The role of the naval architect in superyacht design and build
Last updated: 21/10/2016
A creative individual with leadership qualities and a keen eye for attention-to-detail, the naval architect is an integral part of the design and build team of any marine vessel or offshore structure.
With such great responsibility, how does one choose a superyacht naval architect that is not just good, but great? Or how do you become a naval architect yourself? Yachting Pages details the role, responsibilities, skills and defining factors of any established naval architect.
What is a naval architect?
A naval architect is a marine engineer who assists in the design, construction and repair of new-build boats, ships and yachts, as well as important structural and design decisions for refit. He or she works to ensure that sea-going vessels are safe, economic and seaworthy: They wear the hats of a designer, an engineer, a project leader, a consultant and an industry expert.
With the development of any superyacht a large-scale collaborative effort, the naval architect is responsible for coordinating the actions of all the engineers working below him or her as they work. He or she works closely with the captain, owner, yacht management company and/or project manager to ensure the vessel is fit for purpose at every stage of the build: It is the naval architect who integrates their activities and takes ultimate responsibility for the overall project.
What does a naval architect do?
In it’s simplest form, the job role of the naval architect requires:
Collaboration: A naval architect will first study the design proposals and required specifications of a new vessel to establish its basic characteristics: Its application, size, speed and weight.
Brainstorming: The naval architect will then brainstorm with the design team in order to establish the design requests of the client to ensure that it matches with his or her vision. Several sketches will be produced to test the feasibility and appearance of the design.
Development: The design must then be further developed - the lines of the hull must be designed to establish its centre of gravity, ideal hull form, buoyancy and stability. The entire hull and superstructure must then be sketched to follow the applicable safety standards, and the interior must be established to create viable living and working space.
Conferring: The naval architect must confer with marine engineers to develop the layout of the boiler room, heating and ventilation systems, HVAC and refrigeration systems and propulsion machinery.
Designing: The final design will then be drawn up using software and Computed Aided Design (CAD). This will be very detailed, including guidelines for almost every aspect of the building process and would highlight that the design is safe and seaworthy, meeting operational requirements. This often involves preparing 3D models.
Building: The work of a naval architect does not end here. They must oversee and assist during the build process to prevent any possible problems from arising.
Trialling: The naval architect must then assess how the vessel does during her post-build trials, both in dock and at sea. The design may then need to be amended to make sure she meets the applicable design and safety specifications.
The role of the naval architect in superyacht design
Superyacht design is a delicate balance between many factors, including speed, power, structural integrity, weight, stability and cost. If there is a request for one of these to be altered, then the other factors will be impacted and the naval architect must work to adjust these accordingly.
RINA outlines, “Increasing the maximum speed of the yacht by even just a couple of knots will require significantly more power, which may require more engine room space to accommodate a larger engine and fuel tanks. The extra weight from the engine and fuel will affect the draught and trim of the vessel, which will affect stability, vessel motions and increase the power required. A larger, more powerful engine may even increase noise and vibration levels in the owner’s cabin.”
Similarly, if you reduce the weight, you will have to reduce the power and be happy to lose some speed. As such, a naval architect will be well versed in all aspects of the project to keep the vessel seaworthy, cost and time efficient.
They must understand the science of the pressure of water, whether on the move or at rest; they will have a great understanding of the hull design and its relationship with the water, its hydrodynamics and the ability to float, as well as the essential calculations that are involved in the aesthetics of the design.
What qualifications does a naval architect need?
Trained as professional marine engineers, there are a wide range of opportunities for careers in naval architecture worldwide. The role combines exterior yacht design, hull-form development and marine engineering. Most naval architects will have a degree or diploma recognised by the Royal Institution of Naval Architects (RINA), and a recognised national or international engineering qualification, such as Chartered Engineer (C.Eng), Incorporated Engineer (I.Eng), European Engineer (Eur.Ing) or Professional Engineer (Peng or PE).
Highly regulated, all decisions naturally have to comply with the strict requirements of yacht classification societies, such as the Lloyd’s Register, and a range of national and international regulations, such as the Large Commercial Yacht Code (LYC), the Maritime Labour Conventions (MLC) and Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) conventions.
For this reason, naval architects need to keep abreast of all new developments in the field and ensure that they are continuing their own professional development. They may also be enlisted to carry out new studies and research, and to provide professional and technical support to the wider maritime industry.
Personal Indemnity (PI) insurance
Before enlisting the help of any naval architect, it is vital to research the studio’s Professional Indemnity (PI) insurance and how much cover it provides: If things do go wrong with a project, what are the likely financial consequences, and how important is it that damages or compensation could be claimed if the designer is proved to be negligent?
RINA recommends its members have the appropriate level of PI insurance to cover the work they are undertaking and YDSA actually requires it members have suitable PI cover.
Such insurance does however place a significant financial burden on a small design company, so someone that does carry significant amount of PI insurance is unlikely to be able to provide the cheapest quote. A prospective contractor may actually be rather wary if the first question the client asks is regarding PI insurance. Indeed some PI policies will have a clause stating that its existence is not to be disclosed or discussed.