It’s a sign, perhaps, of our times of widening inequality. Purchases of superyachts increased by over eight percent since the start of 2021 compared with the same period pre-pandemic. Those figures, which were revealed in the industry publication, The Superyacht Group, provide us with an insight into the growth in wealth of the super-rich, who can afford to buy such vessels, at a price of around £7.5 million if bought second hand, or as high as £450 million if new.

At a time when so many have struggled with unemployment or cost-of-living issues, they’ve been buying up luxury boats.

Who is buying them?

The biggest rise in ownership has taken place in the United States. One theory is that some of the ultra-rich witnessed others having a good time on their floating palaces during the pandemic, and wanted to buy into that.

Does more superyachts mean the rich are getting richer?

It certainly correlates with a period in which there are more people with extreme wealth. In April 2021, Forbes reported that the world now has 2,755 billionaires, up by 660 on the previous year. This rise in inequality has been most notable in the United States, where the wealth of US billionaires has increased by 70 per cent since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, even as millions have faced unemployment and illness.

One of the drivers of this inequality has been that the stock market is up nearly 40 per cent since January 2020. The wealthiest 10% of American households also now own 89% of all US stocks.

Is it much the same here in the UK?

Some of the same wealth pattern exists. The combined fortune of UK billionaires has increased by 22% to £597bn since the start of the pandemic.

So, tell us about a few of the big names who own these boats then?

Well, there’s Jeff Bezos, who has what promises to be the world’s largest superyacht currently in construction; David Geffen, who famously self-isolated on his $590 million yacht during the pandemic; Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, who owns the second-largest luxury yacht in the world, The Eclipse, featuring an intruder detection missile system, two helipads, two swimming pools, a submarine and a dance hall.

And, since we’re still in the week of COP26, what are we looking at in terms of emissions impact?

An article by Richard Wilks and Beatriz Barros in The Conversation, for instance, noted: “A superyacht with a permanent crew, helicopter pad, submarines and pools emits about 7,020 tons of CO2 a year, according to our calculations, making it by the far worst asset to own from an environmental standpoint.”


Long read: Coal, steam, empire and COP26 : Glasgow's emissions story