Maritime Labour Convention 2006: Yacht designers' responses

2015-01-20
Yacht designers and marine architects expressed concerns over the implications of the Maritime Labour Convention 2006.

The impact of the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (MLC) legislation on crew accommodation and future yacht design is discussed in the Maritime Labour Convention section.

Here we bring you some designers’ thoughts and views on how it will affect them.

Dear Editor,

Ref the MLC/ILO crew quarters requirements, I give you my thoughts on this subject:


The implementation of yet more rules and regulations is another crushing imposition on owners and should strongly be resisted by the industry generally. I have heard comments from two or three owners, the most recent at Monaco: ‘Owning a yacht used to be fun – now it’s one hassle after another, from custom inspections to additional manning rules and regulations etc, etc…’


These rules will possibly discourage some new owners from entering into new construction contracts at all. The design of a yacht is supposed to be primarily for the owner’s benefit and not to create a cruise ship for crew.


These rules may have the effect of not only prolonging the life of pre-owned yachts, which will not need to comply, but also increasing their value and so all the brokers will be happier than builders and designers. This is not an unusual situation anyway.


Yachting crews generally are young, are paid generous salaries, fed, clothed and housed, and are only really working as ‘seafarers’ when the owner is on board cruising or chartering – when typically they will also share in generous gratuities. At other times they are on standby with general maintenance of the yacht.

These rules make no mention of the word ‘yacht’ and are principally proposed to regulate and correct inadequacies in commercially owned shipping companies where there are probably many examples of vessels with cramped, Third World conditions on board.

  1. The yachting industry as a whole should strongly resist these unnecessary impositions. We should remind ourselves that it is the wealthy owners who create this unique and exclusive yachting industry. It is their choice to spend their wealth and leisure time on the oceans and we should all be wary that if things are made more complicated then it is probable that the number of potential owners will diminish.

Health and safety of life at sea are obviously the most important issues. What an owner wishes to do after that should be as de-restricted as possible and so should positively be encouraged to spend their wealth in as de-regulated a manner as possible. Building a new yacht is this century’s answer to creating a Versailles or Blenheim Palace and could be a dying industry if we are not careful.

Interestingly, the present British prime minister has only just recently recognised that the plethora of senseless rules and regulations imposed on the public need to be addressed to avoid the compensation culture which has developed as a result. The yachting industry similarly only needs rules that are proportionate and not bureaucratic.

  1. The study that you publish seems to me to have been approached from completely the wrong angle! Looking at the length of a yacht and then shrinking the owner’s areas to suit the ILO rules for crew accommodation is nonsense.

Surely it would have been more appropriate to have retained the owner’s accommodation and to have assessed whatever space/length needs to be added to meet the ILO rules!


What message does this give to owners? Whose interest has taken precedence in such an exercise? Certainly not the owner’s.


Nor does the study seem to be very accurate or appear to take into account the full implications of the ILO rules in which there are still several anomalies, particularly concerning bathroom/sleeping requirements. Separate male/female toilets; no toilet to be in a bathroom shared by two people; toilet must be separate and entered via a passageway from the bedroom, but can be shared by four seafarers’ sleeping spaces to allow them to accommodate a partner; no bunk berths outboard where there is a porthole, and so on. Does this mean that future yachts should be planned with separate male/female accommodation or with only single sex crew in mind? Fifteen-plus crew (yacht crew for a 60m) also require a hospital suite etc.


Would it not be a better solution for an organisation like SYBASS working with the MCA to have come up with a study proposing more appropriate standards for the yachting industry, rather than accepting the imposition of these totally inappropriate ILO requirements which are clearly aimed at commercial shipping owners. Is it too late?


Designers will have to be very much more aware if these rules are implemented. Imagine the case of a scheme being accepted by the owner and then rejected later for non-compliance, possibly resulting in a yacht having to be lengthened!


In some cases the builders have brought these new requirements on themselves. There are several large yachts operating now where crew accommodation is blatantly inadequate – two crew sharing a cabin which is only a bed length and in some cases less than a metre wide with very limited locker space, etc – there are many examples we can all think of.

Personally I don’t have too much concern in the planning of crew spaces, as I generally try to make these more than adequate and the most recent plans we have created will exceed the ILO space requirements.

The yacht media should be more pro-active in resisting these sort of industrial unionised labour-based impositions. The yachting industry creates millions of jobs directly and indirectly worldwide – like the tourist industry – and governments should be persuaded that these jobs all come from wealthy individuals who, as well as being taxed on it, should also be positively encouraged to spend their wealth. More rules/regulations are not the answer.

I could go on… I haven’t yet swotted up on new SOLAS regs but my initial reaction is that they may make designing a large yacht easier.

Donald Starkey

Donald Starkey Designs

The realities of living and working on yachts wasn’t addressed in the MLC 2006.

Dear Editor,

I thought the article was excellent, and well explains the issues involved. The reality is that men behind desks are failing to take account of reality on yachts – I have yet to see one of the recent superyachts where crew are not looked after with suitable and perfectly acceptable and pleasant accommodation – it is not realistic to draw conclusions regarding crew accommodation from a review of the merchant fleet or navy, and apply them without due consideration to yachts where everything is different, from the length of the average crossing and time at sea to the total accommodation package available to the crew.

Private yachts that do not provide a high standard of crew accommodation will not retain their crew, nor attract good crew, and that alone is a very powerful incentive to ensure that such standards do not drop. However, given the volume limitations in yachts when compared to ships, what is missing in terms of sheer volume is more than made up in luxury of appointments, and ingenuity in the provision of compact yet very efficient accommodation, storage, etc.

Further, it must be considered that on a typical yacht, the owner will only spend comparatively brief periods of time on board – at all other times, the crew has the run of the total yacht, and they can and do enjoy extensive periods of time on the main galleys, pantries and major deck spaces, which more than offsets the fact that the cabins themselves are comparatively small.

Ultimately, I applaud the intention to ensure that crew have acceptable conditions to live and work on board. Most, if not all, yachts do provide this. The new regulations are the answer to a question which nobody in the yachting industry has ever raised. It potentially could kill yachting as we know it, most certainly at critical sizes where the crew to guest accommodation equation cannot be made to work. Should that happen, there will be many unemployed crew members who will most certainly not have benefited from the proposed legislation.

Ken Freivokh

Ken Freivokh Designs

Dear Editor,

It would obviously be of great concern if the MLC rules end up being fully implemented. The impact would be huge for yachts of this size and there are no obvious magical design solutions to overcome the problem. In any situation, blanket regulations never really work because not everyone’s situation is the same. Having said that, it does sound like the yacht market was initially overlooked in the study and that there is now more specific consultation going on in this respect. One would hope that if these changes are implemented that there would be some form of dispensation awarded to the yachting sector in the realisation of how unworkable the rules would be from a design point of view.

As we all know, at the best of times crew accommodation is a challenge, trying to achieve the right balance between crew numbers and their accommodation needs while maintaining the comfort level of guests living on board. Looking at the general arrangement examples in your November issue, it’s clear that the prospect of owners/designers having to adhere to these new rules would be a huge compromise and one would imagine that in many cases would make building a boat in this size bracket cease to be such an attractive proposition.

Maybe the answer is smaller crew!

Jim Berryman

Reymond Langton Design

Dear Editor,

Regarding ‘MLC/ILO criteria for crew quarters’ we are in interesting times… The continuing development of rules applying to yachts is an understandable and desirable step, no one can argue otherwise. While crew accommodation should be comfortable and spacious, these new rules may have many ramifications that were not considered at the time of writing and are definitely more onerous on yachts in the 40m to 50m size. As a designer I will respect the rules when they come into effect and I will do my best to follow them, but I will also look for ways to provide accommodation for the crew that does not reduce the owner’s areas.

We must always remember why these incredible projects are undertaken – it is to provide the facilities for the owners and their families to enjoy hospitality on a grand scale and to travel the world in comfort. Those who work to earn their place as part of the crew, know they are in a privileged position and know that their accommodation will be on a different scale to the owners. As always, it is a question of balance and, as a designer, providing solutions to harmonise and satisfy all the many factors in the yacht’s layout, but I learnt a long time ago that ‘a happy crew makes a happy ship’.

Tim Heywood

Tim Heywood Designs

If the MLC 2006 regulations on crew quarters were not adapted for yachts, guests’ would lose their staterooms.

Dear Editor,

The impending MLC 2006 regulations that have been drafted by the ILO, in conjunction with the shipping industry and shipping crew representatives, will have a major effect upon the design of future yachts. This is something which we, as an industry, cannot ignore or try to run from. Most of the regulations cover the subject of crew welfare and social wellbeing and should be embraced by our industry as a positive move by the ILO.

However, they also prescribe the criteria for crew accommodation and these new design parameters have been drafted without concern for the yacht market or the effects that the regulations will impose.

The MLC 2006 regulations are something that we as an office have been trying to integrate into our new yacht proposals. But in their literal form, as prescribed by the ILO, they will render a large swathe of the yacht market unattractive to yacht owners or viable as charter yachts because of insufficient guest accommodation. The areas previously used for guest cabins will have to be used for the increased crew cabin accommodation requirements. This is especially so for sailing yachts of the 40m to 60m size, but also motor yachts of approximately 27m and upwards. Whatever comes of the MCA initiative to provide a workable solution to our industry, motor yachts of about 62m and above will have to fully comply anyway.

We have had a representative on the consultative committee at the MCA keeping our design office involved with both the issues that the MLC raises and the efforts by the industry, in conjunction with the MCA, to provide a working platform with which to go back to the ILO that we can all take forwards as being a workable interpretation of the regulations.

The MCA have developed a draft proposal that has been outlined in the BI article, and is something which we can support as a way forward. This is a similar stage to the implementation of the first Large Yacht Code all those years ago. It is a slight shift in the way we as designers go about laying out the plans for a yacht and requires some thought and time to make the best use of the new regulations that we are all going to have to face. Our whole industry is going to have to relearn what we do to make sure that we comply. It is not the end of the world, merely the beginning of a new design challenge.

The other regulations that have recently come into force are the 13-36 Large Yacht Code SOLAS regulations. Again this is similar to the MLC 2006 situation and is something we are all going to have to learn how to integrate into our designs. We have some experience of this type of yacht and we have been working with both flag and class on our current designs. The new regulations confirm the design direction that we been involved with and do not really give any major surprises. However by providing an avenue with which to give the prospective large yacht owner the opportunity to have a large yacht with greater than 12 passengers, this should be welcomed as a chance to open up the upper echelons of the yacht buying market of the 85m size and above.

Justin Redman

Redman Whiteley Dixon

Dear Editor,

In reference to the article we would have the following comments:

The majority of our clients are very concerned with the well being of their crew because they have realised that a happy crew makes for a happy ship, which then of course means a happy owner who can enjoy his time aboard his yacht.

Andrew Winch Designs and specific owners are trying to offset the long working hours of the crew by adding extra leisure facilities into the crew accommodations, such as television lounges, computer rooms/offices, crew gyms, dedicated exterior deck areas and even a crew mess that could convert to a disco party area.

We feel that providing something for the crew in their off-time is much more beneficial than actual floor space in their cabins. We even have one project where the cabin floor space is sacrificed to allow for larger beds as again, the owner feels this is a better luxury he can offer his crew. Or, again at the loss of cabin floor space we are splitting double cabins into two smaller single cabins sharing a head because we feel that the privacy of such a space is actually a benefit and added luxury over actual deck area.

We feel these new rules are actually working against the goals they were meant to reach as crew numbers will be minimised in order to lose less space to their accommodation. This in turn will mean more working hours, less leisure time and generally more stress for the crew and in turn for the owner. Of course this would then also work against the safe operation of the vessels and surely this cannot be in the interest of anybody.

As this would have a dramatic impact on the smaller yachts we sincerely hope that a workable compromise can be found, actually for the benefit of crew and not to their disadvantage.

Andrew Winch Designs

Dear Editor,

We would like to comment on the Boat International article in the November issue on proposed MLC crew accommodation regulations and their impact on design. It is our opinion that implementing these new MLC regulations will have an immense effect on how you lay out both guest and crew accommodation. Taking a current project that is on our drawing board for a 68m motor yacht with crew of 18 and applying the MLC regulations, we feel will result in various considerations:

Reduce the number of crew from 18 to 14 in order to maintain the allocated number of guest cabin without any major effect on length. The downside is you are four crew members short for the correct running and maintenance of the boat, placing more pressure on the numbered crew. (This is echoed in your report).

Shared bathroom facilities between double bunk cabins for junior crew may need to be considered to reduce the footprint allocated to crew.

Increase the length of the bow by 7m to 75m in length to accommodate 18 crew members, insuring the correct running and maintenance of the boat. The downside is that the owner is paying, on average, an extra €7 million in order to facilitate the correct number of crew complying with the new MLC regulations.

On smaller boats we see this to be an even bigger problem where owner’s/yards and/or designers may consider re-classifying crew titles in order to reduce the footprint of officered crew, in turn determining the preferred size of the boat.

The long and the short of the matter is that the MLC regulations may standardise GAP depending of technical layout spaces and engine room configurations. It will definitely make designers’ creative juices churn in working with the MLC regulations to satisfy both owner and crew with limited impact when laying out these areas.

Terry Disdale

Terence Disdale Design

Originally published: December 2010

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