The purchase of a modern sport-fisherman is an incredibly complex process. Not only do the boats contain hundreds of thousands of moving parts and come with price tags pushing into the six, seven, even eight digits, but the boating market offers an array of options, models, hardware packages and layout configurations as well. These days, an offshore fishing boat can be anything from a 27-foot center-console to a 150-foot yacht-fisher. And at times, the process can be dizzying.
Thankfully, there exists a category of sport-fishing professionals whose specialty lies in putting their clients into the right boat—at the right price. The modern boat broker is more than a salesperson, but is, rather, a boating consultant who leverages knowledge, experience and professional network to guide the client’s journey into boat ownership. Most every successful broker is also great with people—someone who understands preference, taste and, generally, what makes people tick.
The relationship between the client and broker starts well before the first sea trial and extends far beyond the boat’s delivery date. A trusted broker often becomes a friend of the program, and it’s not uncommon for brokers to fish with clients long after the ink on the contract is dry. A good broker will be a great resource for boat owners and captains through time. From helping with warranty claims to sourcing technicians and delivery crews to recommendations on the latest and greatest in marine electronics, a broker’s network and knowledge are as valuable as his experience at the closing table.
Here are examples of how a professional broker can benefit not only the purchaser, but also the overall boat-ownership experience, with input from three of the best in the business. The role and skillset of the modern boat broker is a multidisciplinary affair that comes with an interesting backstory as well.
Before the Sale
Darren Plymale is the executive vice president, chief financial officer and chief operating officer of Galati Yacht Sales; he is an industry veteran whose roles have run the gamut. Plymale is generous with the perspective he has gathered over the course of his career. His view of what makes a successful broker is insightful.
“Specialization today is so important,” Plymale says. “The best brokers in the game are those who specialize in a product, a type of boat or a market segment. Specializations might be in motoryachts, superyachts or sport-fishing boats. These brokers are experts in what they are selling and everything they are selling against. Great brokers are guys who are learning their craft daily. They assess and understand the products they represent versus the market. This is the foundation of understanding value to the client. Then they use this value to know where to take clients.”
Perhaps the most compelling aspect of Plymale’s breakdown of the role and knowledge base of a good broker is that it’s provided without reference to a specific boat, option or hardware package. From his perspective, the role of a broker extends far beyond simply plugging client inquiries into available listings. When done properly, the role of the modern yacht broker is based in knowledge, analysis, and the ability to relate the desired experience of a boat owner with the performance attributes and financial details associated with new and used boats. An important part of this consideration is that it can vary greatly between clients and their individual situations.
“I’ve been fishing on many occasions with customers whose time is worth more than money,” Plymale explains. “Their time in the office is spent earning the money to afford a boat. With as few days away from the office each year, when they get on the boat, it is important they reach the fishing grounds as quickly as possible. This is as important to them as anything else.” A good broker is one who can understand a client’s financial state, family situation, desired use of the boat, and other variables that dictate what vessel might be an appropriate choice. He then analyzes this understanding alongside his knowledge of the market to make the appropriate recommendations to the buyer. The role a broker takes on in his relationship with the client then becomes as much specialist/consultant as it does that of salesperson.
“You try to find out what the customer wants,” Plymale says, describing the evolution of an owner’s needs. “Nine times out of 10, you get them into their first boat and they grow out of it in a year. One day they catch five marlin or 25 sailfish, and now all of a sudden, all of their best friends want to come, so they quickly grow out of their current boat and want to move up in size.
The same thing happens with motoryachts: transitioning from three to four staterooms before moving up to five. Then the next step is sometimes transitioning to limited chartering to offset some of the cost of operation.
“You need to listen to the customer to help them grow with their needs,” Plymale continues. “A central part of this is to handle maintenance, insurance and financing requirements. You also help with crew needs. Nobody is better than [Galati Yacht Sales president] Carmine Galati at building a crew and helping to make the experience for owners the five-star experience they desire for their family and guests. The expertise to find the right guy: a captain who understands the client and makes things happen. The broker is simply an advocate for the client.”
During the Sale
Clark Sneed is a veteran broker with Bluewater Yacht Sales in North Carolina. Sneed’s thorough, down-to-earth approach is perhaps the foundation of his 20-year career in the yacht-brokerage space. Clark breaks down how he works with clients to navigate the process that leads into the sale of a yacht: “What I like to do is find out what style boat is best for the client. Then we get his price line. From there, I’ll research the boats that are the best options available. I’ll send the list to the client to narrow it down.”
Sneed describes how a good broker will then sit down with the client to go over the pros and cons of the available choices. At this stage, a broker uses his knowledge of the market and experience in boats and systems to recommend which vessel best suits his client’s needs. When the client returns his shortlist, Sneed then gets into the next phase of the process: research.
“From there, you do in-depth research. I’ll get the engine’s serial numbers and check to see if there have been any insurance claims or lighting strikes on the boat,” Sneed says. With the amount of money at stake—and the number of moving parts in the modern sport-fisher—having a broker who knows what to look for and how to look for it is invaluable.
A broker’s network will likely also include knowledge of the captains and owners who own the boats on the list. This knowledge might include a overall idea of the maintenance performed on the boat. As a general rule, a boat that has been under the care and supervision of a good, professional captain employed by an owner who understands the value of spending money on recommended maintenance programs will be in much better shape than a boat that has spent a year sitting unused at the dock. Prospective clients will also benefit from the fact that many brokers bring with them a wide social and professional network of captains and other boat owners. Firsthand knowledge of how boats have been maintained—and who has performed the maintenance—can make a world of difference when it comes to buying the right boat.
Once Sneed and his client find a boat that checks all the right boxes—and passes the research phase—it’s time to bring in the professionals. “I’ll get a list of good surveyors that I’ve used in the past,” Sneed says. “I’ll also arrange an engine surveyor, and depending on the number of hours, schedule an engine-manufacturer dealership to complete an inspection and issue a full report.” A broker’s relationship and history with the surveyors can not only help clients find a good and reputable surveyor—one who specializes in the type of boat that he or she is purchasing—but can also help get the boat on their schedule in a reasonable amount of time. In the summer 2021 boating market, many surveyors (like specialized professionals in other fields) were booked up for months.
“When it comes to the buying process, we can help with the financing, finding crew, whatever they might need,” Sneed explains. His what-you-see-is-what-you-get approach to the process is refreshing, and it also reflects the confidence and competence he brings to the table. “I’ve been a broker since 2001,” he says. “Many people tell me how much they’d like to be a boat broker, but it’s not as easy as you’d think. If you start out with a million brokers, you might end up with five really good ones.”
After the Sale
Repeat business is the foundation of many successful broker careers. A process that might start with a prospective owner learning the ropes as he or she gets into their first boat might very well turn into a decades-long business relationship—and friendship—that includes a number of purchases. A good broker’s knowledge and skill here are used to make the boat-ownership experience pleasurable and enriching over time.
“The big picture for us is relationship building,” explains Michael Kusler, president of Kusler Yachts in San Diego, California, and Newburyport, Massachusetts. “Our business is as much about the relationships as it is the boats themselves. Essentially, we sell a house that floats in salt water and does 40 knots. A good broker knows everything from electrical systems, electronics, hardware and more.
“Maybe 90 percent of the people who have bought boats from me have become fishing buddies,” Kusler continues. “Some brokerages just churn out numbers—the used-car model where they toss you the keys, never to be heard from again. Our real work, however, starts once the boat closes—especially with a new boat.”
What exactly does this ongoing broker-client relationship look like over time? “Les Sherrill built a brand-new Cabo 44 with us in 2014 to fish on in Hawaii. I go to Hawaii every year to make sure that everything is going well with the boat,” Kusler says, and commitments such as this are the foundation of many of today’s successful brokers.
This commitment takes many forms. From managing warranty issues to captain and boatyard recommendations to handling upgrades and maintenance needs, the successful modern broker leverages his skill and expertise for the benefit of his clients throughout time. The broker becomes more than a salesperson. He or she is a trusted resource who curates the boating adventure to keep owners in the sport, and each of these experts provides a different take on this theme.
“I do quite a bit of work with clients over the course of their ownership. With a new boat, the client will call me before they call the yard,” Sneed says. “After all, owners don’t have to have a boat. They must be happy with it or it goes away.”
Plymale has similar sentiments: “There is so much more to it than just being the broker, such as saving your client money on insurance by sourcing the best coverage, or assisting them in saving on financing by helping them find the most competitive rates provided for their loan while their money in an account earns double-digit returns. You must impart confidence to earn their business, but you have to become their advocate to keep it. The best-of-the-best brokers help owners fulfill their dreams, ensuring that they get the yacht experience they’re looking for. A good broker becomes part of that dream, and he has to deliver that experience. After all, if the boat doesn’t deliver a good time, the boat goes away.”
Kusler Yachts’ business model is based on delivering a curated experience to all its clients. With his home office based in San Diego, much of Kusler’s focus lies in bridging the gap between a West Coast clientele and the fact that most boatbuilders are located on the East Coast.
When it comes to new builds, this focus lies in not only being the liaison between the client and the builder, but also ensuring that the new build incorporates West Coast fishing modifications—such as increased livewell capacity, bow rails, and forward casting areas.
Once the client takes delivery, Kusler Yachts can handle the transportation logistics as well, and Kusler’s expertise helps clients take full advantage of the fishing in Baja. From helping source tournament crews to handling yacht deliveries to and from Mexico, broker-buyer relationships are built upon delivering the types of unique ownership experiences that matches the clients’ vision. The results of this commitment take the form of repeat clientele, as well as such statistics as Kusler Yachts’ six-year stretch of having its clients place in the top three in a Bisbee’s tournament from 2014 through 2019.
In the 21st century, the successful boat broker is many things. He or she understands the boating market, onboard systems and warranty policies; the world of financing, marine technicians and destinations; and the many classes of boat makes, models and editions. They also understand people —their preferences, situations and, basically, what makes up their ultimate dream for recreation. What’s more, the best brokers are those who leverage their expertise and ability to understand people in order to consistently produce incredible client adventures over time. With all that said, you can now be forgiven for thinking that yacht brokers were just salespeople.
Characteristics of the Modern Boat Broker
- Sales: Effectively knowing and evaluating the market
- Costs: Knowledge to offset costs wherever possible to make the operation come to life
- Lifestyle: Deliver the exact type of experience the owner is looking for
- Support: Maintenance, technician sourcing, knowledge of warranties
This article originally appeared in the December 2021 print issue of Marlin.