To the casual observer, it may appear to be a case of ‘business as usual’ for yacht design and production specialists – the business in question being extremely profitable, in comparison to most other vessel sectors. However, some parties might rightly object to the term ‘as usual’, given the amount of innovation underway within this sector.
One such company well placed to comment on these changes is Norway-headquartered naval architect and interior designer YSA Design (formerly Yran & Storbraaten Architects), which has been crafting blueprints for megayachts and cruise vessels since 1985.
In some respects, it can be difficult to pin down and describe ‘trends’ within this sector: as YSA Design senior architect and partner Trond Sigurdsen puts it: “Designing a yacht is like designing a house for somebody – it’s so personal.” All the same, while yacht design does ultimately hinge on individual taste, he and industrial designer Jonas Aabel have noted some recurring and common themes that distinguish modern superyachts and megayachts from their forebears 10 to 20 years ago.
“Some yachts are becoming so complex that they are, in fact, small cruise ships,” Sigurdsen opines. Helipads, doctor’s offices and medical/health-related equipment have found their way onto megayachts in recent years. “There has been a lot of emphasis on the medical side; there could well be somebody in the owner’s family who has a medical issue,” he continues.
The ability to remain in touch with business colleagues is also proving a deal-breaker for some owners. It’s traditionally been assumed that ‘playtime’ has begun as soon as a CEO steps aboard his or her yacht. However, Aabel adds: “There’s some degree for flexibility – the yacht’s not just a ‘luxury home’ on the sea. So, we’re seeing increased demand for onboard business and conference facilities, as well as for cinemas.”
And to further puncture the stereotype of the ‘typical yachtowner’, he recalls contracts in which it has been vital to provide onboard “activities for kids”. Aabel says: “This wasn’t too notable in previous years – but yachtowners are likely to have kids, and even grandkids, who also need to be entertained.”
Similarly, while many owners do relish the opportunity to bake on deck beneath a Mediterranean sun, Sigurdsen has observed increasing demand for Explorer-type yachts, enabling customers to “get closer to nature, put down anchor and explore landscapes”, he says, adding: “It’s not just about mooring and looking good.” Given the opportunities for land exploration, the ‘usual’ yachtboard toys, such as tenders and jet skis, are also giving way to vehicles, including sports cars.
Naturally, the above considerations have led to a corresponding increase in vessel size: yacht lengths in excess of 100m are gradually becoming more common. This can create a challenge for shipyards, Sigurdsen notes, especially those which have drydocks “just shy of what is needed”. It is also important, on these larger vessels, to ensure that the owner and guests are able to “get close to the water, and on the water”, a process that usually necessitates the construction of flexible platforms at the aft. As an interior design feature, selecting and positioning the right types of glass to enable greater dispersion of natural light below deck can also be challenging.
Many designers have also seized on technologies (such as gyrostabilisers) and design methodologies created to enhance vessel stability and crew and guest comfort. Sigurdsen notes: “There has also been a lot of progess in bow design: we are incorporating designs that can cut through the waves at high speed with minimal pitch, instead of banging against them, like typical 1970s-built clipper bows, which used to increase fuel consumption and deteriorate comfort on board.”
And, in addition to recognising and meeting changing customer requirements, YSA Design is keen to evolve its own particular design vision through a policy of company growth. Sigurdsen explains: “We’re getting in a lot of young people at the moment – we have a new, young Italian designer joining in 2018, with more to follow. It’s always good to have a fresh set of eyes on these projects.”