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In Defense of Good Yacht Design

Michael Peters

Sightlines - February 2015

Crimes Against Nature

Defending yacht design from the influence of … boaters?

Yacht hull stability

While naval architects prefer designing the entire boat, we also regularly work with production builders providing hull-design and other services. On these occasions we work with in-house designers who specialize in exterior styling and layouts unique to their brands. This arrangement is often rewarding and works seamlessly with builders such as Hinckley, who hand us beautiful, nicely proportioned designs to work with. Other times we are required to work with very challenging designs that can only be described as dogs. Not just dogs, but butt-ugly junkyard dogs; the kind you would never want around your family.

The damnedest thing is, they blame you. They blame you for demanding these awful creations. If that is true, then you must want 5 pounds of shit in a 1-pound bag and not give a damn if it’s safe or what it looks like. The builders of these unfortunate things say they are only trying to respond to what you ask for. If you want space and you want headroom, they are willing to give it to you in spades, even as it sacrifices the boat beneath your feet. Just one look at these ugly things and you know something is wrong. Mother nature knows it too and it wants nothing to do with these boats. I am talking denial-of-physics ugly, real crimes against nature: Top-heavy, fat, bloated boats that don’t pass any stability calculations. Boats that accommodate huge interiors, but not head seas. Boats that really shouldn’t leave the dock.

It’s hard to believe it, but in the U.S. there are no stability requirements for pleasure boats above 20 feet. ABYC and the U.S. Coast Guard are silent on this issue. This is not true in Europe, where a boat must pass stability requirements in order to be sold. But in America boatbuilders are free to sell you any boat you care to buy. There are no standards in place to protect the unwitting buyer. In the absence of U.S. guidelines, my office designs to ISO 12217-1:2013 requirements for boats up to 24 meters. ISO stands for International Standards Organization. American-built boats, sold to Americans, don’t have to pass these international standards. I currently have a couple of projects on my desk that don’t even pass category D. That means these boats are considered unsafe in waves above just 20 inches. The builder still plans to go ahead with production, justifying themselves by pointing to their likewise guilty competition. Perhaps they should tie all their boats together side by side so they won’t tip over.

Europeans may get a pass on stability, but they are just as bad as Americans with regard to hull shape. They gladly sacrifice efficiency, ride, and seakeeping in favor of a fat hull for larger accommodations. The head designer for a large European manufacturer became quite pissed off when I suggested he was turning their boats into barges in an effort to fit his creative designs. Amazingly, creativity knows no bounds when it’s allowed to stick outside the hull. Interiors sell boats so why not sacrifice the hull? Is good seakeeping passé and has the very boat become obsolete in boating?  

Certainly the concept that the boat comes first does not do well against current market mandates. So you have to ask if boats are simply becoming real estate on the water? If this is the case I can’t help but think we are going about designing them completely the wrong way. Instead we should be developing boats like the Arcadia that look like a house stuck on a hull, with minimal power. Initially I hated it, but now I am growing to admire the honesty of its concept. It reflects how we use boats today and is the natural conclusion to market demands. Just putter out to your favorite anchorage in your house and enjoy a beautiful weekend on the water. The boat becomes the smallest factor in the equation.

Maybe we should just admit that the traditional concept of boating is outdated. Instead of designing boats with lots of power and styling them like giant cars, we should abandon all that and go the way of Arcadia. Maybe it should just be architecture on barge-like hulls that don’t attempt to go very far. You wouldn’t have to worry about the principles of naval architecture, because the problems would largely go away. It would be honest. Is this what you want in your future?

This is an active illustration of the laws of physics that govern the effects of a force on the water. Run your computer cursor over the "water" to exert a force on it, and watch how the water reacts. Then think about what a boat in that water would do to it—and the response it would elicit.

Bad things happen when you flout the laws of physics. Do you value on-the-water performance or interior volume? Let Michael know in the comments below.

This article originally appeared in the February 2015 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.