Yachting Prowess

The recent Miami boat show is a sign that South Florida is a global marine HQ

The recent Miami boat show, with 100,000+ visitors, is another sign that South Florida has evolved into a global marine HQ

By Mike Clary

When yacht broker Fernando Nicholson was looking for a place to settle and raise a family, he had a world of options. Born in Madrid, raised in France, and educated in Switzerland, the scion of a well-known European boating family had also sailed most of the globe’s seven seas. Like any good captain, he had a sense of what lay beyond the horizon. He chose South Florida.

“I was drawn to the freedom of the place,” says Nicholson, a senior sales broker who runs the Miami office of Camper & Nicholsons International, the 240-year-old company that bears his family name. “It is next to the sea, the beautiful Caribbean, close to Mexico – where we had been living – and had great connections to Europe.”

In the 28 years since making that choice, Nicholson has seen South Florida become what he calls “the center of the boating world. “The area now hosts three of the world’s largest boat shows – in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach – and serves as a hub for repairs on the world’s largest yachts, some as long as 180-feet and unable to dock elsewhere.

“Any way you slice it, Miami can be fairly referred to as a global yachting center,” says Michael Moore, whose legal firm Moore & Co., PA specializes in serving clients who build, buy, and sell yachts, and deals with issues like personal injuries suffered onboard. “Yachts are positioned where the owners like to cruise, which was historically the Mediterranean in the Summer and the Caribbean in Winter. That dynamic has shifted as the world has flattened and new markets have opened. Think Singapore, Dubai, etc…. Miami is in the middle of these markets, and with that comes yachting and yacht ownership.”

Numbers show Greater Miami and South Florida’s prowess. A new study estimates the economic impact of the marine industry in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties at $18.5 billion just for the year ending in June 2022. That’s up $6.5 billion from four years earlier – what researchers call “historic growth.”

In all, South Florida’s recreational boating, manufacturing, and marine services paid out roughly $6.9 billion in wages and earnings, supported 141,860 direct and indirect jobs, and contributed $863 million in local and state taxes in 2022, according to a study by marine industry specialists Thomas J. Murray & Associates.

“Statistically, there is nowhere else like this in the world in terms of economic output,” says Phil Purcell, president and CEO of the Marine Industries Association of South Florida, a Fort Lauderdale-based trade group that commissioned the study. “Industry growth from $12 billion to $18 billion – that’s a huge number.”

Key to that growth is the No. 1 rule in real estate: location. South Florida offers balmy weather in winter, sits astride the world’s third-largest barrier reef, is near the islands of the Bahamas and the Caribbean, and, globally speaking, is not too far from the Mediterranean, a popular yachting hub in summer. “If you have a boat over 70 or 80-feet, you’re going to move it south to South Florida in the winter,” says Purcell. “There are tons of places to have it serviced here, and the crew love it.”


November through March is high season for the industry, featuring three major boat shows: the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show (October), the Discover Boating Miami Boat Show (February), and the Palm Beach International Boat Show (March). Together, they attract more than 300,000 visitors and serve as showcases for vessels from small pleasure craft to superyachts equipped with hot tubs and helicopter pads.

The Miami show alone draws more than 100,000 people and creates an economic impact of $1.34 billion, says show producer Informa Markets, which bills the event as “the largest boat and yacht show in the world.” (Informa calls its Fort Lauderdale show “the largest in-water boat show in the world.”)

“Miami is the one show you have to go to,” says Bill Cordes, Vice President of Sales for Invincible Boat Co., a builder of high-end watercraft based in Miami-Dade County. He describes the event as an invitation to dream, to be one of those patrons who voices aloud “the lottery comment,” the one that begins, “If I hit the lottery…”

The most recent five-day Miami Boat Show offered more than 1,000 watercraft, from paddleboards to the 377-foot superyacht Ahpo brokered by Fort Lauderdale’s Moran Yacht & Ship for $352 million. Displays at the Miami Beach Convention Center ranged from sunglasses and deck shoes to life rafts and bilge pumps. Folks who come just to look around sometimes are smitten and end up buying, producers say. “It happens all the time,” says Andrew Doole, President of the U.S. Boat Shows division of London-based Informa. “They’re looking at these beautiful boats [and] people fall under the spell.”

Vinny Pyle, a broker with Fort Lauderdale’s Peck Yachts (Motto: Dream with your eyes wide open) attends each of South Florida’s big boat shows, “because it gets clients and products in one place. That’s important, because we’re selling a want, not a need. And everybody wants exactly what they want, at a price they want.”


South Florida also serves as a haven for yachting refit and repair, increasingly for larger vessels – including superyachts typically 120-feet or longer. Safe Harbor Lauderdale Marine Center bills itself as North America’s largest recreational superyacht repair facility, with more than 200 slips on 65 acres. The marina can accommodate yachts 180-feet-long, which may not fit in other yards.

“Business is trending up,” says Frank Gernert, the marina’s director and Broward County’s commissioner to the Florida Inland Navigation District (FIND). “More people are getting into boating.” Indeed, Florida remains the state with the most recreational boats and yachts registered – more than one million – with the COVID-19 shutdown boosting the desire of many to get out on the water.

Still, South Florida’s marine industry faces challenges. Much of the boat manufacturing in the area has moved out because of rising costs, some shifting to North Carolina because of lower expenses combined with incentives there. And like many local industries, there’s difficulty in finding workers and crew skilled in marine trades – though the Marine Industries group has now joined with the Florida Department of Education to create a two-year Yacht Service Technician Apprenticeship Program.

Fernando Nicholson’s business has evolved with the times. Today, Camper & Nicholsons not only provides yacht and charter management services but also offers high-tech platforms for tracking charter revenue, crew costs, and other metrics key for brokers and owners. It now works with larger yachts too, brokering the 2021 purchase by a Mexican businessman of the 344-foot “Lady Moura” for $125 million.

Moore, too, says that the area’s boating industry is growing fast and needs firms that can serve it. “We are busier than ever, with buying, selling, and building activity at a brisk pace. I was recently in Dubai, where we are helping a very active and well-funded client create a new yacht-building business,” he says. “The primary market – meaning for sale and distribution for these new yachts will be South Florida.”

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