In January, Northrop & Johnson visited Genoa-based Tankoa Yachts, where we sat down with Guido Orsi, Marketing & Communications Manager and son of the major shareholder of Tankoa Yachts, to discuss Italian shipbuilding, industry trends and the future of the Tankoa brand.
For Guido Orsi, yachting is in the blood. As the son of a passionate yacht owner, the family business began with his father’s luxury Codecasa motor yacht—the vessel that sparked a business interest before it enflamed a legacy. His father bought and sold Baglietto before he founded Genoa-based Tankoa Yachts, a boutique shipyard specializing in custom builds characterized by highly detailed Italian craftsmanship.
Today, Guido is one of the owners of the yard, and having been raised within the yachting industry, is uniquely positioned to guide boutique Italian shipbuilding to new heights of luxury. He sat down with Northrop & Johnson to discuss Italian shipbuilding, industry trends and the future of the Tankoa brand.
N&J: Tell us about the early years of Tankoa.
Guido: Tankoa actually began with my father. He owned a yacht himself and in 1996, he acquired Baglietto from a friend of his. We owned Baglietto for about 10 years and sold it in 2004—he received an offer he couldn’t refuse.
But he still had this interest in yachting and wanted to continue working in the business. So, along with a good friend of his—who eventually became a shareholder—he decided to build a new yacht but the [building] sheds that were available at the time, weren’t designed to handle longer yachts.
At Baglietto, the boats built had, let’s say, a maximum range of 170’ (52m) but the main range was between 98’ (30m) and 131’ (40m). But at the beginning of the 2000s, we could see a trend: boats were getting longer and longer. So, at Tankoa, we were obliged to build new sheds.
First, we took time to decide where to build the sheds. We wanted to keep the business in northern Italy because we like to follow things personally, so distance was one of the main factors in determining the location. We liked Liguria and Tuscany because it’s a region of historical importance to the yachting industry; it has some 400 years of important maritime history.
In the end, we decided to build in Liguria because they saw this location. It was a good opportunity. We began with the two sheds we’re using now. Inside these two sheds, we can build 262’ (80m) to 278’ (85m) maximum length. We can build even longer here—you only need to create a longer shed. But so far, our biggest yacht, SOLO, is 266’ (72m).
At the beginning, we did not have a particularly good time. As soon as we began, many things happened, like the financial crisis. But the biggest impact on us was the death of my father’s best friend, the one whom we named the yard after. But still, we were focused, and we had a strong desire to continue this project. And so far, so good!
N&J: Does the name ‘Tankoa’ mean anything?
Guido: Actually, the name comes from the Genoese dialect word for scorpion, ‘tancua.’ My father’s best friend and a major company shareholder was a Scorpio. He died in the early years of our company. It’s a nice way to remember him.
You can see the scorpion in our logo. From the front, it’s the hull of a yacht, but the way the line curves is like the tail of a scorpion.
N&J: How has the brand changed over the years?
Guido: The brand is in a constant state of evolution. In 2013, when we sold SUERTE, one of the first yachts we ever built, we decided to give the brand a fresh new look after the rough start we’d had. We wanted to change completely. This year is 2023, ten years since our last brand makeover. I think we will change again with a totally new feel. I really enjoy this sort of creative work and seeing how other shipyards take care of this matter.
But, being a boutique shipyard, there are some core things that will always remain the same. We are a serious shipyard. We do not promise anything that we cannot afford to give the client. We follow the work personally and we make sure that every yacht we deliver is a yacht that is going to make the customer satisfied. We let our work speak for itself.
N&J: Is that what makes Tankoa stand out from other shipyards?
Yes, I believe so. Initially, we said we always wanted to be in a position where people feel as if they are going to a German or Dutch yacht builder but with a creative side that only Italians can have. It’s in our DNA.
Another important point of differentiation is that whenever a customer feels that they want to change something in their project, even if it’s in an important stage of development, they can still do it. We are flexible. I feel that one problem in other shipyards is that, when the project has begun, they aren’t willing to change anything about it without great cost to the client. So, we always like to give this chance to them.
Nowadays, we feel that our main point of difference is that when we give time, dates, costs: that’s it. That is our word, and we can maintain it. Because we are a boutique shipyard, we aim to deliver four to five yachts a year. That gives us the opportunity to follow the clients and the projects directly. They don’t just become a number in a company. It’s a personal touch. A nice relationship, more informal.
N&J: How do you feel Italian shipyards differentiate themselves from the rest of the world?
Italy is a top yacht producer. We are a peninsula, so three-quarters of our country touches the sea. I think, historically, this is why we have so many shipyards. I think we’re also seen as creative. We always have to give something new to the customer, and this is our main strong point, that we can always present new projects to the client, new improvements, and we concentrate on quality. That’s probably why we’re seen as one of the leading yacht builders.
N&J: Can you explain the craftsmanship side of the build process? How do you ensure quality in your builds?
Everything that our designer presents to the client is custom made. So, whenever they see a render, the mood, the internal layout, the external layout, it’s all custom made. Nothing is made in series or in bulk. Even when we speak about, let’s say, the S 501 model—which is our 164’ (50m), of which we have delivered five and are building a sixth—everything is made to order, and everything changes. It may be a series hull and superstructure, but everything else changes totally, from the engine room to the layout of the internal GA, balconies and exteriors. We build everything from scratch.
N&J: Have the demands of your clients changed over the years?
I’d say they’re more interested in hi-fi entertainment, maintenance of the boat, and the propulsion and electrical side of the boat. This is where technology moves quickest. For example, nowadays, clients want fast, continuous wi-fi because plenty of them work while they’re cruising. For example, Cisco solutions with Starlink.
On the other hand, if they are clients that are more traditional and want a more traditional look design-wise, they are often after sophistication with modern design—more straight lines, leather. So, it depends. We have designers who are able to present whatever the client wants.
N&J: How have your clients changed over time?
The age of our clients is going down. There’s a range now between 40 and 60, which is quite interesting. There’s a strong American market and America has younger customers, mainly due to big tech. We still have a strong market in the 50 to 70 age range.
Our younger clients typically have never had a yacht before and many start with a 164’ (50m). That’s quite unusual, and they still need to be guided through the project. But the older the client is, the more likely to know everything, and they’re pretty settled. They usually like to make or stick to the design they like.
That’s the main difference. New clients have to be guided. I see that they often like particular things in their yacht, like hi-fi entertainment.
Another big area is sustainability. We’ve just built a hybrid, the motor yacht KINDA. We’re still looking at hybrid solutions because when you say ‘hybrid,’ it’s a complicated word. It can mean everything, and it can mean nothing. I think there’s still a lot to do here. And technology moves so fast, and there’s plenty we could see in the future. At the moment, we have to deal with little things. Solar panels, for example. You see solar panels, but they cannot deal with the maintenance of the whole yacht, like the lighting. They are still insufficient in what they can give.
Another example is hydrogen. Why not build yachts with hydrogen propulsion? Well, we need a big container and it’s still dangerous. It’s probably the most interesting side of fuel, but it’s still like a target we have to reach. Let’s see.
N&J: Where do you see the future of Tankoa?
We plan a time factor of three years. So, in about 2026, we’ll have new sheds. We’re expanding now. We’re growing from 20 to 30 employees to 60 to 70 employees. We’re still hiring, and I think we’ll end up with around 85 to 100 employees.
Our best plan is to have sheds where we are now. But we also have plan B and a plan C. This will occupy us for the next three years, to build new sites. So far, there are two big sheds, but they’re flexible. We will have a total of five sheds, including the two we have here, where we can build two smaller yachts.
So far, we have a 147’ (45m) entry level but in the future, we want to give an entry-level of 131’ (40m). We’ve acquired 3,000 square meters of sheds. We currently have carpentry and painting where we can build our own custom things, but we were thinking about producing other things for ourselves, like swimming pools. These days, yachts can have two to three pools each. We are watching the market and we have to follow it.
So far, so good!
For more information on Tankoa new construction yachts, Tankoa yachts for sale and Tankoa yachts for charter, please contact your preferred Northrop & Johnson broker. Learn more about the history of Tankoa with David Seal on Yachts For Sale.