Crews' views on the best layout for a yacht

21 January 2015
Getting crew's input on the layout of a yacht during the build stage will save time and money when the boat is in service.

Crew turnover is one of the biggest headaches facing yacht owners. A common misconception is that if an owner pays well, the crew will love their jobs. A high salary will only go so far in retaining good crew if living and working conditions aboard are unsatisfactory – or, more precisely, if the yacht is poorly designed.

In many layouts, crew flow and functions, technical spaces and critical behind-the-scenes necessities, such as storage, are not prioritized and maintenance access points are a last-minute concession. A poorly designed yacht, as any experienced owner will confirm, is hard to maintain and more expensive to run. In the end, owners will have spent more money and time than if they had given the hidden functionality of the yacht the same careful attention as systems, amenities and guest areas.

Sometimes the philosophy of form over function and following residential trends may lead to spaces that are beautifully styled and decorated, but impractical in terms of layout and function. The most experienced yacht designers underscore the importance of consulting with experienced crew in the early stages of design.

The Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (MLC), drafted by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), may make including a crew member on the design team a necessity, as the convention contains criteria for crew accommodations and living and working environment that will pertain to and significantly impact the design of all charter yachts when it comes into force in 2013.

In the meantime, if the priority of space was given over to crew, what would the perfect yacht look like from their perspective?

Laurel was designed to maximise service efficiency. A large part of this involved highly organised storage, such as her plate room.

A Crew Wish List

In terms of size and construction, many captains suggest that the yacht’s size be between 45.7m and 70m to allow access to the popular ports.

‘The ever-increasing size of yachts is a problem for berths,’ says Captain Bob Corcoran of the 76.8m motor yacht Samar, ‘but as long as the owners understand that commercial harbours may be their only alternative, I don’t see a problem.’

A semi-explorer motor yacht design with a large, seaworthy bow would provide the most stable platform for owners who like to travel. At the very least, at-anchor stabilizers are highly recommended, as are bow and stern thrusters capable of counteracting 30-knot winds on the beam.

Wraparound decks should be incorporated, along with owners’ terraces, to eliminate the need for crew to go outboard on a harness to clean the windows daily.


There is, perhaps, no greater request from crew than ample storage. Captain David Clarke of the 73m motor yacht_ Laurel_ acted as her build captain and was able to influence the yacht’s design so as to incorporate the most sensible and efficient layout for crew operations.

‘We followed two philosophies during Laurel’s build,’ he says. ‘The first was that equipment was to be in one of only two places: where it is being used or where it is stored. The second rule was that any space greater than one cubic foot needed to incorporate storage of some type.’

To ensure that these philosophies were adhered to once Laurel was complete, Captain Clarke created a detailed tracking system that monitors every single storage space and its related equipment.

Wasted space is a sign of a poor design. Think creatively and find ways to incorporate hidden storage where it is needed most. Aboard Laurel, alfresco social areas are designed with adjacent units housing all glassware and settings for meals and hors d’oeuvres service.

Equipment should have dedicated storage as well. A shaft alley could handle the line storage; deckhead compartments could house the swim ladder and handrails. Efficiencies like this will to make a crew member’s function easier and improve service.

_Laurel _is designed so that crew may access any part of her, without disturbing or being disturbed by passengers and guests

A Crew Wish List (continued…)

Redundant Circulation

Easy access and the ability for crew to move about quickly and unobtrusively is a very important factor in a yacht’s design.

The yacht should feature a lower deck corridor that runs the entire length of the boat, from the foredeck to the lazarette, allowing crew to travel from bow to stern without having to walk on decks or through guest areas. It would also provide an extra means of exit.

Aboard Laurel, a wide set of stairs originates amidships on the tank deck and climbs to the sun deck to allow the crew quick and easy movement between crew and guest areas without interruption. A second crew stairwell farther forward eases flow between crew areas on the lower three decks.

A dedicated crew elevator from the lower deck to the sun deck would be a welcome feature.

Lower Decks

A yacht’s layout should take its cue from the arrangement of the lower decks, as these will contain the most important components for running the yacht efficiently.

The crew-designed yacht utilizes the lower decks to their fullest potential. Ideally, the yacht would have a tank deck, which could house laundry facilities, waste management/trash refrigeration space, refrigerated/freezer storage and inventory items.

Excellence V has a separate room for the waste treatment system and one for desalination.

The tank deck aboard Laurel houses all of these areas, including an impressive number of storage rooms and cabinets. There is bonded storage for alcohol and separate stores for uniforms, toiletries, cleaning supplies, dry goods and various merchandise, each area meticulously labelled.

Like all large yachts, Excellence V''s galley has to provide a service equal to a high-end restaurant to guests and crew.

Crew luggage and personal sports equipment need a storage space as well. Rasselas had a separate refrigeration unit for fresh flowers – an important consideration for yachts that charter and owners who entertain frequently.

Laundry space should receive priority so that the laundry function does not co-op the crew mess. The laundry should be sized to manage the amount of bed linens daily, enabling multiple loads at once, and include a mangle rotary iron with the ability to quickly press eight to 10 feet of table linen.

‘A commercial laundry centrifuge to spin the water out of large towels and other big items will reduce drying times considerably,’ suggests Craig Tafoya, president of Penumbra Marine Logistics and former captain of the 96m motor yacht Limitless.

In the engine room, diesel-electric propulsion will allow for more flexibility of layout compared to conventional propulsion.

Regardless of the propulsion type incorporated, the engine room should be given as much space as possible, with the emphasis being that each piece of equipment can easily be serviced from all sides.

Crew prefer a tender garage to a crane system for launching tenders: launching from a garage is faster and safer. (Photo © Bugsy Gedlek)

A Crew Wish List (continued…)

Tenders and their garage

When it comes to the type of tenders to have, the answer is the bigger, the better.

‘You want very big tenders,’ says Anders Lauridsen, captain of the 41.1m motor yacht D’Angleterre II. ‘That’s important for all our clients. Take St Tropez, for example – you can have 100 yachts anchoring off the village in the summer, with lots of traffic in the water. You want a big tender to make sure guests are comfortable and don’t get sprayed.’

Captain Mark Coxon of the 50m motor yacht_ QM of London_ agrees and advises that when there is no room to store a large tender, it should be towed, the priority here being able to fit all guests comfortably at once.

Forget about hoisting the tender to the sun deck aboard the crew-designed yacht. This is the least preferred place for storage and launching. It is time consuming and dangerous, and most crew prefer the speed and ease with which tenders can be stored in and launched from tender garages.

Designing a garage large enough to comfortably house large tenders is a different matter, however, and, as has been the case in many notable builds, may indeed dictate or substantially affect the overall length and layout of the boat.

The tender garage aboard_ Laurel_ prompted an increase in her length by over six metres. The 85.6m Derecktor-built Cakewalk features a length and layout that was predicated upon a 14.3 by 12.2m ‘boathouse’ to store three tenders over 9.1m LOA.

A 4.7m stern extension to increase exterior deck space allowed for inclusion of a spacious tender garage aboard the 54.9m Harbour Island. This garage houses a 5.8m Novurania Chase tender and two personal watercrafts, all of which are easily manoeuvred, stored and deployed with the help of an air cradle system that was developed by Tafoya and Penumbra Marine Logistics.

The air-cradle system operates much like a hovercraft in that the air pressure allows crew to use their fingertips manoeuvre a tender or toy into position and lower it. The system not only reduces risk of injury, it saves the crew valuable space and time. The air cradles can also be easily stowed away when the tenders and toys are deployed, making the garage a useable space for entertaining.

On yachts with more than 15 crew, a separate crew lounge away from the eating area (such as_ Lady Linda_'s) is becoming a necessity. It often works as an office for the purser and a computer room for crew.

Crew Areas

While most yachts are already being designed to factor in impacts from MLC, such as situating all crew cabins above the waterline and private cabins for officers, the crew-designed yacht would feature single en suite cabins for each crewmember with berths, not Pullmans.

TV, WiFi access and iPod docking stations can easily be incorporated into each room as well.

‘Amenities help keep crew and reduce operational turnover costs,’ says Captain Corcoran.

A crew gym with lockers should be incorporated on board as well. This is a big advantage for crew to have some personal time and space. A number of captains are finding a covered working deck forward can easily be modified to this purpose.

Opinions are divided over the merits of a country kitchen galley, let alone the correct placement of a galley.

A Crew Wish List (continued…)

Crew mess and galley

So far, the elements to be incorporated on the crew-designed yacht might seem relatively straightforward, without having much of a negative impact on guest spaces, but here is where we take the turn.

Aboard nearly every yacht, the crew mess is tucked below decks near the crew cabins. The area, often with none or tiny windows, might feature a small galley, a TV and settee with dining table used for multiple purposes; eating, reading, organizing, ironing, etc…

Aboard the crew-designed yacht, however, a crew mess and separate lounge would be situated not below decks, but on the main deck forward, in the area most commonly claimed by the master suite and bosun’s locker. Can this be done successfully? It was aboard_ Laurel_, which features a crew mess to starboard and a TV lounge to port, both of which are light and bright, thanks to large windows.

‘Situating the crew mess forward on the main deck was a calculated decision,’ says Captain Clarke. ‘This part of the boat is the most uncomfortable and most noisy when underway, and we didn’t like waking the owners when bringing up the anchor or using the bow thruster.’

From here the crew also has access to the bow through the large bosun store and A/C room. Placing a crew lounge or even small office on main deck has security benefits as well, possibly cutting valuable lost time in an emergency.

This is where the squeeze begins to take effect. The crew-designed yacht would also call for the guest staterooms – all of equal size or at least two VIPs – to be on main deck.

What does this mean for the galley, the dining room and/or the main salon? The 44.5m Feadship _Harle _has all of its guest rooms, including the master suite, situated on the main deck. The galley is positioned below decks and service is facilitated via a food lift, and multiple pantries and service areas on the upper decks. The dining room has been eliminated altogether.

Most crew dislike galleys placed below decks: it makes serving food more difficult, and forces crew to carry deliveries and waste through the yacht.

The below-decks galley is a no-no on many a crew-designed yachts as the chef and stews argue the galley should be located on the same deck as, and as close as possible to, the main dining area, wherever that may be. Other chefs prefer having a larger space lower in the boat where there is less motion and they are closer to their stores. This, of course, requires a food lift. And so begins the conundrum on how it integrates with the rest of the boat.

While opinions differ on whether an open-style, country kitchen is preferred over a private galley, the consensus is that the galley should have plenty of natural light and should feature a very efficient layout.

Dining and main salon

Opinions are divided on whether to do away with the large main salon and dining room and situate more living space outdoors. Captain Coxon favours the idea; he’s worked on yachts with enormous saloons that were never used. But Captain Lauridsen is not so keen. His dining room is used by his guests, especially those with children and on days when the weather turns bad.

Regardless of where the main dining area is situated, most crew would appreciate the ‘service from afar’ implementation that is found aboard_ Laurel_. Strategically positioned cameras monitor the dining areas throughout the boat and have the ability to zoom in on a guest’s drink or plate, alerting the server as to the status of the meal without the need to hover.

Storage comes into play once again in Laurel’s dining areas. Most efficiently, the china, glassware, coffee cups and cutlery are housed in a dedicated china store just forward of the galley. Plates can be brought from the china store to the galley for plating, returned to the galley to be washed and then easily stowed without entering the guest area.

Crew unanimously agree that the bridge should be forward on the upper deck, with 180-degree visibility.

Bridge Deck

There is no compromise from crew when it comes to the positioning of the bridge and captain’s cabin. The bridge must be on the upper deck and feature 180-degree visibility.

The captain’s cabin should be behind the bridge along with a separate office and day head for crew.

As far as bridge equipment goes, Captain Kay Christensen, formerly of the 43m Canter Navali Nicolini motor yacht CD TWO, suggests keeping modern technology to a necessary minimum and that the bridge be made ergonomic.

Captain Greg Butler-Davis of the 56m Perini Panthalassa cautions against over alarming every action and equipment function.

Owners’ Area

If the crew mess is on the main deck forward and the bridge occupies the upper deck forward, where will the owners’ suite be positioned?

The predominant opinion from crew is to position the owners’ suite aft on the upper deck, away from anchor noise and daily early morning operations. This ensures the best visibility from the bridge and also affords the owners more privacy, as it is not necessary for crew to be in the upper deck aft location as much as forward.

While some crew still maintain that the master should remain low and aft where there is less motion, the upper deck, with its opportunity for a private alfresco area and great views, wins out.

Of course, utilizing this coveted location for the master might work well on a private yacht, but it eliminates one of the best entertaining spots aboard a charter yacht.

On a crew-designed boat, a sun deck like Lady Britt's would not have BBQs or spa baths.

Sun Decks

Venturing up to the sun deck, this is where we enjoy the outdoor barbecue, the gym, the bar, the spa pool and the lounging. Aboard the crew-designed yacht, this space is very different.

First, there is no gym here. An outdoor gym is one of the most difficult areas to maintain. ‘Unfortunately, most exercise equipment is steel and rusts almost overnight when in the salt air,’ says Tafoya.

Barbecues are not always used and are difficult to clean, and spa pools themselves provide an added headache for crew as they need to be emptied when underway and filled when at anchor or in port.

Captain Christensen suggests an on-board pool holding tank that pumps the water back into the pool on arrival in port. Tafoya agrees, adding, ‘A means of purifying and heating the spa pool water while in the tank would be good so the water could be used for wash-down once the owner departs.’

Crew’s vs owners’ needs

And so we’ve come full circle on this virtual walk-through of a crew-designed yacht. How does it fit with the owner’s needs and the charter guests’ requirement for a wow factor?

A perfectly good yacht needs to perform well with reliable and functional systems, excellent naval architecture and quality materials. The available space must be used in a logical manner with the right proportion allocated to engineering, owner/guest and crew function areas.

‘Functionality impacts the crew,’ says Captain Clarke, ‘and when we can work more efficiently, we can give better service to the guests.’

‘As most yacht designers will acknowledge, the vast majority of yachts represent a compromise between one or more of the contrasting requirements,’ Captain Butler-Davis explains. ‘Add all these elements together and perfection seems implausible.’

‘After 28 years, I can honestly say that there is no such thing as a perfect yacht… or crew,’ says Captain Corcoran. ‘Some are more suited to the use of the particular vessel than others, but nothing is perfect.

‘Many of the issues raised are incorporated in the MLC,’ he continues. ‘It will be interesting to see how yachts change, not only in the space required for the crew, but also in the requirements and rights crew will have.’

Originally published:  MegaYachts Volume 14 (2013).

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