The green shift in yachting – engaging at a new level

The green shift in yachting – engaging at a new level

The superyacht industry is being transformed by a new generation of owners as concerned with sustainability as they are with luxury. This shift in priorities is reflected in superyacht pioneers opting for advanced sustainable technologies that are powering increased decarbonization in the broader marine market.

“The way we see it, when it comes to improving sustainability in the yachting industry, it is not a matter of if, but when,” says Paris Baloumis, Group Marketing Director at Oceanco, leading superyacht builder. “Awareness of the environment is shifting on every level, but impactful change is ultimately driven by the demands of the clients and the ability of builders to deliver. The majority of our clients want to enjoy responsible yachting. It is our job to deliver luxury and sustainability together; they are not mutually exclusive.”

Oceanco's visionaty superyacht Tuhura featuring contra-rotating Azipod® propulsion from ABB
Oceanco's visionaty superyacht Tuhura featuring contra-rotating Azipod® propulsion from ABB

The new generation of owners demand sustainable yachts that match their value sets, Baloumis continues. “They take pride in the performance of onboard technology. The extent of their interest in specific technical systems depends on their background, but the more technically minded owners do enjoy being at the forefront of this wave of change.”

He cites the owner of Black Pearl, widely recognized for its eco-friendly credentials when it was delivered in 2017. With an engineering background, the owner was highly motivated to build a yacht with pioneering sustainable systems: “Perhaps the most interesting innovation is this yacht’s ability to regenerate power by fully utilizing her sail area, allowing her to cross the Atlantic without burning a single drop of fossil fuel. It is safe to say that the owner is extremely proud of what we achieved together.”

Partnering across the industry

Oceanco’s NXT initiative gathers experts from inside and outside the yachting industry with the aim of melding innovation and sustainability to transform how the world sees superyachts, Baloumis says. “NXT offers new perspectives on future demands by reflecting across industries, with the ultimate goal of zero impact on the environment.”

NXT member Giles Taylor, Vice President of Design at FAW Group and a former Rolls-Royce design director, notes the impact of younger superyacht owners. The predominant equation connecting length, deck space and interior volume no longer fits with how they want to live their lives, he says. “The challenge designers face is to imagine yachts as ocean-borne spaces that will attract environmentally aware millennials who believe that the ocean serves as a mirror to their green principles and an inspiration to be part of a future that is more in tune with a sustainable human-nature existence.”

Tommy Kleerekoper, Founding Partner and Director at architecture and interior design studio TANK, sees the definition of ‘luxury living’ as a moving target: “Our clients have an ever-changing global lifestyle. The yachting industry has been holding onto an old view of luxury, with an abundance of materialization. The new generation shrugs their shoulders at this approach and prefers a lighter way of life, where status lies less in physical products and more in access to freedom of use, freedom for the eye and freedom for the mind. Luxury is not about owning more, but about what we own being more meaningful and in harmony with our values.”

Less need for speed

The technologies that capture owners’ interest are shifting as well, Baloumis reports: “Speed used to be a primary concern for yacht owners, but today the most requested technical features relate to sustainability and comfort such as silent operations, noise and vibrations and increased autonomy. This translates into the capability for longer periods at sea without port calls, which also relates to demands for lower fuel consumption and increased operational efficiency.”

Baloumis notes that silent operations, including reduced noise and vibrations from the technical systems, heighten comfort levels and are considered an indicator of high quality in a yacht. “Vibration also has the potential to damage structures onboard through resonance, which can cause fractures, so lower levels of vibration will also convey a long-term benefit to the yacht itself.”

James Roy, Managing Director of Lateral Naval Architects, another NXT member, emphasizes the benefits of owning a zero emission yacht: “Zero emission technologies such as batteries or fuel cells allow us to engineer yachts that can be quieter, cleaner, and simpler in construction than internal combustion powered yachts. These technologies ensure the highest standards of comfort onboard while potentially allowing more flexibility in the overall layout of the vessel, with the elimination of exhaust and intake trunks, casings and associated equipment.”

Those same design features also harmonize with the most desired destinations, he says. “Geographical areas of outstanding natural beauty and global significance are increasingly becoming designated as zero carbon emissions areas. For clients who seek unrestricted access to the most beautiful parts of the world, some element of zero emissions operation will therefore become increasingly critical.”

Beyond these practical and local benefits, Roy observes that his clients are genuinely passionate about the effects of their activities on the global environment. “In many cases they see the need to innovate on technology and operate above and ahead of regulations. For many of our clients, this desire to innovate in itself can be a key reason to progress with a large project like a superyacht.”

Applying appropriate standards

Addressing the overall footprint of the industry, Roy notes that much is being done to improve yachting’s eco profile from the design and build perspective: “The most common methods of quantifying the environmental impact of commercial shipping, such as the Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI), are not necessarily good indicators of the efficiency of a yacht.” Nor do such methods reflect or reward many of the innovative approaches taken by yacht builders to improve actual vessel efficiency and reduce environmental impact from operations, he points out.

Oceanco Shipyard
Oceanco Shipyard

In response, Roy relates that the Water Revolution Foundation has assembled a large joint industry team including nearly all major superyacht builders and industry stakeholders to create a superyacht-specific design index called the Yacht Environmental Transparency Index, or YETI. “It is the aspiration of all members that by having a means of intelligently measuring and assessing the impact of the de-sign and engineering of a yacht, clients and builders will be encouraged to make the right technical decisions to authentically reduce the environmental impact of new build yachts.”

Alliance of owners and OEMs

Roy tells of the increasing importance of alliances between owners and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs): “As the average superyacht becomes larger and longer, the overlap in power and performance between yachting, cruise, scientific survey vessels and naval vessels increases, which is resulting in a spread of technology in all directions. This allows superyacht builders the option to de-risk custom, one-off superyachts by using proven systems provided by large OEMs. In many cases, this also allows for a higher level of system integration than has been previously possible on smaller yachts.”

He goes on to confirm the ‘trickle-down’ effect of superyachts on the marine industry, comparable to racing in automotive or aerospace in aviation, where cutting-edge technologies find their way to the consumer market: “The most obvious example is in the application of wind assisted propulsion for commercial shipping, where a variation of the Dynarig sailing system employed on the sailing yachts Maltese Falcon and Black Pearl is being actively researched for use on commercial shipping vessels.”

The abatement of local pollutants in yachting is also at the forefront of technology, Roy says: “Exhaust after-treatment systems have been standard on newbuild yachts for many years. The newer versions of these systems not only exceed the requirements of Environmental Protection Agency’s Tier 4 and the International Maritime Organization’s Tier III for NOx, but also eliminate over 98 percent of fine particulate matter. As city and port areas look to tighten local emissions standards, similar solutions will be required for a broader range of vessel types.”

Riding the first wave

Roy underscores the unique role that the superyacht industry can play in the green shift at sea: “Undoubtedly, superyachting has different drivers from commercial marine operations. While the CAPEX and OPEX of systems are very important to our clients, they are generally less constrained in this area than most commercial operators. Also, a percentage of the yacht market is certainly open to taking higher levels of commercial and technical risk on large projects. We anticipate that this will manifest itself in yachts being in the first wave of vessel types to embrace the use of zero-carbon alternative fuels. It is possible that this may kick-start infrastructure development and lower the risk for using this technology on other vessel types.”

For the world’s wealthiest philanthropists, Roy believes there is an opportunity to leave a legacy through their investments in superyachts: “This is one way to advance the engineering and science towards zero-emission shipping. Our job in the industry is simply to make a compelling proposition for these investments.”

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