ANNAPOLIS -- Chantiers Beneteau S.A., the world's largest yacht builder, will move its U.S. headquarters from Annapolis to Charlotte, N.C., this month to be closer to the company's South Carolina manufacturing operation.

Beneteau's U.S. president, Christian Iscovici, said last week that the move also will give executives and customers a more convenient air travel link.

"New owners and dealers like to visit their boats while they are being manufactured. We will be better equipped to coordinate all facets of our sales and after-sales operation with such ideal proximity to the plant," Iscovici said.

Mick Blackistone, executive director of the Marine Trades Association of Maryland, called the decision a big loss for Annapolis and Maryland.

"Any time you can have a yachting headquarters here, it makes the city a focal point for the marine community. Beneteau has been a focal point for the last several years," Blackistone said.

Industry observers said fewer than 10 people worked at the headquarters.

Beneteau, based in France, opened its Marion, S.C., manufacturing plant in October 1986. The facility and an aggressive marketing program combined to triple Beneteau's sales in the first quarter of fiscal 1988, Iscovici said.

Chantiers Beneteau recorded sales of $93 million in 1986.