Does privacy still exist in superyacht ownership?
By Andrew High, Luxury Law Group
In the Facebook age of round-the-clock updates detailing the minutiae of peoples’ everyday lives, the debate of whether privacy still exists for the superyacht owner has taken a front seat in industry circles. But even with social media, AIS websites, Yachtspotter and the growing number of privately owned drones fanning the flames by allowing the general public unprecedented access to yachts, owners and guests, precautions can and should still be taken. It is well publicized that 533-foot (162.5-meter) Blohm + Voss Eclipse, owned by billionaire Roman Abramovich, is equipped with an anti-photography device that beams an infrared light at digital cameras attempting to take pictures of the yacht or its guests, thus washing out any attempted photographs. But aside from cutting-edge technology, other options are available to help protect privacy at sea. Carefully crafted corporate ownership of yachts and confidentiality agreements with crew, charter companies and charter guests are just two ways to retain at least a small layer of privacy between owners and an inquisitive public.
There are several reasons why corporate ownership of your yacht is a good idea, not the least of which is limitation of personal liability, aimed at protecting an owner’s other assets. But aside from limitation of liability, strong privacy protections may be supported in the way ownership is structured. For example, many foreign jurisdictions have provisions in place to protect the identity of owners of companies domiciled there. In addition, foreign corporations may be structured with nominee shareholders—registered owners of shares of stock holding the shares for the benefit of the actual owner—which add one more layer of protection for the beneficial owner. An owner might also consider several layers of ownership as a means to strengthen identity protection, i.e., a company owned by another company or a company owned by a trust. To maximize privacy, owners should make it as difficult as possible, within the bounds of the law, for the general public to discover the owner’s identity on a simple search. And the more layers employed to “insulate” an owner from the general public, the more secure that owner’s identity will be.
Another means to protect personal privacy can be found in the practice of confidentiality agreements with crew, charter guests and charter companies. Confidentiality agreements with crew can be a condition of employment, backed by stipulated penalties should any confidences be breached. Likewise, a confidentiality agreement with the charter company can be an effective way to protect the identity of an owner or a charter party before the charter is even booked. A key component of any such agreement might be verbiage prohibiting the posting of photos or any personal information regarding the owner or guests on any form of social media. The owner may also consider a prohibition on the whereabouts or cruising schedule of the yacht. Violation of such agreements without prior consent of the owner or charter guests are typically grounds for immediate termination and may potentially subject the violating party to a civil lawsuit.
One of the most attractive aspects of yachting has always been the feeling of carefree seclusion. While the digital age, by nature, may attempt to jeopardize some of that privacy, with a little careful planning on the owner’s part with his legal advisor, corporate structuring and confidentiality agreements can go a long way to preserving that precious privacy component of yachting.
Andrew High is a partner and founder of the Luxury Law Group, a boutique law firm specializing in yachts, jets and other luxury assets. Luxury Law Group has offices in Florida, New York and Washington, D.C. The author can be reached at email@example.com or 800-278-7366. For more information, visit luxurylawgroup.com.