As training centers spring up across the country, clients are lining up to obtain a pilot’s license and run a motorized yacht.
Chen Jiahui runs his own Internet company in Ningbo, a city in northeast Zhejiang province, and learned to pilot a yacht last year.
A self-confessed “water sports enthusiast”, he plans to buy a small boat in the near future.
“Piloting a yacht is much more difficult than driving a car,” Chen, 35, said. “You have learn a complete set of new skills, such as understanding ocean currents, reading a radar screen and controlling the direction of the boat.”
Chen was amazed how tough the examination was before he received his pilot’s license. “It’s very hard and strict,” he said. “But it was worth it. Now I can sail by myself.”
Learning to pilot a motorized yacht, and obtaining a license, has become fashionable here, according to the 2014 Chinese Yacht Industry report released by the China Cruise & Yacht Industry Association.
An instructor goes through a training session with clients hoping to qualify for a pilot’s license in Shanghai.[Photo/China Daily]
Around 900 people qualified for a license in Xiamen, a major city in the southeast province of Fujian last year. Another 120 people passed their pilot’s test in Qingdao, eastern Shandong province, while the number of applicants for courses doubled in Dalian, Liaoning province.
Already there are 11 certified pilot schools offering courses for budding seafarers in Guangdong province.
“The proliferation of yacht piloting training centers is an important step forward to make the Chinese industry complete as it continues to grow,” Zheng Weihang, executive vice-president of China Cruise & Yacht Industry Association, said.
The Shanghai International Cruising Yacht Club set up a training center in Ningbo five years ago and now has 600 members, with 120 taking courses in the past few months.
About 30 percent of the applicants looking to obtain a pilot’s license are aged between 20 and 35 years old. Many plan to work in the yacht industry in the future. “But the majority of members, or 70 percent, are entrepreneurs who own yachts and are aged between 30 to 50 years old,” Tan Feng, general manager of Shanghai International Cruising Yacht Club, said.
One of the reasons these training schemes are proving popular is because the industry is growing rapidly. Last year, sales of yachts hit 8 billion yuan ($1.25 billion), up from the 4.15 billion yuan in 2013. And despite the price tag, which ranges from 200,000 yuan for a small boat to 100 million yuan for a luxury cruiser, more wealthy Chinese consumers are buying yachts.
This has fueled the market for training centers as novice seafarers rush to obtain a pilot’s license. “Some of those training will decide to use yacht clubs to manage their boats,” Tan said. “But a growing number of them will apply for pilot licenses. There are also yacht owners who have asked their personal chauffeurs to take these courses.”
Surprisingly, the country’s super rich are not the only ones driving the market.
A pilot training simulator at the Shanghai BAFS Yacht Club.[Photo/China Daily]
Middle class consumers have caught the sailing bug and now have the cash to pursue their new hobby. This is turn has created business opportunities for yacht clubs and schools in coastal regions.
“The rising Chinese middle class, as well as the super rich, are willing to spend their spare time on leisure activities rather than just focusing on work all the time,” Tan said. “Some of them are keen to learn new skills, which might turn out to be useful in the future, such as piloting a motorized yacht.”
At the Shanghai International Cruising Yacht Club, a 10-day course, combining both theory and practice, costs 18,000 yuan per person. Profit margins are slim, according to Tan, but the courses help to attract potential club members.
“People come for different reasons,” Tan said. “But some will eventually join the club.”
Li Liyan, a sales manager in charge of training at Shanghai BAFS Yacht Sales Co Ltd, has also seen a significant increase in the number of clients during the past two years.
When the company introduced courses in 2010, it could only sign up 40 customers. But that figure has doubled to 80 so far this year after Shanghai BAFS laid on more courses.
“We charge each client 25,000 yuan for 12 lessons in piloting a motorized yacht. This is competitive compared to the rising cost of taking driving lessons, which are 10,000 yuan in Shanghai,” Li said.
“Interest has been rising mainly because more people are joining yacht clubs in Sanya, Qingdao and Dalian. The momentum is sure to be maintained in the next two decades,” Li added.
The Dalian Xinghai Bay Yacht Piloting Training Center has attracted 1,000 clients since it was established 12 years ago. Tuition fees range from 11,900 yuan to 13,900 yuan for a 15-day course.
“We have attracted customers from Shenzhen, Xiamen and Hunan,” Zhang Yuqing, director of the center, said. “When we first set up we only had three clients－all of them were boat owners. By 2006, we had 10 customers, and they were either boat owners or relatives of boat owners.”
A year later, the tide turned as yachting started to take off in the country and the number of boat owners increased. Younger customers flocked to sign up for courses to obtain their pilot’s license.
“We have noticed that applicants for courses have become much younger in recent years,” Zhang said. “A large number of our clients are in their 20s or 30s. They are eager to lean sailing skills during their vacation or spare time.”
Yuan Boya, who attends an overseas school in Canada, might be just 17, but she falls into that category. During her summer vacation in China, she joined a course at Dalian Xinghai Bay after spotting an advertisement in a local newspaper.
“Many of my classmates in Canada are fond of sailing,” Yuan said. “One of them has just received a pilot license, which is really cool.
“Others are taking courses which is rather chic. So, I decided to do the same, and I will now definitely apply for a pilot’s license,” she added.