How public is your yacht?

Anyone who finds themselves attracting public attention would hope that their yacht would provide sanctuary. But is this still possible in these days of digital transparency?

Privacy concerns drive the wealthy out to sea

If someone buys a yacht, they obviously have high expectations of the boat and how its equipped, but they are hoping for something else as well: “Privacy is extremely important – and often a primary motivation for the purchase,” confirms Benjamin Maltby, a British lawyer who specializes in yachts, advising first time-buyers as well as high-net-worth owners who already own several craft.

Privacy is particularly important for the very wealthy: “With privacy comes security. Owners aren’t just more remote from physical threats while on board, but they can spend quality time with their families or business associates. They are free to do deals and build stronger relationships.”

The double-edged fascination of yachts

Privacy does not mean that you can’t be seen. Especially if you are on a superyacht; because superyachts attract a lot of attention. The glamorous charm of an imposing boat casts a spell over fans all over the world. Some are interested in the technology, others in the design. Public interest in yachts, as symbols of the “rich and beautiful” classes, can also be driven by sheer curiosity, or even voyeurism.

Digital opportunities and the power of the crowd

Yacht-spotters have turned their fascination into a hobby. They take photos and exchange information about the location and technical details of yachts. Digital technology has been a great boon to such people: they can share their information quickly and easily on sites like MarineTraffic and apps like Superyacht Spotter. Some of the profiles created through such tools are astonishing in their scope, and the available data can be used to chart a yacht’s movements in full detail.

Depending on the application, the information gathered by the yacht-spotting community can be augmented with publicly available positioning data. This is very easy to find for particularly large yachts: “Superyachts with a gross tonnage of 300 or more must be equipped with an automatic identification system (AIS) which shows their position in real time,” says Maltby. This data is open to the public: you can access it whether you’re using it to navigate safely or simply because you’re curious.

Maltby points out that most superyachts are not that heavy, and that the information provided by an AIS alone is limited. “The AIS only gives the vessel’s name and various technical details.” But it doesn’t take much to augment this with more information. “It’s possible to find out who the owner is because ship registries are open for public inspection,” Maltby tells us.

Take precautions

Benjamin Maltby recommends that yacht owners take precautions early on to maintain their privacy at sea. They should, he says, be very reticent about giving up personal information prior to building or buying the yacht: “At the outset, prospective owners should only deal with yards and brokers through their legal representative. An owning company should be incorporated in advance of any purchase, using nominee directors and shareholders – which will also isolate any liabilities arising during ownership. Information about the beneficial owner should only be imparted if absolutely necessary (to satisfy know-your-client obligations, for example), and only once non-disclosure agreements are in place.”

A culture of discretion on board

Once the yacht is bought, relationships with the staff on board should be arranged in such a way that privacy is maintained: “Crew should not only be contractually prohibited from revealing the name of the beneficial owner, his/her family and any guests, and the vessel’s itinerary,” says Maltby. “They should also be prevented from posting any information or photos on social media. A culture of respect and privacy should exist on board from the outset.”

If you follow this advice, you can really enjoy your time on board a yacht. Benjamin Maltby, who caught the yachting bug as a child, remains convinced of the advantages: “Very few land-based venues allow guests to enjoy the sun in such seclusion.”

Benjamin Maltby British lawyer Benjamin Maltby comes from a family of keen sailors. He hasn’t looked back since being asked by an extremely wealthy client to create a company to manage super yachts. Benjamin Maltby now works for Keystone Law in London, and shares his expertise on Twitter (@BenjaminMaltby) in compact, informative “Keynotes”.

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