Making Waves

The superyacht industry is finally sprouting some green roots.

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A number you’ll often hear touted around the marinas, moorings and cruising grounds of the superyacht universe is the cost of ownership. While most non-sailors focus on the astronomical price of these vast bespoke objects, consider how much they cost to keep afloat. Captains, commentators and industry observers agree that the annual running costs of a typical superyacht (i.e. those vessels above 24m in length that require a permanent crew, depending on the jurisdiction) is about 10% of its purchase price. With the largest vessels costing in the tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars, such bills must give even the deepest-pocketed yachting enthusiast pause for thought.

Increasingly, there are ways of keeping costs down, the most obvious of which is to minimise the amount of energy a yacht consumes, not only when it’s steaming away to power all the comforts of home.

A green superyacht sounds like an oxymoron, but the marine environment is one of the most carefully regulated in the world.

The bigger the boat, the more rigorous the rules that govern it, with everything from waste management to staffing requirements and safety systems prescribed and policed. Shipping is responsible for 2% of all greenhouse gas emissions and anyone who’s stood in a working port will be familiar with the ominously rich smell of naval diesel engines. Alternative fuels like liquefied natural gas and ultimately hydrogen fuel cells are being explored, but more and more big shipyards are also exploring the role of hybrid systems.

There’s also the issue of waste. At the start of 2018 the Polar Code came into law, a long-awaited set of rules from the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to govern the way vessels operate at the North and South Pole. These are some of the most pristine, unspoilt environments on the planet, and the brutish, grimy ice-breakers of old might have expanded our nautical horizons but didn’t do much for their surroundings. All vessels over 500 GT must comply with the Code, which includes the crew to be specially trained. These regulations have come into force at a time when those who commission and charter superyachts are starting to look further afield from traditional Mediterranean and Caribbean destinations. The emerging trend for expedition yachts has seen bigger and more luxurious boats venturing further and further into these far-flung waters. Companies like Damen and Vitruvius are now building luxury expedition yachts from scratch, rather than converting brutish merchant or military vessels to private use. With such ability comes responsibility, and specialist companies like Safe Arctic Technology in Newfoundland are being established to train and equip the superyacht industry to operate safely and legally in these new environments.

Home, superyacht by Heesen
‘Home’ by the Dutch shipyard Heesen

All marine environments demand a lighter footprint. Perhaps the most obvious application of eco-friendly technology is in the growing use of hybrid and all-electric drive systems. At the 2017 Monaco Yacht Show, the Dutch shipyard Heesen debuted ‘Home’, an elegant 50m superyacht with a hybrid powertrain. Hybrids offer multiple benefits to yachts of this scale, not least the savings they bring to fuel-ravenous engines. By giving owners the option to run silently, whether navigating close to the coast or moored in a port, the absence of generators is a welcome respite from noise, let alone fumes. Another leading shipyard, Feadship, has presented a series of FFC projects (‘Feadship Future Concepts’) since 2006, each illustrating how new low-energy technologies might filter into high-end design. In 2015, the yard also completed the 83.5m Savannah, the world’s first hybrid superyacht. Offering up to 30% efficiency savings over an equivalent-sized conventional boat, Savannah showed that imperious scale was not incompatible with a low energy profile.

Perhaps superyachts will never be truly eco-friendly; their sheer size and ostentation make them hard to defend. But the industry is increasingly mindful of its image and the tightening of regulations – together with many owners’ desire to stay as low profile as possible – will lead to leaner, greener and less OTT yachts. And although pure electric power isn’t an option for a big boat, on smaller vessels it starts to make much more sense. A number of speedboat manufacturers have all-electric concepts and products in the offing, including Edorado Marine in the Netherlands, the Dasher from American shipyard Hinckley and the new Q30 from Q Yachts. All demonstrate that zero emission can be synonymous with elegance and performance. More prosaically, Amsterdam has stipulated that all its canal cruisers must be electric-only by 2025, leading to a huge (and costly) programme of retro-fitting the city’s fleet. Expect other destinations like Venice to follow suit.

Silent 55, superyacht by Silent Yachts
Silent 55 by Silent Yachts

Owners of traditional sailing boats might look mockingly at their fellow sailors’ attempts to mitigate their impact on the ocean, given humankind’s many, many millennia of experience of using the wind and nothing else. Yet another sector is hoping to exploit the other infinite natural resource: solar energy. Silent Yachts’ Silent 55 is an ocean-going full-electric catamaran. The Austrian manufacturer has spent years developing a boat that ticks all the boxes, with a large area of solar panels covering the superstructure (hence the need for the broad footprint of the catamaran). With a projected maximum range of 100 miles in a day, the four-cabin yacht promises to truly live up to its name. Solar panels are also a key design feature of Arcadia Yachts’ new 105 model, which supplements its generators with 4.2Kw of power taken from roof mounted panels. The Turkish shipyard Nedship is another company with a solar catamaran in the offering, with its 42m Solar Dream, all suggesting that naval applications of this tried and tested technology will only continue to grow.

Arcadia 105, superyachts by Arcadia Yachts
105 by Arcadia, which features solar panels

The sheer scale of investment in private yachting drives innovation, as does the desire for novelty and ever more extreme displays of individuality. As regulations start to bite, we can expect to see sector’s environmental impact start to shrink, with benefits filtering down into all aspects of the marine industry.