The yachting industry is changing right in front of our eyes. Superyachts are becoming visually lighter and more closely resembling modern land architecture. In the era of great changes, there are typically those who accept change with enthusiasm, and those who are not ready for this brave new world. Around 30 years ago, when superyachts first appeared on the market, opinion also differed among yacht owners and industry enthusiasts: while some viewed the creations of young and ambitious designers with delight, others were unimpressed by the new concepts. Earlier still, in the 1960s, some yachtsmen remained loyal to wooden boats, while their neighbours in the marina were confidently navigating light fibreglass yachts. Time itself was the best referee in this dispute. Now, only those few connoisseurs go to sea on wooden motor and sailing boats, while yachts powered by diesel engines are causing many people to doubt their right to exist.
Today, the focus is on sustainable yachts. Superyacht owners have a greater interest in clean oceans, beaches, and lagoons than anyone else. Everybody knows how polluting fossil fuel is, but only a few are aware of how seriously the underwater world is suffering from yacht vibrations. Naturally, alternative types of engine will lead to changes on the yachting horizon.
We decided to discuss the future of the yachting industry with designers – who are the first to agree with the owner regarding the desired look of their new vessel. All of our interviewees have had a massive impact on superyacht exterior design in recent decades. Each has a different view on new materials and technologies, but all of them agree – the future of the yachting industry is in harmony with the ocean.
Today, we sat down with Espen Øino as to what lies ahead in designing the next generation of superyachts and beyond.
Espen Øino was studying naval architecture and dreamed of building sailing yachts, which are still popular in his homeland – Norway. However, one luckily won tender made him a well-known designer for superyachts. He is considered a designer who can change the look and the whole idea of a superyacht. This is the reason why many shipyards in the world – from Germany to Australia – are so proud to work with his studio – Espen Øino International.
How do you imagine the superyacht of the future?
EØ: I would like to think it’s possible – difﬁcult, but possible – to build a fully sustainable yacht. We have to be as sustainable as possible in whatever we do, and the best way to start is to reduce our energy requirements. When you are building a sustainable yacht, you should know that everything starts with the hull shape. Multihulls are probably the most efﬁcient. And you can get many more miles out of each liter of fuel if you use conventional fuel. A long time ago, buildings were built to be cool in a hot climate. They had thick walls, clever design and natural ventilation. I like to think it should be possible to repeat this on the larger yachts. They are all made of metal, and metal conducts heat very well. It is not insulating material, like stone or brick. The goal of yacht-building should be to design something that creates airﬂows. The one thing that our predecessors had at sea to help them cool down was a breeze. Using a clever design, you could have air gaps in between your decks to cool painted surfaces down, to avoid direct contact with the cabins below, and so on. Big opening doors and windows also help to create natural airﬂow on a yacht. Essentially creating more outside spaces will be another characteristic of yachts in the future. Inside spaces on the existing yachts are largely underused, especially if you are cruising in warm weather, and people are generally cruising in warm weather. A yacht like this would deﬁnitely look different, and some people might have difﬁculty accepting this look.
Is it the naval architect or designer’s task to create a modern superyacht?
EØ: The creative domain is open to everyone. Anybody can create something unique. From a technical point of view, if you are a naval architect or an engineer you probably have a better understanding of the fundamentals. Creating a new generation sustainable yacht is mainly down to common sense and logic. We are now working together with the Water Revolution Foundation, which is orchestrated by SYBAss (Superyacht Builders Association) with many yacht designers there. All of us are coming up with ideas, we are having round tables via video conferences where we discuss every aspect of yacht design. I think this is all great, it creates awareness and brings people together in trying to be more responsible, more sustainable. We should try to be leaders in this ﬁeld because the yachting industry has one problem: yachts do not produce anything, they're not carrying anything useful like big commercial ships, they're just carrying people for their pleasure.
Do you think that those shipyards that are not even considering hybrid boats have a future?
EØ: I think like in many other revolutions and transitions in the past there will be those who will disappear and those who will take active roles, risks and chances. For example, my forefathers used to build wooden rowing boats for four generations. My father was the ﬁrst not to build boats from wood because in the 60s, ﬁbre glass came onto the market and most wooden boat builders disappeared over two decades.
Every yacht in the future will have…?
EØ: More storage, dedicated space for video conferencing, classrooms for kids and more space for crew with gyms and open deck spaces, because the crew will spend more time on-board with fewer breaks, perhaps.
Do you think the pandemic has the capacity to change the yachting industry?
EØ: I do not think boats will be getting bigger, but I do think they will be a bit different from now on. The majority of yachts have been holiday homes. What we are seeing in the last year or two is people have moved on-board, spending much more time at sea. Interesting thing – many yacht owners today are very active in their careers, as they have been working from the boats. Most yachts today have video-conferencing rooms on-board. The pandemic has shown that modern technology allows you to work anywhere while still being discreet. People with whom you are connected via video conferencing may not even notice you are based on a yacht.
For you as a naval architect, which is easier to design: a custom yacht or a production yacht?
EØ: The answer is – the custom yacht. The reason is – you are dealing with a smaller group of people, you have direct contact with the client and with some of his very close conﬁdants. When you are designing a production boat there is no client, but there are markets. Different markets have different needs. Design is all about compromises in many ways. Designing a production boat, you have to ﬁnd more compromises.
Which yacht changed your view on the industry?
EØ: When I was young and fresh out of university, I started working for a company that designed sailing boats because that was what I wanted to do. Somehow, miraculously, I got involved in the tender design of a motor yacht. At that time, it was a very ambitious project and I was a project manager. This boat was called ECO (now it is called ZEUS); it was designed and built for a Mexican media magnate. This boat was designed in 1988 and it was very different, it challenged many norms of what a yacht should be or could be. When she was unveiled not everyone liked her. However, until today her design is timeless and she performs exceptionally well: 74 metres and 32 knots – it is still very unusual. This yacht opened my eyes to the industry in which I then decided to stay. When I had just started to work as a yacht designer on my own I designed a yacht called SKAT. When she was delivered people were again divided, some said it was a good-looking boat, some said – it was not. SKAT was designed very logically for a very logical client, and together we invented a few things. Now together with ECO, she is often listed among the most iconic yachts.
ECO already has curved windows. Now we are seeing a huge amount of glass on almost every new superyacht. Do you think this material has the potential to change the industry?
EØ: The technology allowing us to use big glass panels on boats has made huge progress. Here in the port of Monaco, it is obvious how glass changes the look of the yachts. We’re now accepting glass as a structural material. Recently I saw on Instagram a kayak made of see-through plastic. It looked great!
If you could create the yacht of your dreams what would it be like?
EØ: If budget weren't an issue, it would probably be a motor yacht with a very sustainable energy source that would produce electrical energy and it would be big enough to carry a couple of small sailing yachts, a ski room and a helicopter.