Dutch yachts and shipyards are perceived as being the best in the world. Where does this reputation come from? What makes Holland such a special place to build yachts? 

It has to do with history, geography and most importantly, culture.

The English word “yacht” comes from the Dutch word “jacht” which means “chasing”. In the 17th century, Holland was the most powerful shipping and trading nation in the world. When the cargo ships came back from their voyages to the Far East, the wealthy ship owners in Amsterdam used a fast chasing boat (jacht or yacht) to welcome their ships, in order to find out what merchandise they brought home. Like wealthy businessmen today, the ship owners had a competitive nature and soon started to race each other in their chase boats. 

Over time, the yachts became more and more luxurious to reflect the success and wealth of their owners. When England’s King Charles II visited Holland in 1660, he was given the 50-foot yacht Mary as present by the City of Amsterdam. He had it sailed back home, which this is how yachting was introduced to England.

After the Russian Czar Peter the Great visited Holland in 1697, he brought back Dutch knowledge about shipbuilding but also the passion for yachting. On April 4th of 1718, the czar opened the yacht club Nevsky Flot in St. Petersburg, two years before the opening of the Royal Cork Yacht Club in England (which claims to be the first yacht club in the world).

Today, most European yachts are built in countries around the Mediterranean with its beautiful summers and relatively calm seas. Boating there is very appealing and easy. The North Sea, however, is one of the most difficult seas to sail, with violent winds, strong currents and dangerous shallows in unexpected areas. Every yachtsman sailing the North Sea quickly learns to respect the forces of nature. To return his yacht safely to port, he has to be well prepared. In Northern Europe, a pleasure boat needs to be built sturdy and the systems have to be very reliable. This is the reason why yachts constructed in Holland, Sweden, Finland, and other northern countries are built to such high quality standards. 

Holland is also called the “Lowlands”. For a long time, large parts of the country were flooded regularly. More than 1,000 years ago the Dutch started to build dikes. At that time, there was no government in place with enough money and authority to build these large constructions. So the people took the responsibility into their own hands and decided to join forces and build the dikes themselves. Every village was equal and contributed through mutual cooperation until these enormous infrastructures were completed. 

This cooperative attitude became the key to success for the Dutch and part of their culture. The 17th century Dutch East India Company was a result of competing traders joining forces to gain a trade advantage in the Far East. Later in the history of Holland there are many other examples where cooperation has lead to success. The cooperative attitude has resulted in a society where everyone is equal. 

What does this mean for yacht building? Yachts are very complex and involve different disciplines from engineering, construction and piping to interior decor to painting. To create top quality, all those different craftsmen need to be qualified, motivated and take responsibility for what they do. But the different types of craftsmen also are very dependent on each other. You can only create the best quality if you all work toward the same goal. The egalitarian culture supports the collective responsibility as no other. 

In Holland, the foremen have a great influence on how the yachts are built. With the egalitarian culture, the position of foreman is as important as the directors of the company. Technical decisions cannot be made without the consent of the people who actually understand their consequences. This leads to very motivated craftsmen who take responsibility for the quality of the work they deliver, not as an individual but as a team. And they take great pride in that.

Recently, I saw an interesting video about Feadship which started with the following quote: “At Feadship we don’t say Yes…..or Maybe……if we mean No.” Dutch people are often very direct, but also honest and transparent. For outsiders, this might sound impolite or even rude sometimes. But everyone who has been involved in yacht building understands that clear communication is crucial to achieve a good end result. 

The reputation of the Dutch yacht builders is based on the quality of yachts they have delivered over time. To understand the background, you have to appreciate the rich history and the geographical position of the country, but mostly you have to understand the people. Every broker should take the time to visit the Dutch yards, appreciate the quality of the facilities, and meet the people. When you fly to Holland, you land in Amsterdam which has one of the best maritime museums in the world. And as most brokers already know, Amsterdam has a lot more to offer than culture….

Article Author: Hein Velema, Founder, mcPROGRESS