European Yachts vs. American Yachts: What’s the Difference?

By Kim Kavin for YachtWorld

Craftsmanship, cost, and cutting-edge technology are all parts of the consideration, when it comes to European versus American yachts.

In the superyacht sector (say, yachts 150 feet length overall and larger) there’s a pecking order of shipyards when it comes to pedigree. Plenty of builders in the United States, Europe, and beyond turn out fantastic yachts, though when it comes to super-sized custom yachts, the European yards continue to be considered by many to be the best of the best, all around the world.

 Yachts like this 153 Heesen Lady Petra, built in Holland, are nothing short of works of art.

Yachts like this 153 Heesen Lady Petra, built in Holland, are nothing short of works of art.

LurssenBlohm+Voss and Nobiskrug in Germany; Benetti and Perini Navi in Italy; FeadshipAmelsOceanco and Heesen in the Netherlands—these brand names of yachting are akin to Lamborghini, Bentley and Rolls-Royce in the automotive world.

Why? Partly because of tradition, and partly because of product.

Shipyards like Feadship, whose roots date to 1849, and Benetti, which traces its history to 1873, are considered to be almost national institutions in their home countries. Their craftsmen are sometimes the children of the children of the children of the craftsmen who came before them, with everything from fairing and painting to welding and carpentry deep within their family heritage. That level of craftsmanship results in yachts that, in many ways, simply outclass those built in other parts of the world.

Certainly, there are fine craftsmen in America as well—Derecktor delivered the 281′ Cakewalk in 2010 as the largest yacht built in America since the 1930s,and builders from Christensen to Trinity prove regularly that they can turn out some fantastic yachts. In fact, when it comes to semicustom builds, those American yards are competing at the top of the worldwide game. All three build yachts 150 feet and larger that let owners customize a great deal of the design, without having to commit to the kind of years-long process that a custom build in Europe might require. (Though if you’re willing to spend more time, Christensen and Trinity offer fully custom designs too.)

Beyond the quality and timing of construction, the euro-to-dollar exchange rate has an impact. Right now, it’s affecting the popularity of European yards compared with American ones. For the first time in years, the U.S. dollar is gaining strength against the euro, and that means top-end yachts from pedigree builders in Europe are suddenly within the financial reach of Americans who previously couldn’t afford them. Whereas the French used to come to America looking for good deals on yachts when the euro was strong and the dollar was weak, the Yankees are now heading to Holland and Europe to get while the getting is good. And as the order books at the shipyards fill up, those yards are able to invest in advancements that keep their friendly rivalries going. Each is always trying to outdo the others when it comes to the world’s largest yachts, over 200 feet in LOA, leading to a winning formula for yacht buyers who want to be on the cutting edge of technology and design.

Some of the most recent examples of this envelope-pushing excellence in custom yacht-building from Europe are Feadship’s 273-foot Savannah and Heesen’s 229-foot Galactica Super Nova, both of which wowed the crowds as the stars of the recent Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show.

Savannah is Feadship’s first hybrid-propulsion motoryacht, not to mention a design with an underwater lounge with a big glass window beneath the sea. Galactica Super Nova is the largest Heesen ever built, with a fast-displacement hull that lets her achieve 30 knots (a stunning speed for that size vessel). These yachts dominated the docks in Florida, not only because of their sheer size but also because of the innovations they brought to the superyacht marketplace.

  Galactica Super Nova  is nothing, if not impressive.

Galactica Super Nova is nothing, if not impressive.

Want to see for yourself? Some European-built stunners are slated to appear at Yachts Miami Beach this month. Look for the 206-foot Benetti 11.11 (for charter through Y.CO) as an example of a newer Italian build, as well as for the 230-foot Lurssen Martha Ann (for charter through IYC), an example of a pedigree German yacht that continues to elegantly stand the test of time.

And while you’re there, also check out the American-built 190-foot Trinity Skyfall (also with IYC), the 164-foot Westport Wabi Sabi (exhibited by Burgess) and the 164-foot Christensen Silver Lining (part of the builder’s high-volume series). They may not be quite as big as the European builds in the nearby slips, but they’re impressive in their own right, with beautifully crafted interiors and features that will leave you picking up your jaw off the dock.