First Virgin Islands Boating Expo Is Marine Business and Destination Success

Lagoon Catamarans on display at VIBE. (photo credit Savanah Willow)

Over $63M worth of yachts by name brand manufacturers were on display, ready for purchase, at the inaugural Virgin Islands Boating Expo (VIBE), hosted by the Virgin Islands Professional Charter Association (VIPCA), May 10-12, at IGY’s Yacht Haven Grande. Over the three-day event, more than a thousand residents and visitors walked the docks and toured the fleet of Leopard, Lagoon, Fountaine Pajot, Bali, Aquilla Power Cat, Azumit and Boston Whalers.

Opportunities to learn about yacht ownership as a charter business, listen to seminars on the unique-to-the-USVI tax exemptions and economic marine business incentives, and look at the latest in yacht equipment and services from 50 local and global vendors, were set against the incredible destination and cultural backdrop that is the U.S. Virgin Islands. Steel pan bands to drummers, stilt-walking Mocko Jumbies to Bamboula dancers, upscale Caribbean cuisine to local drinks, VIBE proved the ultimate “destination” yacht sales show.

“It is with pride that we congratulate the team behind the Virgin Islands Boating Expo on a successful event,” shared Commissioner Joseph Boschulte of the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Tourism. “As a community, many people from the Virgin Islands are deeply connected to the boating and marine industries, and shows like VIBE help to continue expanding the depth of our marine industry. We look forward to welcoming new yachting visitors to fall Naturally in Rhythm.”

Yacht sales show was open to the public, everyone from residents to visitors. This differs from VIPCA’s USVI Charter Yacht Show in November, a B2B event for charter yacht brokers to see the yachts, meet the crews, and book charter yacht vacations. Like, but purposely unlike the three top yacht sales shows in the world – The Cannes Yachting Festival in France, Monaco Boat Show in Monaco, and Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show in Florida – VIBE was created as a destination boutique-style B2C show where there is time and space for 1:1 interactions, and in St. Thomas, what Caribbean Journal called the ‘Hottest Yachting Destination in the Caribbean’.

“As a result of participating in the show, we received good interest from attendees, hot leads to go home with, and business deals we didn’t anticipate,” said Maryka Niemand, chief marketing officer for Pyper Yachts, the exclusive sales partner in the Caribbean for McConaghy Boats, which showcased its charter management, yacht management, yacht maintenance, and yacht sales divisions at Virgin Islands Boating Expo.

Harbor360 Vendor Expo. (Credit: Savanah Willow)

Lagoon Catamarans were represented by their Caribbean Dealer, Caribe Yacht Group. They had five beautiful catamarans on display ranging from 51’ to 77’, all fully outfitted and ready for luxury cruising and charter. Caribe Yacht Group is a full-service operation within the U.S. Virgin Islands with a dealership, service center, and full management programs for private yachts and charter yachts.

“It is with pride that we congratulate the team behind the Virgin Islands Boating Expo on a successful event,” shared Commissioner Joseph Boschulte of the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Tourism. “As a community, many people from the Virgin Islands are deeply connected to the boating and marine industries and shows like VIBE help to continue expanding the depth of our marine industry. We look forward to welcoming new yachting visitors to fall Naturally in Rhythm.”

The U.S. Virgin Islands’ first yacht sales show was open to the public, everyone from residents to visitors. This differs from VIPCA’s USVI Charter Yacht Show in November, a B2B event for charter yacht brokers to see the yachts, meet the crews, and book charter yacht vacations. Like, but purposely unlike the three top yacht sales shows in the world – The Cannes Yachting Festival in France, Monaco Boat Show in Monaco, and Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show in Florida – VIBE was created as a destination boutique-style B2C show where there is time and space for 1:1 interactions, and on St. Thomas, what Caribbean Journal called the ‘Hottest Yachting Destination in the Caribbean’.

“As a result of participating in the show, we received good interest from attendees, hot leads to go home with, and business deals we didn’t anticipate,” says Maryka Niemand, chief marketing officer for Pyper Yachts, the exclusive sales partner in the Caribbean for McConaghy Boats, which showcased its charter management, yacht management, yacht maintenance and yacht sales divisions at VIBE.

Lagoon Catamarans were represented by their Caribbean Dealer, Caribe Yacht Group. They had five beautiful catamarans on display ranging from 51’ to 77’, all fully outfitted and ready for luxury cruising and charter. Caribe Yacht Group is a full-service operation within the U.S. Virgin Islands with a dealership, service center, and full management programs for private yachts and charter yachts.

“Turns out a destination show in the Virgin Islands is highly attractive to both visitors and locals alike! We had several clients fly in to meet with us at the show, which was expected,” says Stephen McCauley, a sales broker with the Caribe Yacht Group, the company’s sales arm. “We were pleased with the additional leads that came through from the mainland, and most importantly we were thrilled with the new connections that we made from here in the islands. We also received multiple inquiries for our charter business from people staying on the island and interested in new Caribbean vacation ideas. Overall, we had a great experience, and are excited for the future of VIBE!”

World Cat of South Florida attended VIBE, due to its many customers in the U.S. Virgin Islands for which the company does bi-annual service and warranty work.

World Cat of South Florida attended VIBE, due to its many customers in the U.S. Virgin Islands for which the company does bi-annual service and warranty work.

“Our boats are ideal for day charters or tenders for superyachts,” says Bruce Wade, co-owner of the company, with locations in Fort Lauderdale and Naples, FL, who showcased Picaroon’s Parlay, a 2024 32-foot World Cat currently owned and operated by Fly Away Charters in St. John, USVI. “We had a steady response from attendees to VIBE with inquiries for purchase and charter.”

Daily seminars were hosted at the Harbor360 Vendor Expo, with standing room only for Saturday’s talk on ‘Why Ownership, Taking Delivery, and Operating a Vessel in the USVI is Beneficial’ presented by Attorneys Renee Marie Andre and Georgeann McNicholas of Marjorie Rawls Roberts, P.C. and Attorney David A. Bornn, Of Counsel to the Firm.

“The USVI is outside the U.S. Customs Zone and has its own Customs laws, which exempts importation of vessels, boats, and their running gear from Customs duties,” said David A. Bornn in the presentation. “Foreign-built, non-imported yachts to the U.S. can be sold or chartered to U.S. residents in the U.S. Virgin Islands without being imported to the U.S. first. Also, because of the USVI exemption from the Jones Act, chartering foreign-built and foreign-flagged yachts in US waters is permitted here. Attorneys Andre and McNicholas discussed other favorable tax exemptions unique to the USVI and easy-to-complete registration procedures, many of which are online, for operating boats in the territory.”

Some 50 local and global businesses participating in the Harbor360 Vendor Expo sponsored by the Virgin Islands Lottery showcased marine-oriented products and services to complement a yacht or charter business. One was financial service companies such as Azul Marine Lending, based in Sarasota, FL, which provides marine loans for clients in the U.S., Puerto Rico, and the Caribbean from $100,000 to $25 million.

“It’s a complex and somewhat niche business often beyond what some traditional banking institutions provide. As such, we have developed an AI underwriting system where we can get a 95% approval rate in 24 hours thanks to long and successful relationships with lenders. That helps us develop successful programs for our clients,” says Zack Hamric, who with his wife Greta, are company principals.

Another of the VIBE vendor exhibitors was Rainman, an Australian-headquartered company that makes water makers and saltwater desalination systems for marine use.

“As charter yachts get bigger and carry more guests, water needs increase. We introduce at VIBE a new high output 70 gallon-an-hour watermaker designed for the unique needs of charter yachts here in the Virgin Islands, says Peter Pieschel, of VIable Marine Solutions, a dealer for Rainman in the USVI.

Offshore Marine, based in St. Thomas for over 40 years and a top boat dealer and outboard sales facility, displayed an AB 10AL tender, Yamaha F25, and Yamaha Inverter Generator 2200.

“The exposure, and a chance to touch base with our customers and meet new ones, was why it was important for us to participate in VIBE,” said Abrie Cilliers