Many may consider the terms ‘sustainable’ and ‘superyacht’ to be oxymorons. Tesla, BMW and Renault are leading the way in hybrid and electric cars, but can similar things be achieved in the world of yachting? And how do such new technologies affect the creative process and innovations in design?
A team at German shipyard Nobiskrug Superyachts is currently developing a system where all the glass on a yacht can produce power. Over at Dutch rival Feadship, the group has recently launched the 83.5m Savannah, a ‘hybrid’ superyacht incorporating green technology throughout.
“Many innovations are based on increasing sustainability,” says Ronno Schouten, head of design at Feadship. “Today it will actually be very hard to present a new innovation that does not take the environmental load into account.”
Marnix Hoekstra of yacht designers Vripack, speaking in relation to how sustainability is affecting the design process, says: “I don’t think innovation should be a struggle with anything — from class and regulations to taxes and sustainability — particularly with the yacht industry as it’s the most personal object that anyone can have built for themselves. Sustainability can certainly be inserted into that process.”
Josef Hargrave, associate and global foresight manager for engineering and design firm Arup, says: “Both the yacht and car industry are driven by similar trends, so there is a natural overlap in innovations. Some examples are the shift to automated driving; a greater focus on usage over ownership; the need to improve environmental standards; the increased use of materials such as carbon fibre; and the exploration of new drive trains such as electric, hybrid or hydrogen motors.”
We may have our first official ‘hybrid’ superyacht, but this is merely the tip of the iceberg. Ronno Schouten, head of design at Feadship, points to automotive technologies — such as autonomous driving or sailing, further progress in hybrid systems, battery technology, and advanced, lightweight and intelligent materials — all being used in yachting
Others focus on the differences between the two disciplines. Kiran Jay Haslam, marketing director of Princess Yachts, says: “Cars and yachts are so different. In terms of progressive designs and outrageous leaps in development, automotive is a glorious sector. However, as it has transitioned into mostly large corporate structures, a lot of the personality has been left behind. It leaves the ‘hands-on’ marine industry in a very dynamic and exciting position to stay small, unique and adaptive.”
UK-based Sunseeker is focusing on energy efficiency and borrowing from neighbouring industries in its new builds. Simon Clare, head of marketing at Sunseeker, says: “Having worked in both industries [automotive and yacht], I can certainly see some strong synergies but there are some significant differences. The production process is still very manually focused in boat building, much of it being quite literally hand-crafted. This allows far more opportunities for personalisation for owners, which is a clear benefit over the car industry. However, even these processes can and have been improved upon with more automotive-style structure and governance to improve efficiencies and controls.”
He adds: “The design process for boats is obviously fundamentally different to cars but it has been influenced by advances in CAD technologies from the automotive and aerospace industries. Sunseeker, for example, uses a significant amount of carbon fibre in the construction process and this is especially important in large items where less weight is crucial, such as flybridge hard-tops.”
Will we still be able to control and ensure that the sustainability of such designs are matched with innovation? Hargrave says: “Innovation increasingly equals sustainability from new materials that enable weight reduction, for example. In the longer term, I think that more yachts will become self-sufficient entities, with systems to reuse and recycle water, on-board food production and electricity generations through solar skins. None of this is likely to be mainstream soon, but for those clients that are wanting to be different and share a sustainable image, these innovations will be key.”
So while the ‘green’ movement gains traction and speed in the world of yachts and there are teams of people looking to lower the carbon footprint of your toys, this can potentially be achieved without diluting the coolest technologies and most forward-thinking designs.