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Advancing sailing technology with safety in mind

The evolution of sailing technology has heightened the focus on safety on board sailing yachts as designs and rigs become more daring and new speed records are set all the time. DNV continues to expand its rig certification services to help owners optimize performance without sacrificing safety.

Superyachts have undergone a tremendous development in recent years. "Until about 15 years ago, sailing yachts were rarely more than 30 metres long. Today, with superyachts of up to 100 metres and longer, we are dealing with an entirely different set of dimensions and physical forces. Masts are simply a lot higher," says Christoph Wähling, Principal Engineer at DNV. He has raced in offshore and inshore competitions in a myriad of yachting classes from the Farr 40 up to Maxi classes and witnessed the development of sailing yacht technology leading to ever higher speeds and physical stresses for yachts and their rigging. Today his professional focus is on superyacht rig certification. 

Longer, faster ships and taller masts

"Growing superyacht sizes have major implications for safety," explains the expert. "Yachts from 24 metres and up – with the majority of today’s vessels in the 40- to 50-metre range – are mostly some kind of commercial vessel: They have permanent crews and are chartered to third parties. This means that they are subject to flag state safety rules and classification requirements. Flag states have an interest in a clean safety record of their fleets and require sailing yacht rigs to be approved and certified by an independent body." 

Wide range of services for specific operating conditions

DNV’s sailing rig services cover flag state requirements, like the Red Ensign Group Yacht Code’s ‘Superyacht Rig Certification’, with its Part A – Large Yacht Code and Part B – Passenger Yacht Code. Only the latter requires the spars to be certified, but both require rigging certification and personnel protection. 

"DNV’s expertise in this field is well known and often expressly requested," says Wähling. "We do much more than just putting a stamp on the rig design. We provide technical information, perform independent calculations and discuss the results with the client," he stresses. "Our clients appreciate this very much because a rig is a much more complex engineered system than many people think. We have found that most of our clients want more than a stamp for their rig." DNV will perform an objective, independent examination, assess compliance with the applicable standard and issue the certificate if everything looks good.  

Assessment helps to get a realistic picture of the rig’s performance conditions

The question is how the analyses are performed, says Wähling. "We offer our clients a cooperative experience where we ask them about the anticipated operating conditions for their ship, then carry out our calculations based on our formulas and discuss the implications with the client in an iterative process. These conversations sometimes uncover weak spots in the rig manufacturer’s design that need to be addressed. While the client has no influence on our assessments, the client’s input helps us make sure we get the full picture. We not only give the client a well-founded second opinion but also a different perspective that is based on our expertise. That is our unique selling proposition: We go beyond the stamp!" This coordinated approach ensures that the rig certification or classification will be based on realistic assumptions, Wähling adds. 

Arctic sailing poses special challenges to rigs

More and more superyacht owners are showing an interest in exploring remote sea regions. At the same time, they have rediscovered the eco-friendly aspects of sailing and are increasingly viewing pleasure yachting as an opportunity to combine luxury with an expressly and visibly eco-friendly mindset.  

When planning trips to remote areas – for example, sailing through the North-West Passage – extra precautions must be taken to ensure material and functional integrity, says Wähling: "Arctic sailing is a huge challenge for a yacht and its rigging." He mentions the 56-metre ketch ‘Rosehearty’ which underwent DNV Arctic Sailing certification before venturing to the extreme north.  

DNV supports the design of efficient and safe rigs

"Our sailing rig service portfolio covers a comprehensive range of analyses and checks. We assess relevant load case scenarios and global stiffness, perform strain analyses and physical surveillance, review structural plans and attend sea trials for functionality checks, just to name some key aspects," Wähling notes. "Furthermore, with masts getting taller and taller, the risk of lightning strike increases, presenting yet another issue we have to look into." 

Superyacht designers, owners, managers and captains turn to DNV’s long legacy of sailing expertise for advice, both when creating efficient, safe rigs and for ongoing safe operations and smart servicing. The reference list is extensive, including such iconic projects as the near-zero-emission 106.7-metre superyacht ‘Black Pearl’ with three 70-metre DynaRig masts; the wooden masts of the racing schooner ‘Germania Nova’, a replica of a 1908 yacht; wind-assisted propulsion systems for Greenpeace; the world’s largest high-performance ketch, the 86-metre ‘Aquijo’; the 67-metre megayacht ‘Hetairos’, the largest two-mast carbon fibre racing yacht, and many more.  

On-board personnel needs training under the Yacht Code

Even on a superyacht with space for no more than twelve passengers, the number of beds may be close to 100, Wähling points out. "These ships are chartered along with the crew and service personnel, from a helicopter pilot and physical therapist to kitchen staff." 

To do rig maintenance, qualified crew members have to be lifted up into the rigging using special hoisting equipment which itself is subject to regulations. "There are new areas of interest in rig safety – or more importantly, flag state-required 'Protection of Personnel' requirements," Wähling explains. "They include crow’s nest approval, safety when working on bowsprits and regulations for working aloft, including at boom height. The safety of superyacht sailing rigs and of personnel working in the periphery of rigs will always remain a priority for us at DNV and for our clients. We take pride in pursuing this goal without compromising creativity and innovation."

An evolving landscape for rig certification and classification

In the context of wind-assisted propulsion systems (WAPS), sailing technology is evolving and moving out of the superyacht and racing niches into commercial shipping. This means that definitions are changing – for example, what differentiates a yacht from a passenger vessel or commercial cargo ship, or what constitutes a vessel’s main propulsion system. Flag states are watching these developments closely, responding with appropriate requirements to keep sailing safe and build risk awareness. As a certification and classification body, DNV will always follow suit and offer custom-tailored services, Wähling stresses.  

"Today’s sailing vessels are safer than those of the past but also much more powerful and incorporate complex technology and materials – with the potential for catastrophic failure. This is where we step in and identify potential vulnerabilities or hidden risks. It is our job to minimize these risks, and we intend to keep providing our expert services and be involved in the development of sailing rigs and WAPS when greenhouse gas emissions have stopped being an issue," Wähling emphasizes. "Whether for superyachts or commercial vessels or whatever hybrid convergence may evolve in between." 

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Christoph Wähling

Christoph Wähling

Principal Engineer, Hull Structure & Outfitting

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