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Fresh ideas for collaboration

At the top of the superyacht design game, Espen Øino shares his thoughts on working with class and improving regulations and the ownership experience.

As a naval architect specializing in yacht design, Espen Øino looks at rules and regulations in general, and classification in particular, from a different angle than most shipbuilders would. In this interview in his new offices at the entrance to Port Hercule, Monaco, he provides some food for thought and some suggestions regarding the direction the segment is taking as it embraces the green agenda and digitalization.

Mr Øino, what is on your mind today?

Espen Øino: Take a look at this — a Windy Limousine Tender. She is 12.5 metres long and has two 400 hp engines that can make her go 40 knots, with up to 22 people on board. She was designed to a specific set of rules called MGN 280 (marine guidance notes), a British invention, connected with ISO, that ensures there is sufficient stability and lifesaving appliances aboard for safe operation. What I am thinking is this: why should we not do the same for superyachts? She is due for delivery to the yard next week and has hardly any hump as she gets planing, which is comfortable for guests.

How many projects are you working on?

Øino: Strictly confidential! We always have some ten boats in contract. It sounds a lot but in reality you know the time frame is four to five years or more. For full-on, detailed design we probably have five boats at any given time. Quite a few are DNV GL-class. We don’t release information — we prefer to leave publicity to the shipyards if you need renderings.

Do clients request specific classification societies?

Øino: It is very rare that clients request to build to a specific rule. It seems to be more about working relationships shipyards have with class societies and the yards advise the client. But we do occasionally advise clients for example, in the past we have done some very high-performance yachts where, in my view, DNV GL had a better approach and more experience. They are really one of the pioneers in lightweight structures and have a more genuine approach to problem-solving. Moon Goddess and Shooting Star, 35 and 38-metre carbon-fibre yachts by Danish Yachts, are fast yachts we’ve done with DNV GL.

Do builders tend to stick to one society?

Øino: Builders often have a preference and it may be down to personal working relationships between the shipyard and the surveyor. Also they may have had some good or bad experience with turnaround time for drawings and approval. Some surveyors may be more proactive than others, and there may be workload issues, with one snowed under and another with time to allocate. But my experience is that – on the larger boats – we are doing more and more with DNV GL.

Safer, Smarter, Greener is the DNV GL motto. Do you feel the industry is becoming greener?

Øino: There was an LNG cruise ship launched last week. LNG is a greener option than diesel, and we’ve discussed it with shipowners. The problem is that energy density is much lower, so you need more space on board for the package, which means you have to take out ‘real estate’ – which may be less critical on a cruise ship than on a yacht. Normally ships do set routes. But yachts are inherently associated with the freedom to go anywhere you want. We design yachts with banks of batteries already. One very large project we are working on now is the REV project, a very public project, launching in 2020. REV has a waste incinerator that doesn’t emit any harmful gases, it has heat recovery etc. The owner signed this boat up to The Giving Pledge so he will pay towards the running costs and make it available to researchers. Rather like Monaco Explorations’ Yersin, but clearly much bigger and with far more extensive research facilities, bigger cranes, moon pool and the latest equipment.

Do owners actually bring up environmental topics at the brief stage?

Øino: Yes, since about a year ago; before that it was mostly journalists talking green. I can sense a change. People are genuinely concerned, or want to be perceived as being so, which is good anyway. Don’t forget, people on yachts don’t want to sit with plastic drifting by and muck in the water around them!

Are we going to see an “efficiency ranking” one day?

Øino:Yes, we are working with somebody at the moment to see if we can establish a rating system for boats that is similar to the energy efficiency rating for houses. We go all the way back to building materials. For example, aluminium is lightweight and energy-efficient in use, similar to a lighter car which uses less energy when accelerating and braking. On the other hand, aluminium is energy-intensive to produce.

To what extent do regulations influence the design of a yacht?

Øino: Absolutely – they do to a very large extent. However, luckily we have no rules or regulations for the aesthetic part of the design. If you compare yachts to houses and land-based designs you have all sorts of people sitting down deciding what kind of windows to allow and so on. If you compare to houses & landbased designs where you have all sorts of committees sitting deciding what aesthetics to authorise, at least yacht design is not restricted by ‘style councils’!

What would be on your “wish list” for future regulations?

Øino: My wish list is very simple! It would be to come up with a set of rules and regulations that better reflect the real use of yachts – which is basically one of coastal cruising. There are very rarely passengers aboard for ocean passages. For example, the tender we designed can carry 22 people; ferries operate to coastal restrictions carrying many more people. We are all pro-safety and don’t want casualties, but if you look at how a yacht carrying twelve passengers – or 36 – is engineered and built to comply with rules and then you go on a fast ferry, on which craft would you start thinking: ‘What is the concept here if something goes wrong?’ It’s like living in two different worlds.

So, I would welcome a fresh and new approach to the safety concept for larger yachts, even smaller yachts. We have the ability to carry many more passengers than we do. Occasionally we may have parties on board, where you have deck space for hundreds, and it is always complicated. It is OK in port but at anchor you have to have boats around you to get them off.

It is a fragile industry, even though it has grown in the last three decades and it appears to be resilient. But we are making things more and more complicated in design and engineering, adding to the cost of building, and then on the operational side, with working hours and so on. I would like to see an all-new, fresh, blank-sheet approach to safety, much simplified and with a lot of common sense!

Do you see any imminent major changes in the market, and what is Espen Øino International’s main expertise?

Øino: I’ve been thinking for many years that the market for big yachts will come to an end – but I’ve been proved wrong over and over again. Being naval architects with a technical background is our main strength. This is very useful when building complex boats. For creative naval architecture you need to understand things like stability!

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