Sustainability is high on the agenda for many of us at the moment, whether it’s how we live our own lives, how we operate our businesses or what we expect from our councils and governments. The marine leisure industry has often been criticised for a lack of sustainability, but many of the yacht designers and builders, as well as the clients who commission them, are looking for long-term, sustainable solutions both in the manufacture of their yachts and the way they operate.
Go back 10-20 years and yacht companies such as Azimut were already using environmentally friendly paints, wood sourced from sustainable forests and designs that aimed to reduce the amount of materials required. Fast forward to today and the sense of urgency around the topic has moved on dramatically, but so too has the technology and the desire to make fundamental changes.
One of the yacht companies that is promising to deliver more on sustainability is Oceanco, which has created its Oceanco NXT strategy towards zero impact. It’s working extensively with Italian design house Pininfarina, a company that is more well known for creating great car designs for Ferrari and others. Its chair, Paolo Pininfarina, believes that being more environmentally conscious is the responsibility of all involved in the creation and operation of a yacht, including the designers.
Together, Pininfarina, Oceanco and Lateral Naval Architects revealed the Kairos, a superyacht that sets out to be more of a floating island with terms like landscapes being used instead of structures. It features everything from sustainable wood to vegan materials but as with many other boat builders, the main focus of reducing a yacht’s environmental impact is in the area of propulsion.
Admittedly, there’s no silver bullet to this, after all some yachts only do short sunset cruises in Table Bay, others cross the Indian Ocean and some are an owner’s home as they circumnavigate the globe. Shipyards are installing engines using sustainable e-fuels; others such as Lurssen are going for hydrogen that uses green methanol and some such as the appropriately named Silent Yachts, are going electric. Others are combining a number of different systems to create solutions that suit multiple applications.
While all this is happening, there’s also the traditional sailing yacht, although perhaps not as you might know it. In 2021, Nuvolari Lenard unveiled a concept for a 100m mega-yacht that relies on wing sails. It’s part of the company’s attempts to find sustainable solutions that don’t compromise on the luxury that its clients expect.
“Being environmentally conscious has to become a way of being, as well as a way of thinking,” says Carlo Nuvolari. “There's nothing stopping us from thinking about a truly green large yacht. It's not difficult to achieve major results, you just have to stop being traditionalist and take a risk, going back to the basics: building a sailing yacht that really uses sails and is really efficient.”
Many sailing yachts are being built these days with an electric motor to assist in navigating around harbours or in estuaries. Electric is not just about in-port manoeuvres though — some of the latest superyachts have the technology to switch automatically to electric power while going through parts of the ocean that are particularly sensitive to pollution. It’s very similar to the way some plug-in hybrid cars use geofencing technology to switch from petrol to electric in cities.
At the extreme end of the scale is the need for speed. Where once powerboats with big V8 engines charged around harbours, soon it will be electric speedsters that skip across the water. Following the launch of Formula E and Extreme E, Alejandro Agag has created the E1 Series, a world electric powerboat championship that will see 12 teams competing in locations around the world. The dramatic Racebird powerboats are currently in production and it’s planned that the series will get under way later in 2022.
It’s not just the boats going green either. Many marinas around the world are not only expecting sustainability from vessels moored there, but are making big changes themselves. For some, such as the famous Yacht Club de Monaco, it’s about becoming a Smart Marina, a place that can accommodate the next generation of technologically advanced yachts and boats, while also providing the latest in environmentally friendly facilities, without of course compromising on the luxury expected.
Even a yacht’s crew are now able to undertake Environmental Training for Yacht Crew (EYTC) to become more environmentally aware while on board, from the products they use to the locations they sail to.
It’s a world of change, from small electric boats on the waterways of Venice to the huge mega-yachts on our oceans; designers, manufacturers and other institutions are all involved in researching the best solutions. 2022 is likely to see even more technology, concepts and greener builds as the yachting world and its clients adapt to a more environmentally conscious future.