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Can the UAE become a leading yachting destination? We’re at the Dubai International Superyacht Summit to ask a selection of local and international industry experts the question.

Steve Chalmers

With a flotilla of marine experts in town for the Dubai International Boat Show, marina consultants Fabmar took advantage of this priceless knowledge bank and organized the first edition of the Dubai International Superyacht Summit. Headed by Dr Fabiana Maccarini, Fabmar invited delegates to the P&O Marinas Cruise Terminal 1 to discuss the possibility of the UAE becoming a new world hub for yachting, or more romantically, making the coastline from Abu Dhabi to Ras Al Khaimah The Emirati Riviera.

What do we need to do? What can we offer? Is it even possible? We put the questions to a selected group of experts to see if the UAE has got what it takes to become a genuine superyacht destination.


Ghassan Aridi, CEO Alpha Destination Management – If you’re visiting the UAE with a yacht of any size, then you’re going to need destinations. That doesn’t necessarily mean secluded coves and medieval ports, like you would find in say, Montenegro. Right here we have a the world’s biggest and best leisure facilities. Who wouldn’t want to visit the Dubai Mall, have dinner at the Burj Al Arab or go dune bashing in a 4×4? Tourism here is a 28 billion dollar industry, with 17 million tourists passing through every year – the destinations here can keep a visiting family busy for weeks.

Yacht owners are much younger these days, with many wanting to eat, drink and be merry and Dubai can accommodate that, with top restaurants and clubs like Soho Garden, 1Oak and Drai’s. For the morning, there’s the Spa at the One and Only, or Zabeel. Visiting yachts truly have the best entertainment destinations and then there’s the availability of helipads and the safety and security the UAE offers visitors – it’s well known for being the safest destination in the world.

A change in destination: With yacht owners getting younger, their destination requirements change, with art, fashion and nightlife now more popular than quaint


Dave Canfield, Director Applied Technology and Management
Dubai’s first marina was DOSC (Dubai Offshore Sailing Club), which opened its icebox and barasti shade back in 1974. The numbers of marinas and berths slowly grew, but it wasn’t until recently that the amount of berths, both current and promised, has gone through the roof. As well as the openings of Marasi in Business Bay and the superyacht-friendly Mina Rashid and Bulgari, there’s Dubai Harbour coming (1400 berths), Deira Islands (600 berths), as well as Marasi Phase 2 and the Creek marinas. That’s a lot of potential berths for visiting yachts.


Tim Bilborough, Consultant at Northcott Global Solutions
Dubai is one of the safest destinations in the world, however, the route to Dubai – Med to the Gulf – takes you through a number of HRAs (High Risk Areas) such as the Gulf of Aden and Somalia. Piracy in the Gulf of Aden has been suppressed, but there’s always the very rare threat of kidnap and ransom. The high seas are dangerous, however, self protection and a visible show of force is often all that is needed for a safe passage. Take the Red Dragon incident a few years ago for example. Here we had a 58-meter superyacht on passage to the Med off the coast of Somalia. The captain spotted six skiffs breaking away from a mothership and heading for the Red Dragon at speed – only to come into visual range and then make a hasty retreat. The reason for the heavily armed pirates’ change of plan? Eight, ex-special forces personnel in flak jackets on deck, holding automatic weapons and making their presence very much known – a yacht, with a low freeboard and no visible deterrent is a tempting target for a group of pirates.

Unlike many of the yachting hotspots, the UAE doesn’t suffer from conventional crime and by that I mean theft of tenders in port, or the targeting of guests and crew on shore. However, cyber crime – theft of information for finanicial gain, hacked bank accounts, ransom to unlock navigation systems etc is a new threat brought about by WiFi. Drones can also pose a security/ privacy threat, but all can be combatted with awareness a bit of homework.


Gianluca Ascheri, MD, Greenline Yacht Interiors
The UAE has plenty of scope for keeping visiting yachts and superyachts in peak condition. It is a great base, with an existing yacht refit and repair industry, with areas such as Drydocks World and Al Jaddaf catering for vessels of any size.

Clients could be visiting, or just passing through, and maintenance could include not just the major jobs, but smaller issues, such as maintaining teak and paint, or repairing the AC refrigeration units. Refit wise, we have the facilities to completely gut a 100-meter superyacht and start again – trends change! Also, innovations dictate the updating of equipment, as well as new composite panels, paints and eco friendly systems. Whatever a visiting superyacht requires, it can have.

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On the right track: All the ingredients for the Emirati Riviera are already here. We just need to work together, from the coast guard upwards, to make it happen

Without a doubt, the UAE as a yachting destination has it all, from restaurants and clubs, to golf courses and racing circuits and that’s without mentioning the malls.


Erwin Bamps, CEO Gulf Craft
When you think of destinations, the likes of the Caribbean, Mediterranean, Maldives, Singapore and Thailand come to mind – and where are we? We’re in the middle of them all. For yacht owners heading from the Med to South East Asia, Dubai is the gateway and we must provide a ‘white glove experience’. This means streamlining paperwork, making sure the coast guard is ready to receive a yacht: essential details, that will make us an essential stopover.

What are the problems facing us?
Gianluca Ascheri: Yachting should be fun, but for local and visiting owners, most of our processes are quite painful. There is a huge discrepancy in arriving in Dubai by air, than arriving by superyacht. It needs to be fun with freedom.

Erwin Bamps: “Why don’t you keep your yacht in Dubai?” is a question I ask owners in the Med. The answer is 100% “No thank you.” Why? It’s not easy going. If your visiting superyacht tender, or helicopter isn’t registered in the UAE, you can’t use it when you arrive.

Ghassan Aridi: Promotion is very important. Unless Dubai is promoted as a yachting destination, then it wont become one.

Dave Canfield: There’s a tremendous amount of paperwork for the captains and crew to complete, Visa requirements etc. Also fuelling for superyachts is a problem here; at the moment fuel is brought in by tanker. Not ideal.

Tim Bilborough: The UAE leads the world in many ways and I would like to see cyber crime tackled head on. There have been reports of hackers using some of the French Riviera marinas to jump on the yacht owner’s WiFi to steal info. Dubai has the ability and the forward thinking to research this growing threat.


Is it too early to talk about the Emirati Riviera? The answer is yes and no. Without a doubt, the UAE as a yachting destination has it all, from restaurants and clubs, to golf courses and racing circuits and that’s without mentioning the malls. The new and upcoming marinas have berths for yachts of all sizes, with superyachts now welcome at many. But, it’s that welcome that’s the problem. Currently we do not make it easy for our own boat owners, let alone visiting superyachts. There are far too many niggles, from paperwork, to the restriction of movement. To cruise from Dubai to Abu Dhabi is like entering a different country and if you own a yacht and want to experience the Musandam, it’s far less hassle to drive over and join a charter. Address the (well documented) problems and Emirati Riviera would indeed be a realisable dream.