The role of independent consultancies in superyacht construction

21 January 2015By James Roy, By Dudley Dawson, By Tim Thomas
Traditional tank testing models are still required to test a hulls sea-keeping properties

As yachts get larger and more complex, the dividing lines between the top yacht builders and commercial shipyards are becoming ever more blurred.

Not only are the former now building vessels with global capabilities and the requirement to support crew and guests numbering into the dozens, but they are also equipping them with environmental, propulsion and command and control systems that would put many a cruise liner or passenger ferry to shame.

Along with that, some of the materials being used in superyachts would completely mystify many commercial shipyards owing, as they do, their provenance to the aerospace industry.

It is only natural that, as the superyacht industry develops, it should see specialisations emerge as it outgrows the one-stop-shop approach. New trends have created a demand from yards and designers who, from time to time, need access to highly specific skills and expertise, but for whom hiring such individuals full time would not be efficient or cost-effective, and this is what has driven the increasing importance of the independent consultant engineer.

An example is BMT Nigel Gee, a multidisciplinary engineering/design consultancy serving the superyacht industry. With its substantial team of engineers and naval architects, BMT Nigel Gee is well positioned to provide advice and solutions for the many issues that can arise with superyachts.

While the company’s core skills are naval architecture and production engineering, the firm also offers consultancy services on everything from structural analysis to performance predictions, weight verification and proof-of-concept studies.

Providing support to other designers is an area of significant activity. This can vary from hull form optimisation, whether it be for speed, sea keeping or fuel efficiency, right up to the full naval architecture package working alongside a stylist and yard. A recent example of this is the collaboration between BMT Nigel Gee and Design Unlimited, which has to date produced detailed plans for a 40m luxury catamaran, using the former’s particular expertise in multihull design, and 60m and 72m motor yachts.

Naval architect Ron Holland at work

Another aspect is ensuring that a design is not only seaworthy but also that its electrical and mechanical systems sit harmoniously alongside the aesthetics and demands of luxury living.

Independent consultancies are skilled in outfit design, whereby they ensure that equipment and machinery blend in with the yacht as a whole. For example, this might involve ensuring that tender launching cranes articulate away unseen.

An equally important process is ensuring the individual systems and components are designed so that they can be manufactured and installed in the most efficient and cost-effective way. Employing consultants who are experienced in production engineering from the very beginning of a new build can save a yard substantial amounts of time and money.

BMT Nigel Gee recently worked on Derecktor’s 85m Cakewalk. The company was brought into to handle the detailed engineering from structural development to outfitting and provision of full pipe spools, and a similar exercise is currently under way at Devonport for Project 55, a challenging and innovative 96m motor yacht designed by Redman Whiteley Dixon.

Detail of finite element analysis for the catamaran Hemisphere (project name Gemini)

For Sergio Cutolo, whose company Hydro Tec provides naval architecture and engineering solutions to the yacht and ship industries, the role of a consultancy changes depending on the client.

‘It varies a lot depending on the profile of the customer we work with – particularly whether it is for a private client or a yard,’ he explains. ‘Only a few times do we actually design the boat when working for an individual – a recent example being the 50m Aifos.

‘When we work for a yard, usually we are involved in all the naval architecture and engineering aspects of the design. The design of the yacht, in fact, cannot be made as a patchwork, but requires one centrally responsible person who can create the right compromise between all components to make sure the yacht works properly when launched.

‘In many situations our clients are looking for the expertise of a design company that has worldwide experience. We take care of the full design work and we let them concentrate on the build. We assist them with their own clients or surveyors and we usually deal with the main subcontractors for the technical specifications of all main components.’

To maintain a position as a provider of innovative solutions requires more than just acting just as a resource. BMT Nigel Gee is unique in the sector for running, in conjunction with its parent group, a research programme that seeks solutions for current issues, anticipating the needs of its clients.

The Large Yacht Regulatory Research Project set out to quantify the impacts of the changes taking place in the regulatory regime, including the Maritime Labour Convention, MARPOL emissions regulations and harmonised probabilistic stability. The results have enabled the company to refine its own designs and procedures, and offer insights to clients, allowing them to build in the necessary adjustments at the earliest stages of a project.

BMT Nigel Gee has also published numerous research papers on subjects such as the optimal design for shadow yachts, the advantages of catamaran versus monohull superyachts, and the analysis of different structural framing systems.

By working on a breadth of projects, independent consultancies gain a depth of experience that few yards or designers can match, and through their research programmes can anticipate potential issues before they arise or look at emerging technologies with a broad rather than project focused perspective. Putting all that together allows them to save yards and designers both time and money, and without them our industry would not be advancing at the rapid pace that it is today.