Article • 15 August 2023

Oyster at 50

1973 - 2023

Anniversaries will always attract numbers and statistics beyond the headline figure alone and in the 50 years since Oyster Yachts was founded, one of the world’s best-known builders of luxury yachts has accumulated plenty.

More than 1,100 boats built and launched and over 20 million nautical miles accumulated say plenty about the impact and influence that Oyster Yachts have had in the luxury cruising scene.

But while facts and figures are certainly something to be proud of, some landmarks and milestones represent more than simply a number.

Inspiring owners to set the world as their goal and then helping them to achieve it is something very special. While every trip around the planet is an extraordinary achievement, when the tally of Oyster circumnavigations reached 100 as Richard Flaye’s Oyster 56 Temerity arrived in Antigua at the end of the 2022-23 Oyster World Rally, it was time to celebrate.

There have been more Oyster circumnavigations in the last 10 years than in the previous 40, making it clear that while the brand’s reputation remains as strong as ever, times have changed, and dreams have flourished with Oyster at the very centre.

In 50 years, Oyster has come a long way and taken advantage of design and technology advances to the benefit of all, but many values remain the same as they did when the company was founded, and for good reason.

Building yachts that are safe, secure, robust, easily handled and exquisitely finished were among the goals from the start. Goals and objectives have been the cornerstones of a business that has grown from a local Essex-based endeavour to an international industry leader. Oyster at 50 has been no ordinary journey.






Today, Oyster Yachts is internationally recognised and respected for its meticulous build quality, supreme performance, go-anywhere luxury yachts, backed up with outstanding customer support.

Oyster Yachts History 2

Oyster founder Richard Matthews launched his first cruiser-racer, the UFO 34, designed by Don Pye of Holman & Pye and built by Landamores in Wroxham, Norfolk. It set the bar for a new breed of yacht. The first Oyster-branded yacht, Oyster 35, was launched in 1978, pioneering the deck saloon, a signature design feature on all our yachts. The company continued to expand the market for performance cruisers with a series of yachts, including the iconic Oyster 80. The style, performance and quality of these yachts evolved in leaps and bounds with each new iteration through more than 50 models.

Oyster Yachts History 1

Early Oysters were designed and built primarily as racing cruisers. Their exceptional seaworthiness and durability meant they rapidly evolved into bluewater cruisers, capable of taking owners around the globe in comfort and safety. As Oyster founder, Matthews says: “cruising fast is a lot more fun than cruising slow!” As new models were launched, existing owners were keen to upgrade, so Oyster Brokerage was launched in 1984 – who better to advise on the sale or purchase of a pre-owned boat than those who built her? Over the years we have helped hundreds of owners buy and sell their Oysters.

Oyster History 1

In 1999, Oyster commissioned naval architect Rob Humphrey’s to design Oyster 53. In 2012, Rob designed the first of the new G6 hulls and decks to deliver a sleeker, more modern appearance, with a wider beam aft to create significantly more space above and below decks while enhancing sailing performance. This ambitious attitude to hull and deck design has proven itself through seven sixth generation models, which have all continued to evolve including the award-winning Oyster 565, and Oyster 595. This 17 year partnership continues to bear fruit with the launch of the new Oyster 495, designed in collaboration with the Oyster design team.

Oyster History 2

Over the next eight years, Oyster continued to design and build new models, including Oysters 575, 625, 675, 745 and our flagship Oyster 885. Oyster Charter was set up in 2005 to offer people the opportunity to enjoy a unique holiday adventure aboard an Oyster. To celebrate the business’s 40th anniversary, the inaugural Oyster World Rally was launched in 2013, with 28 adventurous owners and their yachts completing the voyage, followed by a second edition in 2017. The third Oyster World Rally set sail from Antigua in January 2022, with two more schedule for 2024 and 2026.

Oyster History 3

In 2018, Richard Hadida became the new owner of Oyster. Bringing significant investment to the table, Richard has overseen the design and launch of the new generation of Oyster yachts, creating more consistency throughout the range. Championing new production techniques, combined with time honoured British craftmanship, iconic design cues cascaded from larger models have rejuvenated the brand with Oyster 565 and 595 breaking all previous order records. With a growing team of over 600, Oyster continues to go from strength to strength. The company has returned to its roots with the new 50-foot Oyster 495, now in production at our new state-of-the-art facility at Hythe, near Southampton.


The Road to 50

Despite Oyster Yachts’ global reputation for high-quality bluewater cruising yachts and unparalleled customer service to match, the company’s original focus was on a very different type of boat. Back in 1973, Oyster Yachts’ founder Richard Matthews was looking at building a racing boat.

Having started a tea and coffee vending business as an enthusiastic 19-year-old entrepreneur with £2,000 that had been left to him by an aunt, the business had been good, but he needed to find a way of reducing the cost of running a race boat. His accountant suggested that an ex-one-off race yacht could be classed as a pre-production prototype which could be used to achieve trade terms and to offset tax.

The boat that emerged was a Holman & Pye designed 34 foot, three-quarter tonner, the UFO34. Her first season on the racecourse proved successful and attracted plenty of interest from potential buyers. In fact, so successful that around 150 UFO34s were sold in total worldwide, albeit many of them in kit form.

The fuse had been lit and sensing an opportunity, Matthews moved his attention to the first cruising Oyster. This too started from modest beginnings.

“We rocked up at the Southampton Boat Show with a model made by one of the boatbuilding guys from Landamore boat builders, along with a bit of chipboard attached to a caravan with some brochures on it,” he said. “Nothing happened for the first two or three days, but between Wednesday night and the last Sunday of the show we had sold seven Oyster 37s. Something had happened, and it was clear to us that it was down to the success of the UFO range. People were interested and I think we had sold 20 boats before the first boat got launched.”

From here, things moved quickly, and the Oyster 39 followed.

Then came the boat that set the trend, the Oyster 46, the first deck saloon configuration. The arrangement gained popularity quickly thanks to the feeling of space below decks where light flooded into an area of the accommodation that was traditionally dark and enclosed. The raised floor in the saloon enabled increased machinery space beneath and decent-sized tanks as well while also achieving a lower centre of gravity for enhanced stability. The centre cockpit also allowed for a large owner’s cabin aft, while on deck the configuration provided a roomy yet protected cockpit. There was plenty to like.

“Looking back, it wasn’t difficult to see why the deck saloon became so popular so quickly,” said commercial manager Nick Creed, whose time with Oyster stretches back to the mid-1980s.

“Sailing was a bit of a camping trip back in the 1970s. As far as many families were concerned, sailing on a yacht meant that you either spent much of your time wet and uncomfortable when you were on deck or buried in a dark cavernous interior with no view if you went below. The deck saloon changed all of that. There was light and space and you could see out, especially when underway. There was heating below decks and electric winches on deck. Comfort had arrived in cruising and with very little competition in the market, it was relatively easy for Oyster to make its mark.”

And make its mark it did, the deck saloon had arrived.

Alongside Matthews’ passion for racing and the range of racing Oysters such as the 41, 43, SJ35 and the Lightwave models that were produced as a result, the cruising side of the business was gaining a great deal of traction.

"There were two things that made Oyster a successful business,” continued Matthews, “We knew from the outset we had to be an international company and we needed to market our boats around the world. The other thing was we opted to go for quality.”

Fifty years later the same principles apply. During that time, both styling and performance have also been refined continually.

There were two things that made Oyster a successful business. We knew from the outset we had to be an international company and we needed to market our boats around the world. The other thing was we opted to go for quality.
Richard Matthews, Oyster Yachts’ founder
oyster 53

The change of watch on the design front from Holman Pye to Humphreys Yacht Design in the late 1990s is seen by many as one of the key transitions in the evolution of the modern Oyster.

Well known for developing good-looking, well-balanced lines, in the racing scene Humphreys’ designs were rarely as radical as those of his contemporaries and yet it was this skilful balance between performance and looks that has been at the heart of the modern bluewater Oyster for over two decades. And it is these characteristics, along with the ease of handling, that has maintained Oyster’s leading position in the market.

Layout and style were also important ingredients in Oyster’s recipe for success. Here, designer Andrew Winch introduced subtle tweaks and changes to the Oyster styling that have played a key part in creating an internationally recognised and frequently copied look where wrap-around windows, sweeping lines and of course the deck saloon eyebrow, have created multiple generations of Oyster.

As designs became more refined, it was a natural progression for owners’ aspirations to expand with them. More capable, comfortable and manageable yachts helped to expand the horizons of existing and future owners.

Over the years, Oyster has made great play of celebrating and publicising owners’ extraordinary adventures which has led to a wealth of inspiring stories. But not all the change has been easy.

“The mid-2000s were difficult times for the company,” continued Creed. “Boundaries were being pushed, new areas and materials were being explored and the reins were relaxed when it came to what owners could specify for their boats.

“From cored joinery to carbon masts, non-metallic rigging, and eccentric interiors, this was an important era that delivered a greater overall understanding, which in turn led to longer-term benefits. But it wasn’t always an easy ride, especially when it came to the production side of the business.”

When Richard Hadida took control of the company there were more big changes to come, but in areas that were less outwardly visible. Hadida’s vision was at the heart of a significant change.

This time the revolution within the business was to centre on production, where one of the key focal points was for Oyster to own the entire manufacturing process from moulding to delivery.

To achieve this, substantial investment in systems and technology was required to improve quality and productivity. Now, with the complete process in place, the business has taken big strides forward.

The latest and the smallest yacht in the range, the Oyster 495, is a perfect example. Here, both the innovative approach to design and the unrelenting quest to create the highest possible quality have created a bluewater cruiser that is not only supremely manageable for newcomers and experienced sailors alike but is designed to go wherever any of her bigger sisters will head in the world.

Winning European Yacht of the Year Luxury Cruiser 2023 was the icing on the cake, validation for this extraordinary yacht and a very proud moment for the company.

Success over 50 years has also relied on providing a 360-degree service that starts with sound and expert advice on what size and specification will suit best, through the execution of the build with dedicated project managers assigned to each client. Once launched, the help and assistance continue through commissioning, delivery, registration, maintenance and every other service to help owners get the best out of their investments, whether they are coastal cruising or taking on the world.

This close relationship, which extends well beyond the sale, construction and delivery process, sits at the heart of the Oyster ethos, but it also cuts both ways.

Understanding the detailed and specific needs of each client at any stage of their ownership provides essential information that feeds into the continual evolution of both individual models and the complete range.

Little surprise then that for 50 years Oyster has been recognised as a world-leading brand and that when it comes to gauging success, there is no greater validation than that of owners and the trips that they undertake.


Over 50 years, developments in design and technology have led to big leaps in performance. During this time, there have been plenty of key moments along the Oyster timeline. One such moment happened 25 years ago and marked not only a change in appearance but coincided with the start of a revolution in the design and construction world.

In 1998 the first Oyster 56 was launched. As always, hopes ran high for a new model in a size range that would replace the very popular Oyster 55. But as the new 56 footer headed out for her first trials, few had any idea as to just how well she would perform and how significant this new model would turn out to be. Over 12 years, 75 were built and she remains Oyster’s most popular model.

The 56 was the first to have lines drawn by Lymington-based Humphreys Design and from this alone, it was clear that while she maintained many of the attributes that would make her unmistakably Oyster, she also represented a step change for the marque. Bigger, beamier and with a sleek, modern superstructure, there was more than a hint that she would be quicker too. And she was.

She was also the first in the range to have an ergonomically designed cockpit following a collaboration with Loughborough University's Ergonomics department. Below decks, the additional hull volume provided more spacious accommodation which in turn provided scope to create new options and a new feel for popular layouts.

Another key influence was to come from across the Atlantic.

“Oyster’s business was developing in the USA where there was a need for shallow drafts, especially on the East Coast,” said designer Rob Humphreys. “We looked at all kinds of solutions including wing keels and centreboards but one of the other details we studied was twin rudders. In fact, in designing the Oyster 82 we carried out some tank testing, part of which focused on this configuration and delivered benefits that are incorporated to this day.

“One of the biggest steps in the evolution of the modern Oyster followed with the design of the 885. Practical building constraints informed the width of her wide beam. This, along with a restriction on her draft, meant that we needed to look at ways of maximizing the stability and hence the power of the hull. This in turn led to us drawing fuller lines aft which then meant twin rudders, which deliver much less drag when heeled.

“From there it was clear that we had turned a corner.”

But in a world that continues to be influenced by advanced technology and where the demands for luxury are much greater than ever before, there have been more corners to turn.

One aspect that hasn’t changed in over half a century has been the importance of building to weight. Here the investment in modern systems has paid a handsome return once again. Careful and precise management during the construction process helps to ensure an accurate build which feeds back to the Humphreys team and ensures that they can refine their hull and appendage shapes with real data.

But for all the technical benefits of modern computing power in the design and construction, the significant increase in the feeling of luxury has been another important aspect when it comes to the Oyster evolution. Here, company owner, chairman and 885 owner Richard Hadida has been leading the charge.

“One of the first things I wanted to do when I took on the company was to distinguish old Oyster from new Oyster,” he said. “Now, if you go in the cabin of any of our yachts you get that sense of ‘wow!’ which is something I didn’t feel was there before.”

To achieve this, he enlisted the help of award-winning and highly respected interior designer, Fleur Liversidge. Together they focused on creating intelligent interiors that reflected the latest developments in contemporary living.

The result is that all new generation models are digitally enabled with leading-edge systems integrated into the design to enhance the home-from-home feel. All the onboard systems, including Wi-Fi and Internet, are integrated and work together seamlessly. Furthermore, most models are fitted with Oyster CommandTM, a digital switching system that controls everything from onboard entertainment and lighting to all the main systems.

Fifty years of production has produced an enviable track record along with a vast amount of experience but, most importantly, a level of quality and performance that has risen consistently.

In short, evolution.


As the owner of Oyster 885 Lush, Richard Hadida’s first Oyster experience came through a charter in 2013. Five years later the technology entrepreneur bought the company, inspired by his lifelong love of sailing and a deeply held belief that Oyster Yachts are the best in the world.

From the moment he took control, he had great ambitions for the brand, to refine the yachts, grow the business and welcome new members to the Oyster family.

With full-order books and a range that is expanding and evolving, several of those boxes have already been ticked.

But this is more than a business for Richard.

As much as owning an Oyster is a privilege, owning the business is all that and more, a responsibility he takes very seriously. He is personally committed to staying ahead of the best yacht brands and to continuing to develop, build and support the world’s finest bluewater cruising yachts.

“Oysters have an undeniable strength in their DNA that flows through their build quality and the world-class support we offer our owners through Oyster Sailing Services that make life-enhancing and life-changing adventures possible.”

Since the acquisition of the business, Oyster has grown faster than ever to keep pace with demand, during which time Richard has invested heavily in new facilities, design, technology and crafts teams. Throughout he has remained true to the founding principles by enhancing the strength of construction and build quality, redefining the yachts’ performance and reimagining their interiors.

He remains adamant that today’s Oyster should continue to be built to last several lifetimes, be a luxury home from home and maintain its reputation as the world’s finest bluewater sailing yacht.

Since ownership, he has been behind the launch of the extremely successful Oyster 565, (successor to the popular 575) and the 60 foot Oyster 595. It was these successful models that triggered the concept of the Oyster 495, a model that achieved instant success with long lists of orders and accolades.  

Such success has in turn continued to drive his investment in the expansion of the team and facilities, including the new state-of-the-art facility in Hythe near Southampton, the home of the 495.

But his investment in the future goes further. His passion for maintaining and growing traditional British boat-building skills led him to launch the Oyster Apprenticeship scheme to ensure Oyster has the skills to sustain Great Britain’s boat-building trades and techniques.

“People are at the heart of Oyster,” he says, “from those who imagine, design and build them to those who own and love them. We think of ourselves as a tight-knit family, supporting and inspiring each other with the adventures that we undertake, the tales we tell and the lasting memories we create.”

bluewater sailing yacht v2
565 cruising on the water

Now & the future 

As the model range has grown and developed over the last 50 years, so too has the company. From a standing start in 1973 to 600 employees today working across six sites, the growth has been substantial. With key centres such as brokerage and sales and commissioning in the UK, servicing, charter and brokerage out of Palma, as well as an office in Newport USA, Oyster has a large international footprint in the industry.

Since Richard Hadida took ownership of the company, the turnover has gone from circa £30 million to circa £70 million. And while sales have been strong across the range, the fact that more Oyster 885s have been sold in the last three years than in the previous six speaks volumes for the change that has taken place. But so too does the fact that the tally for the newest and smallest boat in the fleet is already up to boat number 18.  

These are facts and figures that CEO Ashley Highfield knows off the top of his head. But he is also keen to point out that this transformation hasn’t been solely down to developments within the business alone, people have changed too, and he believes that Oyster owners have played a big part.

“One obvious change is a societal shift where people want to have adventures and experiences with friends and family while also sharing them more widely through digital media,” he says. “But even more significantly, many are less interested in simply owning an asset for the sake of it and more interested in what that asset enables them to do.

“We now see that more than half of the yachts that go into our world rally have been bought new, specifically to take part in the event. We see that trend only increasing and this means that it is natural that we should look at how we help our owners to get the best out of the rally and their yachts. Some people want to do it largely by themselves and just know that we are there as a backup plan. But increasingly, others want a full service from us and full support.

“I want to make sure that we can enable that safely, in luxury, to provide people with the experience of a lifetime, with whatever level of support they want.

“So, this means putting the owners and those friends and families’ experiences right at the front of what we do and that's made me focus the business on the end-to-end lifelong relationship we have with our owners. We need to make it clear that we are there for them all the way, while at the same time building the world's finest bluewater cruising yachts which they can use as their platform to adventure.”

“To achieve this has meant investing strongly in new methodologies to ensure we remain on top of budget and quality control. We’ve been doing this across the whole business, but the best example is our Hythe facility, which is a showcase for our modern production methodologies as it highlights the benefits of modularisation. By building more modules, like the heads, the engine room and other key elements and components such as the wiring looms, off the boat before then installing them, means we can build more efficiently. The result is that workflow improves, productivity goes up and so does the quality. We started the process on the 565 and the 595 and the results have been exceptional.

So, this means putting the owners and those friends and families’ experiences right at the front of what we do and that's made me focus the business on the end-to-end lifelong relationship we have with our owners.
Ashley Highfield, Oyster CEO
50 foot sailing yacht sailing at sea

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Oyster at 50 marks an exceptional journey. From humble beginnings through extraordinary growth, from essential founding principles to an outstanding lineup of world-renowned luxury bluewater cruisers, the evolution of Oyster Yachts has continued throughout half a century and continues to do so.

The challenges of the future to create more sustainable ways of enjoying a sport that starts with the natural advantage of sail power is also a large part of the thinking for many. Ideas and developments in this area are being driven by a generation of owners, designers and craftsmen and women that are focused on creating extraordinary adventures while looking at new efficient and green ways of creating and running the next generation of boats.

But Oyster’s story and success are about far more than setting high targets and achieving them. The continual development throughout the range has been driven by the ambitions and aspirations of the owners, staff and sailors who have fed their experiences back into the Oyster community.

By remaining true to their founding principles, strength of construction, performance, and quality, they have successfully informed and inspired owners, while at the same time listening to what makes them the perfect bluewater cruiser. This approach and the ability of their yachts to go anywhere in safety, luxury, and comfort, has successfully made the new generation bluewater cruisers as relevant today as they have been over the last 50 years.

So, whether it be coastal cruising, high latitude expeditions, or circumnavigations, the experiences of those in the Oyster family have been the biggest influence of all in the success of both the company and the models it produces.

Oyster at 50 has been no ordinary journey.


sailing yacht 80foot


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