What distinguishes a yacht designer from a ship designer like myself? Practicality. Commercial ships only consider practicality; aesthetics never gets considered. Personally, I pine to see a little more beauty in commercial vessels. But this ruthless discipline of practicality provides unique insight into yacht design. Many yacht designers are equally qualified and use the same science as big ships. But yacht designers have different priorities. Marketability and aesthetics become major concerns. Those priorities may even force compromises against design practicality. Today we bring the perspective of ship designer to bear on what should be the most practical of all yacht designs: Blue water cruisers.
Before anyone sharpens their verbal pitchfork, I freely admit I am not an expert in yacht design. I mostly design commercial vessels like tugs, freighters, and ferries. This grants me a wonderful shift in priorities to inspect the yachting market. In the commercial world, we only care about safety, function, and cost. Beauty rarely enters into the discussion. I write not as a yachting expert, but as someone with a different perspective.
The perspective of practicality generates questions about the priorities of blue water sailing yachts. Every boat design is a compromise, and those compromises reveal our priorities. So why do designers expect that every yacht gets loaded to the gills with people? Look at Figure 1‑1.
This layout makes sense for evening or weekend trips. And to be fair, that particular vessel is a skippered charter boat. But you often see these same extremes on blue water cruisers. That catamaran offers approximately 85 m2 [918 ft2] of living space. Equivalent to a two bedroom apartment, and perfectly respectable for 2-4 people. However, pack in the design capacity of 9-10 people, and that leaves just 9.3 m2 [100 ft2] for each person. Roughly the size of a typical prison cell.  Can you live with that many people in close proximity for weeks on end? I thought cruising life was a luxury, not a prison sentence.
I love the attention to detail on yachts; every activity includes a dedicated space and furniture. From the cockpit on deck to the wine bottle holder built into the galley. The wine bottle holder shows nice attention to detail, and it recognizes what people normally do on the ship. Good priorities. We dedicate specific furniture to important equipment, like wine bottle holders and ventilated dish racks. But why doesn’t this extend to certain task spaces like the engine?
Why is the engine always snuck under the stairs like some juvenile Harry Potter character? Visible only through hidden panels. (Figure 2‑1) The engine, watermaker, generator, and other machinery are incredibly important life support equipment. And maintenance of that equipment forms a frequent enough task. So where is the machinery maintenance space?
Figure 2‑1: Compare Engine Rooms
In fairness to the designers, yachts present few good places to put an engine. It needs to be low in the hull, in areas already devoted to living accommodation. The only successful solution is a dedicated engine room, which takes valuable space from a cabin. What does an engine room say about our priorities? From my commercial world, safety trumps comfort. We devote space to maintaining important machinery, like the engine.
Take a simple risk analysis for a yacht. Imagine the main dining table breaks. What are the consequences? We all eat up in the cockpit. Not a huge loss. Now what if the watermaker stops? Water rationing and dehydration. Given the choice, I want that watermaker incredibly easy to find and fix. These are the risks that blue water cruisers must consider. So if you wish to a take a yacht offshore for weeks on end, why doesn’t life support and maintenance rank a higher priority in the boat layout?
Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Whether you seek a quiet moment or want to indulge in a personal hobby, we all need privacy from time to time. Few resources are more scarce on a yacht than privacy. Where do you go on the boat to get away from others? Not the main living area; that public space gets dominated by group activities. The galley, dining table, and main seating area all form one large room. The cockpit dominates all activities up on deck. The only other spaces on a yacht are sleeping cabins. Except that most cabins offer limited space, minimal storage, and no work surfaces or seating. (Figure 3‑1)
Designers often make up for the confinement with ample sized owner’s cabins. (Figure 3‑2) But in both cases, you face an area with little natural light, low ceilings, and minimal ventilation. Not the most relaxing circumstances. A yacht should serve as a haven to everyone onboard, not just the main group. Good private areas on a ship are extremely valuable and very hard to find. Why is that?
Yacht designers wisely consider all these questions and more before building a production sailing yacht. The choices they make offer us windows into the priorities of a modern recreational sailor. Don’t forget, shipbuilders design yachts in this fashion because they sell. Sales figures don’t lie; recreational sailors like the designs offered to them. I agree, these yachts offer beauty and elegance. But do they offer practicality? Can production yachts really claim they are the best design for a blue water cruiser? When isolated in the ocean on a Pacific crossing, what is more important: aesthetics or practicality?
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