Dating back to 1884, Bénéteau is one of the oldest family-run boatbuilders in the business and the world’s largest producer of yachts, launching more than 10,000 hulls per year.
Based in the Vendée region of France, with a second manufacturing base in Marion, South Carolina, Bénéteau is a major player in both the motorboat and sailing yacht markets. Its current collection of seafaring vessels ranges from 14ft to 62ft.
The Bénéteau story began in the 19th century with Benjamin Bénéteau, who got his first job on a lugger at the age of 12, and founded the yard in Rochefort after completing his military service. Initially a builder of sail-powered fishing boats, Bénéteau pioneered the use of engine power, allowing his ships to return to port much faster than the competition.
World War One brought a halt to boatbuilding at the yard, but in 1928 production began again under the guidance of Benjamin’s 21-year-old son André, who would lead the company in designing and building fishing boats for more than 30 years.
The 1960s brought about a complete reinvention of the Bénéteau brand, with a focus on fibreglass recreational boats, including the 3.6m Guppy, the 4.3m Flétan and the 5.8m Ombrine.
The 1965 Paris Boat Show was a landmark event for Bénéteau, with the company winning nationwide distribution contracts, the second French brand to achieve such a widespread recognition after Jeanneau. This lead the company to develop a full range before the end of the decade, stretching from 3.6m to 5.8m.
Notable series to be launched in the 1970s included the First and the Antares (both of which are still in production today), while the company opened a new yard in Commequiers.
Success in both sailing and powerboat racing series during the 1980s led to the launch of the Flyer and Oceanis range (designed by Philippe Briand), while Philippe Starck was recruited to reimagine the Bénéteau First. Other top designers to have worked with Bénéteau over the years include Jean-Marie Finot, Pascal Conq, German Frers, Bruce Farr, Sergio Pininfarina, Jean Berret and Olivier Racoupeau.
Production and manufacturing
Bénéteau’s best-selling designs have spawned hundreds of hulls, with more than 500 First 265s, over 600 First 235s and in excess of 800 Oceanis 321s launched during their extended production runs.
At its state-of-the-art Vendée headquarters (opened in 2014 as part of the company’s 130th anniversary celebrations), Bénéteau operates a system called Product Lifecycle Management to maximise efficiency, including computed-aided design and manufacturing processes.
Alongside, it also runs Europe’s largest cabinetry division, spanning 27,000m2 of workshops and capable of producing several different finishes as well as working with a wide variety of timber.
The yard’s products and processes are independently quality-assured on an annual basis as part of ISO 9001 certification, while its environmental efforts include strict waste management, energy efficiency and recycling programmes.
Innovation and new ideas
Bénéteau has always been a yard to embrace innovative new ideas, and as such it can claim several firsts. For example, it was the first boatbuilder to fit Volvo Penta’s now ubiquitous IPS drivetrain and has developed six new hulls specifically to suit this revolutionary propulsion system.
Meanwhile, its mainsail arch design has brought added safety to all Bénéteau sailing yachts over 40ft and its patented Air Step hull promises improved performance and efficiency on all of its motorboats under 50ft. Looking ahead, the company is rolling out the Ship Control navigational assistant to both sailing and motor yacht ranges.
The Bénéteau Group’s portfolio includes a wide variety of brands, from American speedboat specialists Four Winns, Scarab, Wellcraft and Glastron to IRM and O’Hara mobile homes.
The 1995 acquisition of Jeanneau saw the two biggest French boatbuilders join forces, while recent successes include the Monte Carlo Yachts range of luxury cruisers, which was bought in 2008.
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