Q&A: An insight into superyacht naval architecture in 2015

With the realms of design possibility present within the superyacht industry, and the seemingly limitless budgets and boundless visions of today’s yacht owner, it makes for interesting reading to uncover where yacht owners are deciding to invest their money.

Yachting Pages spoke with Menno van Dijk, director of Studio Delta Naval Architects about current developments within the superyacht design sector, changing rules and regulations, and the clients they work with within the industry.

How would you describe Studio Delta; how did it all start?

Studio Delta is a company that provides naval architecture for yachts of all sizes, which, in practical terms, means we provide the technical design work for yachts.

The company was founded 16 years ago when I decided to become a fully independent sailing yacht designer and naval architect. Having said goodbye to sailing yacht design a long time ago, the focus of Studio Delta was placed fully on the motor yacht industry. Designs began in the 8 to 12 meter range, and with consultancy in the superyacht industry.

So far, the defining moment of our business occurred with the naval architecture of a 26m yacht and museum vessel. This is when our first staff were hired. From here onward, the business went from strength-to-strength, and now we are relocating and expanding our design office to cope with increasing demand.

What are the biggest challenges that you currently face within your sector, and within the superyacht industry as a whole?

We definitely are working in a new market since 2012. Work is available, but somewhat harder to find. It definitely takes more effort to win contracts.

The market now is quite narrow. Many players have disappeared and so the remaining businesses are fishing in a shallower pond. Having said that, we are pleased with the current project load, but we are faced with the problem of finding more well-trained and experienced staff.

What current trends are you seeing within your sector at the moment? Where do you see this going in the future?

Currently, activities within the design sector are going two ways. One route is seeing a more rational approach, where building cost and running cost reductions are in play on the design in hand. On the other hand, there now seems to be a very healthy increase in investment in the 60m+ market, with the market for superyachts up to 50 meters seeming to remain troublesome. This is seeing many builders in this sector to be in an uncomfortable position right now. Where this difference comes from is difficult to say as I am not a market intelligence expert, but there may a lack of influx of new clients/owners in the smaller size ranges with the owners having progressed on to larger yachts. Existing clients for the range may therefore be being more vigilant about the world economical situation, considering their options more.

Which performance features are you currently seeing the biggest demand for; are 'green', eco-friendly designs still popular in the industry, or has the focus moved elsewhere?

The eco-market is still popular and growing, but I think the ‘eco-market’ can be explained two ways. One is the view where the reduction of fuel consumption and hybrid systems are looked at, the other is the apparent increase of yachts that are built for owners who take a keen interest in the ecological health of the world and are eager to explore.

We have just seen a period of high fuel prices within the industry, and as such, fast yachts have been completely ignored. It will be interesting to see how this will change with the current crude oil prices having dropped 50% in recent months.

How do you keep up-to-date with changing rules and regulations within the superyacht sector? Do you think these are too restricting, stifling creativity, or would you say that they are necessary to ensure passenger safety?

It’s a good thing the marine industry is, in a way, self-regulating. The industry does talk with the regulatory bodies to develop rules in line with the developments we see in the industry. Whether it is in the field of labour conditions on board, or suitable regulations for ever-increasing yachts, the industry has a voice in the formation of regulation.

Even so, regulation does equal restriction, there is no way around it, but I think the regulations we work with are sufficiently refined not to stifle creativity, although yacht stylists may really not agree with me on that.

Keeping up with the developments is sometimes hard, especially with the ongoing advances of the implementations of the rules. It’s also useful to note that writing the rule is one thing, but there will be many interpretations possible. Two back-to-back projects may see quite different executions of relatively new regulations, but fortunately, the regulatory bodies in general are very forthcoming in providing information.

How can naval architects work within the realms of regulation to improve life on board for yacht crew? Is it possible to increase the size and practicality of crew spaces aboard, where permitted by the owner's brief?

That is a hard one. The yachts are developed for the owner’s and space on board is limited. The activation of the regulations of MLC2006 have improved living quarters in some cases, but it will remain hard to increase leisure possibilities if the crew are required to stay out of sight.

What are your top tips for yacht owners and their representatives who are searching for a naval architect? Which qualifications, skills or abilities should they look out for specifically, and how can they ensure a successful working relationship?

In any relationship it is important that you establish some form of ‘report’. You have to realise that you are going to work with each other for some time and a pleasant working atmosphere inherently brings out the best in people and organisations.

To ensure the quality standard of the naval architect suits the project, the track record of past clients and projects will tell the story. Even better if informally a reference can be checked. If these two sides are looking good, the working relationship should develop prosperously.

What is new with Studio Delta? Are you working on any new developments or exciting projects at the moment those that you can share?

One recent project was the structural design of the 40m composite M/Y Rüya, built by Alia Yachts, where we partnered with Van Oossanen Naval Architects.

We now have several projects between 15m and 60m on our desks, the problem is we are always bound by confidentiality as long as the client has not published the details of the yacht. What we can share is that we expect to see some projects to be launched in the next year. Next to that, we have several design consultancy jobs on yachts from 60m and up, where we work to stay in the background.

What would you say is the most enjoyable part of your job?

We have a nice variety and diversity of projects and good clients. Our work allows us to be creative in technical solutions, but maybe the best aspect is that I am blessed with having skilful and very motivated staff that really make the team. It allows me to look beyond the current projects and meet new people and businesses.

Find out more about current trends and developments in naval architecture, or contact Studio Delta Naval Architects.

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