Oceanco's 105-metre H3 superyacht

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Oceanco's 105-metre H3
Credit: Oceanco

An owner’s guide on how to build a custom yacht

10 June 2024 • Written by Hannah Rankine for Oceanco

Building a custom superyacht is the pinnacle of luxury yachting, but this journey is far from simple. It's a meticulous and multifaceted process that involves a series of strategic steps, each requiring expert guidance to navigate successfully.

With an experienced builder by your side, new build owners embark on a journey that encompasses careful planning, precise engineering and dedicated craftsmanship. Renowned custom yacht builder Oceanco aims to make this experience enjoyable for its clients, listening to their vision to understand how they will use the yacht. BOAT sits down with the shipyard to learn more about the journey of building a bespoke yacht from start to finish.

1. Meet with the shipyard

This is a crucial step to ensure the shipyard understands the client's vision and intended use for the yacht. The meeting can take place on the client's current yacht, at their home or office, or during an event like a yacht show. The client might already have a designer in mind, or the shipyard could be their first point of contact for the project. Once the client narrows down their shortlist to about three potential builders, the next step is to tour each of their facilities.

Credit: Oceanco

2. Tour the shipyard

A tour provides the client with an opportunity to understand the shipyard’s strengths, values, and capabilities. It allows them to see ongoing projects and assess their chemistry with the Oceanco team and culture. During the tour, Oceanco showcases potential designs, including existing concepts and relevant yacht layouts.

Credit: Oceanco

3. Initial proposal

Oceanco prepares an initial proposal that outlines production timelines, a potential delivery date, an expected price range and preliminary blueprint plans. The proposal enables the client to compare options and move forward with selecting a builder by signing a letter of intent (LOI).

4. Development phase

After the LOI is signed, this phase delves deeper into the client's vision through multiple creative brainstorming sessions involving the client, the Oceanco team and designers. Naval architects and engineers then conduct viability assessments. Performance parameters are established and pre-engineering work is undertaken to ensure the project stays on track. Together with the owner's team, designers and selected co-makers, Oceanco further optimises the design and related pricing structure before signing the contract or yacht building agreement (YBA), ensuring commitment from all parties involved for a smooth process. Valuing eco-friendly alternatives, the shipyard always looks into alternative power generation systems and emission reduction solutions during this phase.

Credit: Oceanco

5. The contracts and legal process

Work on the YBA typically begins soon after the client signs the LOI, running parallel to the development phase. The YBA is designed to ensure a smooth and timely progression of the project, aligning everyone’s expectations. It generally includes the main contract, technical specifications, general arrangement (GA), construction schedule, delivery documents, makers list and a list of decisions to be made during the build. This comprehensive approach ensures all stakeholders are confident in signing the YBA, reserving the build slot and commencing the yacht's construction.

The build process

1. Planning

Planning is a crucial element in the yacht building process, safeguarding against unexpected costs and delays. During the development phase and prior to signing the YBA, the project director collaborates with the client’s team to outline all requirements, set realistic budgets and establish feasible timelines.

Credit: Oceanco

2. Engineering

Most custom yacht engineering occurs before signing the YBA, often referred to as pre-engineering. This phase is crucial for ensuring the project’s technical and legal feasibility before finalising the design. During pre-engineering, design elements are translated into detailed workshop drawings and other documents necessary for construction. While the design phase can take up to nine months, the engineering phase may extend another 20-26 months. To optimise efficiency, these phases often run concurrently. Once the engineering and design are finalised, Oceanco’s procurement department begins purchasing and ordering all materials required for building the yacht.

Credit: Oceanco

3. Hull and superstructure

According to Oceanco, building a hull is like "erecting an enormous 3D jigsaw puzzle”. The process begins with cutting vast steel plates into intricate shapes, which are assembled into larger steel parts. These parts are then welded together to form blocks (sections of the yacht) that are eventually joined to create the hull. For a 90-metre yacht, constructing the hull from steel cutting to completion typically takes 12-16 months, involving around 250-300 workers during this phase. An 85-metre hull may require 800 tonnes of steel, while a 130-metre hull might use up to 1,500 tonnes.

As construction progresses, the superstructure is erected in parallel with the hull. On yachts of this scale, the superstructure is usually made from aluminium while the hull is steel, necessitating construction in different locations. Superstructure engineering and construction generally take up to 12 months.

The hull and superstructure are then fused over 12-16 weeks. Since this process results in a fully enclosed yacht, all large systems and equipment, such as engines, generators and air conditioning units, must be installed inside the hull beforehand.

Credit: Oceanco

4. Outfitting

The complete yacht is then transferred from the construction facility to the outfitting facility. The initial stages of outfitting involve installing all machinery, pipe systems, cable trays and prefabricating hotel systems. The bare metal is then cleaned and painted, creating a solid foundation for subsequent steps. Exterior outfitting encompasses fairing and painting the hull and superstructure, installing railings, glass, teak decking, exterior bulkheads and large items such as swimming pools and bars. Interior outfitting involves installing insulation, fixing wall and bulkhead panels, completing joinery in luxury and crew areas, and adding loose furniture. Once outfitting is complete, the yacht is launched and prepared for the final stages before delivery.

5. Commissioning

Commissioning a yacht involves ensuring all systems and components are designed, installed and tested to meet operational requirements. Once this process is complete, the yacht will be fully operational.

Credit: Oceanco

6. Sea trials and delivery

Sea trials are a critical component of a new build project, where the builder's team, designers, naval architects and other technical experts accompany the completed yacht into open waters. This demonstration is to ensure that the yacht meets the specifications outlined in the YBA and satisfies the entire owner’s team, captain, build engineer and surveyors. Upon everyone's approval of the yacht's performance, the final payment is made and the yacht is officially delivered to the client.

7. Warranty and life cycle support

Large custom yachts represent intricate ecosystems that may require some time to address any potential performance or operational issues. The warranty period offers the captain and crew a grace period to identify and resolve any non-conformities, ensuring the yacht meets the standards outlined in the YBA. Oceanco provides continuous support to all yachts in its fleet, including lifetime extensions, refits and maintenance services.

To find out more about Oceanco’s expert custom superyacht services, contact the team today.

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