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INFORMATION DELIVERY and the WORLDWIDE WEB in 2019

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In the olden days, the search for a yacht either new or pre-owned, was a question of scouring the yachting magazines and the huge number of yacht advertisements found behind the editorial within their pages. In those days there were even magazines which only advertised boats – no articles. Anything that was on the market was in print.

In order to establish whether you were on the right lines, you studied all the boat tests and looked carefully at the journalist’s opinion and how it would apply to you. You also cultivated friends in yachting who could offer advice, and your local yacht club was a mine of advice, information and help. Of course all this meant going out and meeting and talking to people. It was a social affair too.

Boat Shows were critical and people sometimes spent days at them. There were well established pre-owned yacht shows too that were very well attended. These were essential to find your new steed and to look at what was on the market.

And most importantly there were those long weekends, many of them wet and miserable, spent trudging around boat yards and marinas looking at yachts and deciding on the one that suited you, based on good old fashioned research and a feeling that you had stepped aboard the right yacht and that she was calling to you.

How things have changed! In 2019, researching the market for your new magic carpet is accomplished from the comfort of your study, where slippers are obligatory wear and where this important work can be carried out at whatever time of day suits you. There is a plethora of information out there starting with the information supplied by shipyards and yacht brokers, with statistics, descriptions, video and imagery. Then there are the yachting tests written by journalists and others who are experts and who have used the yachts, owned the yachts, or who may have an axe to grind.

There are forums, interest groups, commercial organisations who want to get their point across and also simply those who are passionate about yachting and have strong views and who can air them easily and without fuss on the glorious world wide web. Sometimes they will join a group and sometimes they will work on their own.

Added to all this are all those wonderful algorithms used by Google and the like – today you can even ask them for an opinion on where to berth your yacht or where to go to eat supper when you have done so.

Statistics and figures are massively useful when contemplating a yacht purchase. It is good to know what hull sisters are actually selling for, and it is great to know the consumption figures, top speeds, STIX, sea keeping characteristics and much else. Depending on the sort of sailing or power yachting you are doing, there will be really important information that you will rely on when you decide on the type of yacht that you will buy. And now all this is available freely on the wonderful worldwide web – hurrah!

However, the issue with all of this lovely information is that if we are relying on it in order to form our judgement about the purchase of what is often the second largest purchase that we make, how accurate is it? Who checks and collates it and ensures that that it is pure and correct and not based on flawed assumptions or teetering on the edge of being totally wrong where a yacht is oversold? May be it is actually the other way around and a disgruntled yachtsman for whatever reason has given a yacht a bad press out of irritation, frustration or malice.

A good example of information considered totally reliable is that of yachts’ sold prices. There are a number of websites
that host brokerage yachts. They are widely used and relied upon and yacht brokers like us know that we need to put our listings on these platforms to ensure that they are seen in the virtual high street of yacht sales. However, they have their shortcomings and not all the information delivery is accurate but they are easy to use and good for a general overview of what is on the market.

They keep statistics about what yachts sell for and locations and nationalities and all of that. A great idea, and yacht
buyers sometime ask to know about these numbers to help them to understand the market. The issue here, is how does this portal know what these yachts are actually selling for? They are relying on brokers to tell them. These brokers may be connected to new yacht operations and want to enhance the answer. On the other hand they may want to reduce the mean average value for some reason, or the administration team managing the interface with the portal may not know the price. Or very likely, the broker will feel that eventual selling price is a number strictly between buyer, seller, broker and God.

So what use has this facility as a resource to judge value? The answer is that it hasn’t any value at all. In using information you therefore do have to look at where the information has come from and then decide how much to trust it. You have to manage your own filtering system.

As the web becomes an ever a more essential part of our lives and inveigles itself further and further into every part of
what we do, we are starting to see some truly awful stuff happening with internet trolls, twitterbots and all sorts of fiendishly clever ways of activating bases in an automated way to influence elections or horror of horrors, to may be try to influence what yacht you buy!

This extraordinary resource and force for good has been hijacked in many ways and this will probably mean that more restrictions will be added to normal use to prevent internet trolls and other malign entities from dominating this amazing platform that permeates every part of 21st century life. The unfettered release of unedited information and reports about all aspects of yachting which do not necessarily provide a balanced view, does make navigating all this available information a challenge and it is very easy to become bogged down with information that is inaccurate or totally irrelevant. As with all other aspects of the web, you will find information that deliberately misrepresents the truth but fortunately yachting is relatively short of malign information of this type.

So what information on the web is to be trusted? Certainly that of good shipyards who have high standards of build as well as the need to comply with current consumer legislation can be trusted. The vital statistics and all the build and performance figures are accurate but the reports on the sailing will be something that you will want to obtain from a qualified and unbiased third party.

If you are buying a second hand yacht, you will want to have information that is as accurate as possible as this is the basis on which you will make your offer. You will want to know what is included in the sale, the hours on equipment and you will also want to know about any accidents, or failures of note in the past, as well as have an idea of the maintenance programme that the yacht has enjoyed and details of any big ticket items that have been replaced. In this you rely on a yacht broker who not only makes yacht particulars look good but one who has researched the yacht and who works with you to ensure that you have the information necessary to make an informed decision.

At Berthon we take a lot of trouble to be as accurate as possible, working closely with yacht captains and owners on yacht specifications and visiting the yachts that we list whenever possible. We also carry out regular updates and keep in touch with the written collateral material that exists around our listings. We cannot guarantee that what we provide is perfect, but we work hard to be as up to date as we can. Our yacht specifications form the inventory when we sell yachts and so we do the research up front.

And now a word about the reviews and information available from the yachting press. Unlike much of the information on the web, this is written by professional journalists who are yachtsmen and it is edited and offered in hard copy and soft. The burning issues in our sport are properly addressed and they are the last word in yachting tests that are accurate, well researched and non-biased. This sort of journalism provides good and granular information with the yachting magazines delivering today as they did before the web. However, the difference is that modern technology enables them to do more and to provide much more information.

Of course they are also obliged to carefully check their facts and whilst they will doubtless have had a legal team in the back office to make sure that they are correct, journalists of every hue are more and more independent and thus vulnerable to court cases brought against them if they do not take the proper care to get it right. These professionals who do countless sea trials and are technically competent are to be trusted. The many forums and keyboard warriors whose comments and views pepper the yachting web are not of course constrained by the need to be factual, correct and to do the necessary research to ensure that what they say will stand up to scrutiny in a court of law.

Elaine Bunting edits Yachting World and is also the chief editor for its sister publications Motorboat & Yachting,
Yachting Monthly and Practical Boat Owner. We asked her about the checks and balances and methodology applied across these covers in order to provide relevant, interesting and accurate information –

As any game theorist knows, you can only trust people who have something to lose.

It’s quite true that all our print and online content goes through multiple distillations – primary source research and testing, checking and proofing – but here is another, simpler way to look at it. The business model of our magazines and websites depends on subscribers, longterm and loyal readers, paying actual, real money for what we write – a deposit put down against our names and reputation.

The cover price buys you genuine expertise, which is so expensive and lengthy to accrue. When someone tells you a boat is fantastic (or dreadful), ask yourself not only how they are being paid, but on what experience they are basing their verdict. Have they sailed a dozen different types? Fewer?

Our team of testers – Toby Hodges, Jack Haines, Matt Sheahan, David Harding, Graham Snook and Pip Hare among them – have trialled many hundreds of craft over decades. When they tell you what they think, it’s based on deep first-hand knowledge, and our reputation and their livelihood rests on being accurate and honest.

Despite the incredible potential of the web, because anyone can post anything anywhere there is quite a lot of noise and confusion for those looking for accurate information to wade through in order to find proper information to assist, not just with the buying process, but with cruising programmes, maintenance and refit and the who gamut of activities (practically all of them great fun) that go with yacht ownership.

Yachting is not unique in being information heavy and accuracy light. We see this in all segments of life today. As a result, we suspect that things will come full circle with yachtsmen paying for access to really good information in the same way that many of us pay for access to Spotify, the Daily Telegraph, FT or Guardian and a number of other sites where the information and journalism can be trusted and relied upon. Indeed it will be essential for the continued good health of the yachting press and the good, reliable information that they provide.

And would this be so bad? For the small amounts involved, having the best information without all the white noise doesn’t seem to be a terrible deal to us.

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