Interview: The Boat Works, Australia

The Boat Works shipyard Australia

Tony Longhurst, owner of Australia’s expanding superyacht yard The Boat Works, discusses current demand and future projections for the region

Located on Australia’s Gold Coast, The Boat Works boatyard, superyacht yard and marina services company has accelerated expansion plans rapidly over the past three years to meet increasing demand in the Australasian leisure marine and superyacht arena.

In 2021, one year after opening its $100 million 25-acre dedicated superyacht yard, The Boat Works reached capacity, with slips and sheds booked out months ahead. The yard fast-tracked development and announced four further ‘mega sheds’ – the tallest refit sheds on the Gold Coast – to service vessels up to 50m and this is only the beginning of the story.

The GMBA’s Maryanne Edwards met with owner and CEO Tony Longhurst to discuss his vision for the facility and stage five of his expansion plans currently taking place at the site.

Stage five of his development comprises the addition of 50 per cent more sheds and hardstanding to the now three-year-old superyacht yard. With foundations piled and concrete being poured, completion is scheduled for early 2024. Stage five will involve an additional $30 million investment in more sheds and hardstanding space along with a new haul out machine to add to the existing fleet of five. Construction was also recently finished within three months on a bespoke, two-storey waterfront yacht sales offices known as The Dock plus an adjacent restaurant and bar. 

The Boat Works’ 55 acre (21.8 hectares) site in Coomera, Queensland, makes it one of the largest shipyard and marina facilities in the southern hemisphere with over 80 on site partners. “There is a huge demand to accommodate more boats undercover and our 70 sheds have reached capacity,” explains Longhurst. “We want to continue to offer new opportunities for growth for all our marine service partners within the facility. Their success in turn enhances our operational efficiency.”

While there are always impediments to expansion with many approvals required by state and local regulations, The Boat Works has forged ahead to increase capacity and infrastructure to meet the influx of vessels arriving on the Gold Coast. “We couldn’t have predicted being at capacity over the last three years since opening the North Superyacht facility in 2020. The success of the superyacht yard has exceeded our expectations, with bookings secured months in advance,” he adds. 

While most refit facilities in Australia market their businesses globally, The Boat Works has currently enough work coming from the domestic market that it has not focused its sights on the international arena as yet.

Australia’s superyacht market

Looking after the Australian market is the strong focus with boats now travelling from many parts of Australia to utilise the facilities and services provided on site. Longhurst notes that the Australian marine industry has been thriving in most sectors during and post covid. The number of superyachts now based in Australia has doubled and the propensity to charter has also grown. 

David Good, CEO AIMEX Superyacht Australia, says: “The Boat Work’s facilities are well and truly needed – superyacht visitation and the domestic market keep on booming. Since January 2020, the Australian charter yacht fleet has grown from 59 charter vessels to over 120. In the lead up to the Brisbane 2032 Olympics, there will be more demand than ever, especially for refit and maintenance facilities. The vision Tony has brought to fruition has been inspirational for the industry and the speed with which he operates exceptional. Interest in cruising and chartering in Australia has grown significantly and that was evident with the number of visitors we had to our Monaco stand recently.”

The Boat Works’ main focus remains on servicing the local market but it has welcomed a number of international arrivals, from both the cruising and sailing market. The Boat Works also assists on-site partners with the commissioning process of several international brands. Longhurst explains: “As the facility and the industry grows, we need to keep broadening  our level of service and marine trade services which is all pivotal  in that overall plan.”

Racing driver mentality

Longhurst is a former Australian racing car driver and the focus and obsession he took to the track he has brought to The Boat Works. “I was obsessed with getting the most out of my car and myself on the track and I’ve applied that same focus every step along the way to develop The Boat Works. I had to navigate the layers of bureaucracy, which was a nightmare and harder than winning Bathurst. We’ve now built a world class facility without peer.”

Tony Longhurst at The Boat Works superyacht shipyard

Longhurst is active in every aspect of the business whether doing maintenance work, talking to contractors and tenants, or simply picking up rubbish as he drives around, he treats the business as if it was his home. The rewards of his strategic expansion and market insight are evident; demand is at its highest point, facilities are upgrading and expanding and a vast array of trades and businesses are on site and thriving.

A key focus for both Tony Longhurst and his brother Rodney, who owns Australian boatbuilder Riviera, is the development of employment opportunities for young people throughout the region. Riviera runs an award-winning training programme and The Boat Works has a focus on skills development in the region. Riviera currently employs around 900 staff and has more than 100 apprentices near The Boat Works site in Coomera.

Riviera Yachts
Tony Longhurt’s brother is Rodney Longhurst, owner of Australian boatbuilder Riviera

The evolution of The Boat Works has been impressive and Longhurst’s work ethos is equally positive, with customers, suppliers, visitors and staff readily commenting on the culture that abounds. John Hogan, MD at Superior Jetties also based in Queensland, comments: “In business loyalty is paramount and Tony has very strong personal and business ethics. It is a simple equation.  You do what you agree to do to the standard you agreed, and he keeps his end of the bargain. Working for someone like Tony and The Boat Works is like being part of the family. Rigidity is not part of Tony’s DNA. The key is to always remain flexible with the path to the project result.”

Clean and green superyacht yard

Marketing itself as ‘the cleanest and greenest facility in the Southern hemisphere’ Tony Longhurst say he has gone to great lengths and expense to ensure The Boat Works is creating a sustainable environment. He says: “Our aim is to reduce impact on the environment and preserve natural resources. We’re constantly in search of ways to be green internally and welcome state governments, waterways, fisheries, and local council to work with us to better enhance and improve eco innovations here at the facility.”

To protect the river, The Boat Works has rainwater tanks and has installed stainless steel grates to catch debris, along with Fox Eco-Systems filtration and environmental water systems, wastewater recycling and biogardens to improve water quality. To reduce carbon emissions, solar panel systems are in place in both the southern yard and superyacht facility. The Boat Works has kept and maintained mangroves at the 500m shoreline and along the marina boardwalk to slow the effect of boat wash and help create habitat for marine life. Supply and demand

The adage ‘build it and they will come’ is rather apt for The Boat Works as the company has rocketed since the pandemic with demand-driven fast-tracking of its development plans. With the continuing legacy that Tony and Rodney Longhurst are creating with the Boat Works and Riviera, side by side in the Coomera area of the Gold Coast, both are set to support the growing marine industry on the Gold Coast for decades to come. While undoubtedly ambitious, Longhurst’s development plans for The Boat Works have adapted to the changing marine market and taken advantage of the superyacht and leisure marine business in the region. By building its reputation and dominance in the marketplace, The Boat Works hopes to futureproof its place as the market diversifies and grows.

Maryanne Edwards is the GMBA’s representative in Australia & New Zealand.

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