Wind in the Sails
Having proven itself and Australia as a viable alternative to the traditional European establishment, Echo Marine Group is poised to serve the growing demand across Asia Pacific for superyachts.
More and more high and ultra-high net worth individuals are taking an interest in yachts.
From covering vessels in gold to redefining the boundaries of a superyacht’s size, the market appears to be sailing into a healthy future.
Indeed, according to Coherent Market Insights, the global demand for these larger vessels is set to surpass $35.5 billion by 2026, growing at an average rate of 5.3 percent a year.
More than 400 yachts measuring 24 or more metres in length were sold around the world in 2018, and Asia-Pacific is expected to be the fastest-growing region in the years ahead, owing to a rise in wealthy individuals and growth of marine and water-based sports tourism.
China alone is expected to see an 8.1 percent annual rise in demand for yachts until at least 2022, a market driven by its growing base of millionaires and billionaires.
This global and regional backdrop means that Australia is perfectly poised to pounce.
Home to Henderson-based (WA) Echo Marine Group, the country has been establishing itself as an economical and superior alternative to the established yacht builders of northern Europe.
Challenging this status quo has long been the ambition of Echo’s Co-Founder and Director Mark Stothard, the industry veteran of 30-plus years eager to provide some healthy disruption to the sector.
Asked how important it is to compete on the global stage, he responds: “Very. We are competing in a market comprising luxury design and first-class shipbuilding, coupled with engineering superiority and the highest standards in quality.
“Aside from a few exceptions, the superyacht manufacturing industry centres around numerous German, Dutch, Italian and more recently
some Turkish shipyards. Several of the German, Dutch and Italian yards offer very traditional superyacht platforms and build experiences and premium branding, with premium price tags attached.”
The New World of yacht building
Echo Marine Group, through its manufacturing, refit and maintenance brand Echo Yachts, is transforming these perceptions.
While the company offers the same fundamentals relating to luxury design, experience and strength in shipbuilding and engineering, Stothard explains a number of distinct advantages built upon Western Australia’s rich shipbuilding heritage.
The first revolves around Echo’s one-stop-shop setup, its site in Henderson home to a full in-house design and manufacturing service.
“To add to this, we offer one-of-a-kind hull and engineering platform designs, delivering truly innovative superyachts to clients who appreciate engineering boldness,” Stothard adds.
“Further, our advanced trimaran and catamaran multi-hull platform options deliver vast powering and efficiency gains compared to traditional monohulled superyachts, translating into enhanced stability and comfort, reduced running costs and minimised environmental impact through the vessel’s lifecycle.”
The use of lightweight and high strength construction technologies, coupled with a more commercially orientated cost base and pricing structure, helps Echo to deliver sizable financial savings versus its European counterparts.
Two flagship examples underline this point.
Asked what projects instill a particular essence of pride, Stothard highlights the 84-metre trimaran superyacht M/Y White Rabbit and the 51-metre catamaran yacht support vessel M/Y Charley, both of which have received multiple awards.
The former is the largest superyacht to be built in Australia by a factor of two and is the biggest aluminium and trimaran superyacht in the world.
It is also the first Aussie-made diesel electric vessel of its kind, receiving a Judges Commendation in the Displacement Motor Yachts category (2,000 GT and above) at the 2019 World Superyacht Awards. At the 2019 BOAT Design & Innovation Awards, White Rabbit won in the Best Naval Architecture (Displacement Motoryacht) field.
Charley is another flagship for both Echo and Australia. It is both the largest vacuum resin infused composite vessel and biggest catamaran superyacht built in the country, shortlisted as a finalist at the 2017 World Superyacht Awards in the Best Shadow Vessel category.
Stothard comments: “Whilst word of mouth promotion and print and online media advertising are very important within the marine sector, we feel that industry and peer recognition is also a fundamental element helping us raise the profile of our company, brand and product offerings internationally and domestically within Australia.
“The White Rabbit and Charley builds were incredible to be a part of and I am proud to have been involved. Many of the team here at Echo Yachts often approach me and thank me for having them on the Echo team for such landmark projects, which is always nice to hear.”
Indeed, the very existence of Echo Marine Group is owed to these two vessels.
Beginning his career in the late 1970s as an aircraft engineer, Stothard has been building up contacts in the shipbuilding industry since the early 1980s, buying a 50 percent stake in Australia’s most successful cruise company, True North Adventure Cruises, in 2003.
“In 2014 an opportunity was presented to me to tackle the build of White Rabbit and Charley for a past client,” he recalls.
“Myself and my team saw this as not just an excellent project, but also a chance to bring together our pre-existing team’s large shipbuilding and luxury yacht knowledge, combined with that rescued from ex-Oceanfast team members. This has resulted in us having an exceptionally skilled team through such a successful knowledge transfer.”
The team and tools for the job
Stothard himself has been recognised for his contribution to the industry.
Recipient of the Marine Industry Champion prize at the 2019 World Superyacht Awards, he is quick to praise what he describes as an extremely talented team which has ably supported him throughout this journey.
At Echo, this 130-strong team is the lifeblood of the operation, the company drawing on the region’s hallmark for shipbuilding talent.
“We are situated in the Australian Marine Complex which is home to the majority of Australia’s large commercial shipbuilding and both of Australia’s large superyacht manufacturers,” Stothard explains.
“Our local industry has world renowned expertise in high performance aluminium commercial vessels, plus the heritage of a luxury skilled workforce originally built up through the 1980’s and 90’s by former West Australian superyacht builder Oceanfast.
“This provides a very skilled and experienced pool to draw upon and helps to ensure we have the best possible staff and skills. We can also expand for multiple overlapping large projects when the need arises.”
Echo also invests notable resources into hiring and training apprentices across all in-house disciplines, helping initiate the sharing of knowledge between generations – only very occasionally will the company draw on expertise from overseas.
This cohort of knowledge combine with Echo Marine Group’s facilities to present a unique Australian shipbuilding offering.
Its site in Henderson comprises 100-metre and 80-metre shipbuilding halls which house specialist trade workshops, five- and three-axis NC mould and sheet cutting equipment, and large project/design office spaces.
“Echo Marine Group is the only superyacht and shipbuilding company in Australia capable of designing and building large one-of-a-kind vessels in any material (aluminium, composite and steel) in any hull form (monohull, catamaran and trimaran),” Stothard says.
“This ensures that all client requirements can be efficiently created and delivered to the highest standards under one roof.”
As the regional demand for superyachts grows, Echo Marine Group appears well set to exploit new business opportunities both in this segment and its commercial and defence units.
Looking ahead, Stothard identifies technical innovation as a must-have moving forwards, something which Echo already abundantly houses.
“Increasing performance and efficiency, minimising environmental impact and reducing vessel operating costs throughout lifecycle will be key,” he says. “We have observed many of the traditional shipyards applying state-of-the-art and often expensive new tech and software solutions to achieve marginal gains in these areas.
“Echo Marine Group has already realised, delivered and proven far greater improvements, including 30 to 40 percent lower engine powering and fuel burn, extended range with reduced fuel capacity, and greater stability for comfort.”
These credentials were achieved with M/Y White Rabbit’s advanced trimaran multi-hull platform, a process which utilised current, reliable and affordable equipment technologies laid out and integrated in a smart way.
Stothard hints at new designs to be released into the luxury market in the coming months, the company also continuing with its refit work and looking to commence on some newbuild projects.
“On the commercial front we are building some very large aluminium vessel components as a subcontractor for a large international project, and providing sustainment services to several vessels in service,” he adds, detailing Echo’s activities beyond Echo Yachts.
“We are also planning to expand our defence service offerings with the manufacture of certain specialist components and installation of specialist coating systems. This will include producing large components and modules, plus specialist fitout, electrical and engineering services for large defence contractors.”
The future thus looks a vibrant one for Echo Marine Group across all three of its specialist areas.
Add in the backdrop of a busy Asia-Pacific market on its doorstep, and Australia is very much open for business on the yacht building stage.