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Designing superyachts for more than 12 passengers

With bigger superyachts being designed to accommodate more than the usual twelve passengers, rules are stricter for designers regarding signage, materials and safety features. DNV discusses the implications with two design experts.

When Alpha Marine delivered the first SOLAS-compliant yachts in the year 2000 – Alysia and Annaliesse, both 85 metres long – the designers and DNV as the classification society had charted unknown territory: Two worlds with seemingly incompatible priorities had found common ground, the world of luxury design where style and top-quality materials are everything, and the classification world where safety is the top criterion that determines what is feasible.

A trend towards larger passenger numbers

Several other superyachts designed to accommodate up to 36 or even more passengers have since been launched. Applying the SOLAS Regulations for Passenger Vessels to yachts and identifying materials that comply with regulations whilst satisfying the aesthetic and quality expectations of yacht owners are the two biggest challenges in such a project, says Nikos Dafnias, founder and Managing Director of Alpha Marine Ltd who is currently building a 91-metre mega yacht for 30 passengers.

Ensuring SOLAS compliance

The SOLAS requirements cover items such as enhanced intact and damage stability criteria, life-saving equipment including SOLAS-approved life and rescue boats and cranes, fire-fighting systems and installations as well as load line and various other engineering criteria. Finding compliant yacht-quality equipment and suitable approved materials was originally difficult but has become much easier in recent years, says Dafnias. 

Uncompromising approach to materials

“In our role as the interior designers and naval architects, we did not wish to use imitation materials, such as faux-wood, marble-effect, etc., but only original materials,” explains Dafnias. “The saying ‘all that glitters is not gold’ does not apply in this case. Everything should be what it appears to be and it should also be authentic. So the design should ‘conceal’ equipment such as the A Class doors, the steel B Class door frames but also the lifeboats and their cranes, etc. and additionally, distribute the wood allowed by Regulations using ‘smart’ design for fire load calculations. Furthermore, large quantities of marble and other stones were used and this increased the weight, which affected the stability of the vessel. This was yet another issue to solve, all the more taking into consideration the stricter SOLAS requirements.” 

PYC criteria are similarly challenging

Winch Design was the company that developed the interior design for the first yacht built to the Passenger Yacht Code (PYC). The latter is a code of practice published by the Red Ensign Group for yachts carrying 13 to 36 passengers. Director Jim Dixon confirms that finding suitable non-combustible materials that met the PYC criteria was the greatest challenge at that time. “A great number of existing traditional yacht materials were out of bounds, except in distinct cases and in small quantities, for example, all woods and wood veneers,” he points out. “Other non-combustible materials such as stone, marble and leathers were of course allowed and made extensive use of.” It took plenty of creative thinking to create the right look, tone and feel, he adds.

A great number of existing traditional yacht materials were out of bounds, except in distinct cases and in small quantities, for example, all woods and wood veneers.
Jim Dixon Director , Winch Design

New ideas and innovative materials

When Winch Design subsequently built the 85-metre Amatasia (ex Areti), it benefited from many lessons learnt as well as advances in the treatment of timber to make it fire-retardant. “Almost all of the public spaces, walls and part of the ceiling were covered in timber veneer, albeit thin, to create the overall look of a classically inspired timber yacht,” Dixon explains. With careful design and the assistance of yard and interior contractors, attractive solutions were found for tricky items such as the PYC-mandated safety lighting, he continues, where exceptionally thin veneers over light strips were used to allow the light to shine adequately through the veneer when switched on.

Cooperating with class to find solutions

In the case of Alpha Marine, the search for innovative interior design solutions involved fire tests on proposed alternative panels with wood veneer lining. “Special, non-toxic and non-combustible materials and glues were used in order to achieve the right outcome,” reports Nikos Dafnias. “In this effort, we collaborated closely with DNV, who were open-minded in facing this new challenge. The surveyors in charge examined our proposals with perceptive understanding. Their aim was that the vessel would comply with regulations but at the same time she would achieve the desired aesthetic result. We were actually walking on virgin soil. Since then, various marine manufacturers moved on to the production of dedicated equipment and materials that are now available, making designers’ lives easier,” Dafnias adds.

We collaborated closely with DNV, who were open-minded in facing this new challenge. Their aim was that the vessel would comply with regulations but at the same time she would achieve the desired aesthetic result.
Nikos Dafnias Founder & Managing Director , Alpha Marine Ltd

Alpha Marine has always handled the negotiations with the classification societies and flag authorities on behalf of the owner or shipyard, says Dafnias. “The reason is that yacht design – as a rule – requires advanced solutions, and the collaboration between the designer and the classification society is vital for successful implementation. This collaboration begins with the design and approvals, continues with the supervision of the construction and concludes with the issuance of the vessel’s certificates,” the design expert underlines.

The future of superyacht design

Acknowledging the new challenges of our time, ship and yacht designers are embracing a holistic approach, says Dafnias. When speaking about the “whole”, a word derived from the Greek “olos”, which means “all”, he says it is important to take a very broad perspective: “It is an undisputable fact that the ‘whole’, i.e. the overall product, is not just the sum of its parameters. As a coherent body, the ‘whole’ interacts with its components and vice-versa. At present, there is an effort to integrate into the design certain parameters that are difficult to model mathematically, such as social features, environmental impact cost, life cycle cost, etc., which are of immense importance.” In addition, he says, appropriate software needs to be developed to consider all these criteria. 

Both experts agree that much progress has been achieved since the first mega yachts for larger passenger numbers were built, and that engineers, designers and material suppliers have learnt to accommodate the indispensable safety requirements of SOLAS or the PYC without compromising aesthetics. Supported by class, this ship type has thus been turned into a success story.

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Martin Richter

Martin Richter

Ship Type Expert Yachts, Principal Engineer

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