

Sabbex, with 31 members, has undergone a “complete review” of its membership structure, and also embarked on a rebranding exercise.

The main thrust is not only to export but to ensure steps to protect its traditional markets in the US and the Caribbean, says Raubenheimer.

A big breakthrough for Sabbex is its invitation to participate for the first time at the annual general meeting in Barcelona of Icomia (the International Committee for Maritime Industry Associations).

“This will give us the legitimacy and exposure and a platform to assist us to get involved in international discussions about the industry, and learn about how different industries around the world are regulated and what standards are applied,” says Raubenheimer.

What does the future hold?

Raubenheimer says the industry is eyeing the Middle East market for work boats, light commercial vessels and patrol boats as well as for “really top end yachts” as the Middle East is a “discerning market”.

Boat builders will also be looking towards Europe, Thailand, South Korea and even into Africa, the latter specifically for the day charter boats.

“Anywhere there is a boom in tourism, there’s always opportunity,” says Raubenheimer.

‘You have to keep training — you can’t build a business without the necessary skills’

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