Today when Paul Flannery wants to impress somebody with the growing size and scope of the International Yacht Brokers Association, it’s not hard. The IYBA’s executive director notes that its membership has now grown to more than 1,560, and continues to grow. It has members in 27 US states, and 14 different countries. It advocates for the industry in Tallahassee and Washington D.C., and it has a strong international presence anchored in the European yachting capital, Monaco.
But it didn’t always look like this. “We began in 1987 as a small group of yacht brokers here in Fort Lauderdale,” Flannery says. “We wanted the state to structure a statute that gave some framework … that gave structure and guidance to the industry. In order to do that, they needed an association to point to, to lead the way.”
In a business like yachting, where big money flies around with every transaction, transparency and structure is important. A few bad actors can make life difficult for everybody.
“You’re talking about discretionary dollars; you’re talking about a lot of money in some cases,” Flannery says. “Without some regulatory guidance, it was really kind of a wild west environment.”
From the beginning, the IYBA sought to tame the west. In the same year it was formed, the Florida Legislature passed the Yacht and Ship Brokers Act, legislation the new organization had advocated for. More than two decades later, it remains a vital piece of legislation, Flannery says.
“The purpose is to provide consumer protections and to discourage predatory practices,” he says.
More than two decades later, that remains a good description of much of the IYBA’s work as well. As the industry has grown and changed, the association has grown and changed with it – while staying focused on advocating for industry-friendly legislation and good practices within the industry. In terms of important legislation, Flannery points to the Florida boat tax cap, which came into effect in 2010. That helped drive industry sales in Florida, he says, to the point that it was even a tax cap that was good for tax collection.
“In the first year alone after the passing of the sales tax cap, (Florida) collected $7.4m attributable to sales tax cap revenues.”
When it’s not making the yachting case to lawmakers, IYBA makes various cases to yachting professionals themselves. “What we try to do throughout this industry,” Flannery says, “is promote professionalism.”
The organization offers seminars on subjects ranging from legal matters to insurance to broader issues of professionalism, cooperation and ethics. An 11-member board meets monthly. And often, some of the most important elements of their work involve the less-than-thrilling role of creating consistency in an industry that didn’t always have it.
“We created a template, a format, and a copywrighted set of forms that provide structure to the industry, legal guidelines by which we transact yacht sales,” Flannery says, likening it to the consistency of the real estate industry. “We have tried to streamline and structure our industry.”
In the wider world, the IYBA speaks out for the industry – and that doesn’t just mean Washington and Tallahassee. Flannery, who became the IYBA’s executive director last year after a career that included roles from sportfishing captain to yacht broker and sales director, understands that if you’re not in the yacht industry, it’s not always the most prominent industry out there.
“We’re not front page news, and that’s a good thing and a bad thing,” he says. “Bad players get front page coverage.”
Lots of people don’t even know it exists. “You just know there’s a lot of water here, there’s some big things that come in and out of the inlet, and there’s some rich guys that own them,” he says.
So, given the opportunity, Flannery likes to list some statistics. The industry creates tradesman careers that pay on average 28 percent more than other industries. The recreational boating industry as a whole generates $23.3 billion in Florida every year and employs 92,000 people. Most builders of the biggest yachts are in Europe, but currently their order books are 70 percent in U.S. dollars. (Inevitably, he says, those are boats that will make their way to Fort Lauderdale for repairs and other work that helps fuel the industry here.) Boating, he says, is “the second largest economic engine in Florida after tourism.
“When a boat comes to your community, it’s an economic engine.”
An engine that the IYBA keeps oiled and running.