The term “tender” can mean different things to different yacht owners. For some, it’s a 42-foot chase boat outfitted with fishing or scuba gear, sporting five 600 hp outboards that can blast through big water at 65 mph. Others may turn to a 10-foot-long rigid inflatable boat, or RIB, that gets lashed to the swim platform. Purists think of classic wooden runabouts or limo-style launches, transporting guests to and from the yacht.
But regardless of size or materials, one thing the new class of tenders has in common is a higher level of sophistication. “Tenders used to be commodities that were only about utility,” says Giovanni De Bonis, CEO of SACS-Tecnorib, one of the world’s largest RIB manufacturers. “Now there’s a level of performance, attention to detail and design that’s totally different from five years ago.”
Yacht owners now want their tenders to sync with their superyachts, whether they feature simple designs that sport the same colors or are fully bespoke creations with hulls that match their motherships’ distinctive shapes. Many builders in the increasingly competitive RIB game find their craftsmen personalizing tiny tenders for smaller and smaller yachts.
“Yachts are becoming more interesting in their designs, and owners want tenders that can match that,” says Ignacio Vadillo, CEO of Miami-based Argos Nautic, a boutique builder that makes fewer than 100 boats annually. He calls it a shift from a few years ago, when captains and clients expected inflatable boats with outboard motors to be relatively inexpensive, off-the-rack affairs. But now they’re willing to pay more for quality. “The market is also evolving more toward luxury,” he says.
To satisfy that desire, Argos Nautic has upgraded the tubes in its GT11 and GT14 RIBs with interior cones that enhance the already considerable strength of the material they’re made from. The carbon-textured component, called Orca 866 Hypalon, is double the thickness of regular Hypalon—and twice as resistant to punctures and abrasions. Argos Nautic also introduced two diesel tenders that use the same fuel as their main yachts. “We designed them for modularity so they can be set up for specific uses,” says Vadillo. “It can carry people or work as a scuba tender. The owner can also specify custom colors and fabrics.”
With this growing thirst for customization, even the largest RIB manufacturers are now adopting boutique makers’ nimble approach. De Bonis says it’s a “challenging world” now for tender builders, facing record-high demand. “The owners can spend whatever they want, so we’re seeing requests like full electronics suites to match the explorer yachts,” he says. “That’s not something we’d normally put on a boat.” And it’s not just yacht owners who’ve come calling. De Bonis says the tender market for shoreside villas has also exploded, adding pressure to production.
Cockwells, the UK yard that’s as deft with wooden runabouts as it is with carbon-fiber composite vessels, says it’s quoting available build slots into 2024. Like other builders, it’s had to get creative to keep up with shrinking tender garages, which often get compressed in favor of more onboard living space. That’s how its low-profile, collapsible tenders were born. The owner of the 230-foot yacht Sybaris, for instance, wanted a limo with a roof rather than a large RIB, so Cockwells created a removable hardtop that stores upside-down so it can fit in the garage. “They can leave the roof in the garage if they want,” says Cockwells design director Henry Ward.
Cockwells also recently debuted a 30-foot “landing-craft” tender, with a drop-down bow so guests can step from the boat onto the shore. (Like many newer limos, it can also be built with a gyro-stabilizer to neutralize seasickness.) “The modular design allows us to turn it into a floating beach club, or back into a limo,” says Ward. “When not in use, the different modules will store on the mothership.”
And as owners’ wish lists and designers’ imaginations usher in a new generation of tricked-out tenders, yards are all too happy to keep up with burgeoning trends. “If we stayed with what we were building five years ago,” says Vadillo, “we’d be out of business.”