PROFILE: Any Boat is the place to be
The award-winning Any Boat charter boat agency is driving change in the busy Sydney charter boat market. Marine Business caught up with its founder, Daniel Da Silva.
It would be hard to find a more iconic boating location than the office of charter boat agency, Any Boat, based in Sydney. Tucked away in the corner of Lavender Bay on Sydney Harbour, an area with a rich boating past, it has one of those breath-taking views of the Harbour which never fails to impress.
Not that Daniel Da Silva, the founder and director of Any Boat, has much time for admiring the view. In addition to running the charter agency, he also operates a yacht charter company, operates his own charter boats and looks after 40 moorings in Lavender Bay itself. He’s also actively involved in the Commercial Vessel Association of NSW, sitting on the committee as vice president.
In short, it’s a lot of hard work although, characteristically, Da Silva isn’t complaining; this is right where he wants to be. As a kid he learnt to sail with sea scouts and grew to love being out on the water, a passion which naturally led him to working in the industry. Ten years ago he set up Any Boats on a laptop in a spare bedroom and has since grown the business rapidly to become one of the leading charter boat agencies in the country. Along the way he bought his own charter vessels and, two years ago, took over the Sailcorp yacht charter business which brought him to Lavender Bay.
Having his fingers in so many marine pies gives Da Silva a broad perspective on many issues affecting the industry. Our conversation covers a range of topics from the dire shortage of mooring room on Sydney Harbour to the state of the local charter sector and the threats to its safe operation, the role of AMSA (Australian Maritime Safety Authority), and the difficulties of finding suitably qualified staff to meet demand.
More boats for hire
Over the ten years he has been running Any Boat, Da Silva has seen the charter boat business on Sydney Harbour grow with new boats being added year-on-year. Today there are more than 100 charter boats operating on the Harbour, ranging from sailboats to superyachts and everything in between. New Year’s Eve and Boxing Day are still the busiest times for the industry but throughout the year there is a steady demand for parties, corporate events and family outings.
“We do everything from wedding proposals to birthday parties, Christmas parties, bucks parties, hen parties, family get-togethers…” he says. “Sydney has a unique culture around the water which you can’t really get it anywhere else in the world. It’s a go-to thing over here, to hire a boat for any event. It’s good for the industry.”
Managing demand from such a diverse client base is the work of the charter agent whose job it is to match the right vessel and cruise experience with the customers’ expectations and budget. Da Silva says that typically the boat that the client has in mind initially is not the right one for them, being either too big or too small, and it’s the job of the agent to find the ideal solution, taking into account what the client wants to do, where they want to go, at what time etc.
“It’s rare that someone goes on the boat they inquired about,” he says. “A lot of it is about consulting and working with the client to get them on the best possible boat.”
The other side of the coin is working with the charter operators themselves and ensuring that they are able to deliver the right service for the customer. It’s a role that requires a detailed knowledge of how the industry works and the various operational requirements of the boat owners.
“Every charter operator has different logistics, different rules around catering and drinks, which wharves they will stop at and where they won’t stop, how many staff they need to have on board, what sort of parties they will allow on board, and so on,” he explains. “There’s lot of maintaining relationships with charter boat owners. It’s in our interests to look out for them.
“For example if someone wants to do a charter from 4pm to 8pm we would never do that because it stops the boat owner from doing two charters in one day.
“So we’re helping them to run their businesses a bit better as well, telling them of opportunities that they should do, what to watch out for, and we’ll vet clients a bit extra if we see the potential for something funny going on. We’re looking out for the boat owners as well.”
Da Silva admits there are some “dodgy” practices happening in the charter business and he is keen to ensure the whole industry isn’t tarred with the same brush. Any Boat is one of the founding members of the Charter Boat Agents Association along with four other agencies which, together, manage the majority of the charter business on Sydney Harbour. The aim of the association is to ensure a consistent level of service in the sector so that both boat operators and the public don’t get stung by unethical practices. The members are bound by a code of conduct and use industry accredited booking contracts and operator agreements.
Setting the right price
Despite its growth in recent years, Da Silva says the charter sector faces a number of business impediments. Chief among them is under-pricing and the fact that many operators are reluctant to raise their prices for fear of missing out on a booking. At the same time, the business costs for fuel, maintenance and staff continue to increase meaning there is less left over for profit, let alone to reinvest in the industry.
“That’s the biggest problem the industry faces,” says Da Silva, “under-charging for their services.”
Allied to this is the problem of finding suitably skilled staff, particularly skippers, during peak periods. Increasing the supply of suitable candidates by making it easier for people to gain qualifications is not the right approach, says Da Silva, as this results in a lowering of the overall skill levels in the industry.
“If people put their prices up, they’d have more money to pay skippers and encourage more people into the industry. The solution isn’t to make it easier for somebody to get their ticket, that’s not the right way to go about it.”
Looking to the future, Da Silva says he has a few “top secret” plans in mind for the business including a new concept for a charter boat he’d like to build. Long-term he plans on having charter fleets around the world, expanding across Australia and then into overseas markets.
“Any Boat’s motto has always been to hire any boat for any occasion anywhere so we need to roll it out everywhere,” he says.
This article was first published in the August-September 2018 issue of Marine Business magazine.