Twenty-one yachts, with a combined value of 110 million yuan ($17.26 million), departed Shanghai's Nangang Wharf heading for the United States on Dec 8. China's yacht manufacturing industry is one of the few sectors in the world to enjoy strong export growth amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Sino Eagle Group, based in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, has seen the value of its orders jump more than 30 percent year-on-year to 380 million yuan this year, said Jin Yin, deputy general manager of the group. The company, which has invested steadily in research and development, has manufactured 126 yachts this year.
"In the past few years, the value of orders has been rising steadily by about 30 percent year-on-year, with our capacity expanding accordingly," Jin said.
The latest consignment of Sino Eagle yachts is headed for Florida's Port Manatee. It is the first lot of yachts exported from Nangang Wharf in Shanghai, according to the Shanghai General Station of Immigration Inspection. The yachts are small to medium-sized power catamarans, commonly known as power cats, and range in length from 9.5 meters to 16.2 meters.
Zheng Weihang, executive vice-president of China Cruise & Yacht Industry Association, said the power catamarans have been among the bestselling yachts in the past few years. Sino Eagle is China's top manufacturer of power catamarans and last year accounted for more than 9 percent of the global market share.
Despite the ongoing pandemic, the global yacht market is still seeing strong growth and China is benefiting, Zheng said.
Strong domestic demand for yachts has also presented labor challenges. Since last winter, domestic demand for yachts has increased, creating a shortage of technical workers in the yacht manufacturing provinces of Guangdong, Fujian, Shandong and Zhejiang.
However, Jin said the shortage of technical workers existed before the pandemic started. "Our answer is to train amateurs and recruit veterans at the same time," Jin said, adding Sino Eagle Group hires up to 100 new technical workers every year to increase its production capacity.
Fujian manufacturers are also seeing an increase in demand for yachts. In November, eight medium-sized to large yachts were shipped to Europe and the US from Xiamen. Another eight vessels are due to be delivered to the US in the spring, according to the Xiamen Yachting Industry Association.
Fujian is home to more than 20 yacht manufacturing enterprises, and thanks to its balanced industrial chain, the industry can generate annual revenue of 2 billion to 3 billion yuan, according to the Fujian Machinery Industry Federation.
The demand for high-quality ships, which often use sophisticated technologies and feature elegant design and decoration that require skilled craftsmanship, is rising globally.
"It may be common to see some components of a marine vessel become rusty, but this is unacceptable for a yacht, not even a single screw," Jin said, adding the high-end part of the sector has traditionally been dominated by European and US manufacturers.
It has taken 10 years of research and development, for Sino Eagle to achieve its industry status in power catamaran manufacturing. There are more than 400 vessels produced under their Aquila brand operating worldwide.
Since manufacturing its first yacht in 1982, China has become the world's sixth-largest yacht manufacturer by output value.
Zheng believes there is great potential for the Chinese yacht manufacturing industry to also tap into the nation's expanding middle class.
Research conducted by the China Cruise & Yacht Industry Association in about a dozen countries "discovered that yachting is an affordable and popular leisure activity in Europe and the United States," said Zheng.
According to Zheng, yachts in China are stereotypically thought of as luxury products, but only 2.4 percent of them can be labeled this way worldwide. The vast majority are small, affordable recreational vessels, including fishing and sailing boats, Zheng said.
Since the first half of the year, Nangang Wharf has also seen a rise in the export of engineering and machinery equipment, turbine blades, automotive vehicles and electric cars.
Statistics from Shanghai General Station of Immigration Inspection showed the proportion of vessels going via Nangang Wharf soared 91.67 percent year-on-year as of Dec 5. Immigration inspectors have increased their workloads to ensure the cargo is transported smoothly and efficiently.