Revealed: The true cost of running a $3 million superyacht

Everyone loves the idea of owning a superyacht but what does it actually cost to run one? The owners of a Sunseeker 105 charter yacht reveal all...

Have you ever heard the saying, “If you need to ask the cost, you can’t afford it”? Trite as it may sound, there is a grain of truth in it, especially when it comes to buying and running a superyacht.

But there are ways of offsetting the costs, which is exactly why the owners of Kefi, a 2004 Sunseeker 105 based in Florida, ended up buying a pre-owned superyacht rather than their original idea of buying a brand new 60ft sportscruiser.

By chartering out Kefi during the weeks they weren’t using it themselves, they hoped to offset the costs of running such a big vessel while enjoying the benefits of a much more palatial crewed yacht when they were able to use it.

We covered their original buying journey in the October 2022 issue of Custom Yachting. Now they have owned Kefi for over a year, they have agreed to share what it actually cost them to run and how much revenue it earns in charter fees to see whether the sums add up.

Captain and crew are integral to Kefi’s success as a charter operation. Photo: Elliott Maurice and Kefi Charters

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The rather scary-looking answer to the first question is just over $1.1 million per annum, but that includes all the costs of running a charter boat – a privately run boat would cost a fair bit less.

The answer to the second question is rather more complicated because their goal was to end up with a profitable charter business with personal use costs the same as if they were running a brand new 60ft sportscruiser privately.

To go through the numbers and show me all the work they have done to make it a successful charter business, Scott, one of the co-owners, invited me to experience a short cruise aboard Kefi from the Bahamas to the Exumas and back.

Moving between the Bahamas and Rhode Island helps extend the charter season. Photo: Elliott Maurice and Kefi Charters

Crunching the numbers

A 40-minute flight from Fort Lauderdale to Nassau provided an excellent opportunity to discuss the past year with Scott. Having owned several boats over the past three decades, including a 44ft flybridge that he still keeps for his own private use on Lake Erie, Scott is no stranger to the costs of running a boat but even he was surprised at the step up.

“It has been a learning curve,” admits Scott. “This is a whole different level financially. The costs are exponential compared to an owner-run smaller boat but we did go into it with our eyes wide open. It is a business with lifestyle implications, not a lifestyle with business implications. We didn’t want to be the alcoholic who buys a bar and drinks all the profits with his friends”.

Even so, ensuring the business model works is no easy task and a key part of that is finding the right people to run it. They tried four different captains and made several changes of crew before settling on the perfect team.

A wide array of tenders and toys keeps guests happy. Photo: Elliott Maurice and Kefi Charters

One prime example is Kefi’s liveaboard engineer, who saved nearly $200,000 in engine rebuild work alone. He’s not the only one, when we arrive at the yacht, Captain Richard Perez, his three crew and the chef, all dressed immaculately in the yacht’s formal uniform immediately make us feel at home.

Like any business, the best investment is in the quality of its people.

Scott and his co-owner only have time to use the yacht four weeks each per year, which leaves a maximum 44 weeks free for charter. However, eight weeks of those are given over to annual maintenance and refit work, and at least as many are lost to transit and turnaround times between charters.

In their first full year Kefi was chartered for 18 weeks, and a realistic goal for the future would be between 20-25 weeks. To reach that level, Scott knew Kefi needed to stand out in a crowded market so his first priority was to bring her up to the standard of a brand new boat.

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When they purchased her in 2022 she was already 18 years old so a number of the systems desperately needed updating, along with many of the fixtures and fittings.

This was all factored into their original purchase and refit budget of around $3 million. A year down the line, she looks fantastic. With her clipper bow, sharp raked glasshouse and swooping lines, Kefi is classic Sunseeker through and through. In fact, at the time of our visit she was still only halfway through a two-year $600,000 refit plan.

Stepping onboard, Scott points out the freshly restored teak on the bathing platform. Progressing through the saloon doors reveals an entirely new composite wood sole in a light maple colour. The original solid walnut floor had bowed over time and looked rather dark and dated. Some of the woodwork at the rear of the saloon and wheelhouse had also faded and clouded due to sun damage and has now been replaced or re-veneered. Now it all looks, feels and smells like new.

Moving up to the wheelhouse, a very businesslike and modern glass bridge helm now takes pride of place. “We updated the entire navigation suite,” explains Captain Dan. “Only the NAVTEX weather warning system is legacy”.

An appealing cruising itinerary is almost as vital as a well presented boat. Photo: Elliott Maurice and Kefi Charters

It’s the same story up on the flybridge. The navigation gear is all brand new and the original flybridge teak decking has been replaced with artificial teak to better withstand the humidity and sunlight of the tropics. All the lighting has also been replaced with LEDs to reduce the load and bulb replacement costs – there are more than 150 downlights alone.

Moving down to the accommodation deck, Scott explains that the reason they chose the Sunseeker 105 was because it’s a four-stateroom boat with two full-beam guest suites, both of which are almost comparable in size with the owner’s suite on the main deck. “The only notable difference is the jacuzzi bath in the owner’s suite and a slightly better, more elevated view.”

All four cabins have sizable ensuite heads and the port and starboard have two generous single berths with an infill to create a king-size berth. The 105 also has an unusually large crew cabin. “A well accommodated, happy crew is as important as the guests’ comfort on a charter yacht,” explains Scott.

Photo: Elliott Maurice and Kefi Charters

Location, location, location

Kefi’s schedule is certainly a busy one. She spends six months chartering in the Bahamas each winter, two months in the yard being fettled, and then four months in Rhode Island over summer.

“This is done for several reasons,” explains Scott. “Firstly, it avoids the hurricane season, reducing the insurance premium from $70,000 to just over $30,000 per year. Also, high season in Rhode Island is June to September and high season in the Bahamas is November to April, so we optimise our charter rate by moving between the two”.

The next part of the equation is maximising the guest experience. “I think of the yacht as a substantial villa, complete with a speed boat, watersports toys and staff so it’s vital to make sure all those elements are first rate.”

The famous swimming pigs of the Exumas make a popular excursion for charter guests. Photo: Elliott Maurice and Kefi Charters

The yacht’s purchase inventory included a 27ft Sea Hunt tender and two jet skis to which Scott has recently added a pair of new Sea Bobs and charging racks.

The weekly charter rate for all this comes to $65,000 including an agreed fuel allowance but not food, drink, docking fees, local taxes or crew tips. “Most of these costs are met by the charter guests,” explains Captain Richard. “A party wanting to drink vintage Dom Perignon and eat caviar and lobster will require a very different budget to those eating burgers and drinking Bud.”

It’s the same story with the cruising itinerary. “We can usually create an itinerary that perfectly suits the client’s wishes without exceeding the fuel allowance,” assures the Captain.

Photo: Elliott Maurice and Kefi Charters

Counting the cost of owning a superyacht

During 2022 Kefi was chartered for a total of 18 weeks, bringing in a revenue of $1,170,000. Offsetting this against the annual running costs of $1,149,100 actually resulted in a small profit of $20,900.

If they can increase the number of weeks chartered from 18 to 20 weeks, the sums will look even better. Clearly, this does not account for the capital outlay to buy Kefi or the annual refit costs ($177,000 in 2022 and $174,000 in 2023), but since an annual depreciation allowance as well as the maintenance and upgrade costs can be set against the revenue, this can also prove quite a tax-efficient way of running a boat.

However, Scott is very clear that buying a yacht with charter revenue attached is by no means a foolproof business model. The risks involved are simply too substantial. If the charters drop off or something major goes wrong with the boat, the financial picture would look very different.

So far, though, buying Kefi has worked out well for them, with personal costs restricted only to the time they spend on board. So well in fact that they are now considering upgrading to a bigger yacht.

“We are looking at a 2012 Sunseeker 111. Being a five-cabin yacht, this can demand over $75,000 per week in charter fees,” Scott tells me. So has it all been worth it? “Absolutely. It is the stuff of dreams, creating memories, it’s incredible”.


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