Evolution of the raised pilothouse

22 January 2015

Designer Luiz de Basto usually shutters his Miami office for a holiday between Christmas and the New Year. Last year was no exception, but instead of traveling, he decided to take advantage of the quiet to sit at his desk and do some fanciful meditation about boats. Among the mindscapes he explored and sketched was the future of the raised pilothouse motor yacht.

‘What will be the raised pilothouse of the next decade?’ he wondered. ‘What can we do with it to excite the market?’

A creative designer engaged in free-form thinking, mindful of parameters but unbound by the specific demands of a client or a yard, can be a formidable force for change. Among the ideas that de Basto pondered was a raised pilothouse with a glass ceiling or even open with a retractable ceiling like a convertible car.

None of his ruminations may see the water, but de Basto is bullish on the concept. In any case, there is evidence the market is primed for new directions with this genre.

‘We haven’t seen much new stuff come out on this type of boat lately,’ he says, ‘but the concept is hardly exhausted. We can do much more with it.’

The raised pilothouse configuration has been around for more than 50 years and is the predominant arrangement for motor yachts between 24m and 37m feet. It essentially places the wheelhouse a half deck above the main, and typically has access a few steps higher to a flybridge and sun deck. In some cases, the wheelhouse is just a wheelhouse, but most are equipped with settees where once upon a time there was a pilot berth.

While it reduces some guest space on the main deck, a raised pilothouse’s main benefits are that it offers good visibility from the helm and opens up space on the main deck forward for a stateroom, crew quarters or a popular ‘country kitchen’ galley, often with windows and a forward view. Refinements to the concept are creating more space and new options for owners that are making them feel more like larger yachts.

No one can say with certainty which designer produced the first raised pilothouse (RPH) boat, but it is clear the type evolved from both the cruiser style and flush deck style yachts that were in fashion well into the 1950s. Both designs typically had an engine room that was well forward of amidships. As speed requirements increased, engines became larger and both hull forms and engine placement changes aft ensued to deliver semi-displacement speed. A melding of the two styles to accommodate these changes led to what we recognize as the raised pilothouse configuration.

Burger's newest 97 is a collaboration with Vripack that returns to classic Burger lines.
Burger-Vripack 97 yacht general arrangement.

Additional factors may have come into play with the evolution of the design. Ron Cleveringa, naval architect and vice president of sales and marketing of Burger Boat Company, cites a desire to get standing headroom into the low engine rooms of the cruiser style yachts of the day. To accomplish that, the galley and salon sole had to be raised. The raising of the sole level pushed the pilothouse up a few steps. Eventually the salon was moved aft of the pilothouse area while the galley remained forward, connected to crew quarters.

‘The raised pilothouse design is a direct result of a practical improvement as it relates to the engine room,’ Cleveringa says. As years passed, engine rooms moved fully aft alleviating that issue, but the concept stuck and has gained in popularity. ‘It’s all over the place,’ says de Basto. ‘It’s so much in your face, you don’t even see it.’

While the evolution of the raised pilothouse is not entirely linear, it is directly tied to some of the premier builders and designers of the second half of the 20th century, particularly in the US.

Jack Hargrave and his firm produced many raised pilothouse designs over the years dating from 38m Arara III in 1977 by Burger and the 27.4m_ _Tropic Ana for Cheoy Lee in 1983.

Wisconsin’s Burger Boat Company was an early purveyor of the type in the 1960s and 1970s. Many Burgers from that era, drawn by the leading firms of the day, are considered classics and for many define the look of a proper motor yacht. Most, though, point to Broward Marine as bringing the raised pilothouse to prominence beginning in the early 1980s and extending through the mid-1990s.

During that period, yachts were evolving in many ways. For one, they were simply getting larger, and Broward was a pacesetter on that front. Electronics and entertainment systems were becoming more sophisticated and needed more space on board and demand for refrigeration and freezer space was growing.

Westport's 29.9m RPH Golden Delicious was the first of its 29.9m designed by Jack Sarin.

Broward’s raised pilothouse, three-stateroom 72s and four-stateroom 100s, of which many were built during that period, innovated in the use of space on board, as did many others from the builder. The 25m Broward_ Shalimar_, delivered in 1980, was the first to employ the country kitchen arrangement in which the galley, forward on the main deck, was expanded to include informal dining for guests.

That innovation, brought to the party by Gertrude Denison, wife of Broward’s founder, Frank Denison, evolved through the 1980s and remains a popular arrangement on raised pilothouse yachts. When the country kitchen gained a foothold, the forward crew quarters below were sent to the back of the bus and that forward space was used to great effect for VIP staterooms or the perfect space to accommodate older children.

‘It was an easy way to accommodate dining,’ says Ken Denison, son of Frank and Broward’s vice president of new boat sales and construction from 1983 to 1993. ‘Formal dining was kind of on the way out.’

The compact space under the pilothouse evolved as well, and is now often used as an electronics server room, with space carved out for standard galley stowage, a dayhead or space for other mechanical installations.

The current design for the Westport 98. The 98-foot platform is an evolution of the ever-popular Westport 112 model.

Broward has been inactive for some years now, but many semi-custom and series yacht builders are playing – and raising – the raised pilothouse game. Naval architect Jack Sarin became the go-to guy on the West Coast for RPH designs in 1988 with the launch of the 29.9m custom Westport Golden Delicious.

Today, Westport is all semi-custom series yachts and has had significant success with its current 98, sharing a hull mould with its 112 model, which made its debut in 2002. The builder is approaching hull number 50 on the 112s. ‘It’s a great platform that continues to evolve,’ says Westport vice president Phil Purcell.

On the US East Coast, while Broward built in aluminium, Hatteras picked up the gauntlet for its composite motor yacht design in 1990, creating ever larger versions for Victory Lane Yachts owned by Felix Sabates.

When Sabates outgrew Hatteras’s production capability, he bought a stake in Trinity Yachts in the mid-1990s to pursue larger tri-deck yachts. Interestingly, Trinity currently has a spec 120 RPH to its own design on the way and a 50m version designed. Its last raised pilothouse was launched in 1999. Trinity’s first yacht was a 115 RPH called Leda delivered in 1994.

Much of the RPH game today centres on offering the amenities of a large yacht in a small package. Westport’s 112, which has a generous 7.2m beam, is offered with a country kitchen or a main-deck master forward of the pilothouse, a feature that endows the yacht with one of the more appealing attributes of a larger, tri-deck yacht.

Trinity's T-058 was due launch in 2013. Its exterior styling was by Joanne Lockhart of Yacht Next and Geoff Van Aller of Trinity Yachts.

Moonen Yachts of The Netherlands has announced a new 30.5m by Rene van der Velden that also expands the aesthetic mould somewhat. The yacht features a main-deck owner’s stateroom thanks to the narrow walkways forward, which are intended for crew use only. Elsewhere the yacht has the most economic layout possible for a boat of the size.

‘The challenge with a raised pilothouse configuration is that it can take a lot of space away from the flybridge,’ says Moonen’s managing director Emile Bilterijst. ‘To counteract this, we have placed the tenders in a stern garage from where they will be launched by slipway rather than an overhead crane. This yacht is an ideal option for an owner looking for a more modern aesthetic within a clearly identifiable Moonen style of gentlemen’s yacht, but with a styling departure.’

Even venerable Burger appears willing to break the mould. In 2011, it partnered with Ivan Erdevicki Naval Architecture & Yacht Design to create an ultra-contemporary design for a 40m that is a far cry from the classic Burger profile.

Sanlorenzo is one of the European builders to have adopted the raised pilothouse design.

The new design features a full-beam owner’s stateroom with his and hers en suite bathrooms on the main deck and four guest staterooms below. It has a spacious salon with a formal dining room, as well as informal dining forward of the wheelhouse. It has a tender garage abaft the engine room as well.

Most other major series builders in the 24m to 40m range, including Lazzara, Sanlorenzo, Azimut, Benetti, Ferretti, Horizon, and Hargrave Custom Yachts have raised pilothouse models, many of which present similar profiles. Sanlorenzo has been building them for 20 years. It has five raised pilothouse models in its range: from 26.8m, 28m and 32.9m, with two more on the way.

With the exception of Sanlorenzo, the main deck layouts of these builders feature the country kitchen forward, although so highly styled as to mirror the great room concept in homes. Sanlorenzo offers its 28m with the options of formal dining forward of the RPH and a small crew mess/galley all the way forward; an integrated country kitchen; or with the dining aft of the pilothouse, with the galley and a small breakfast room or crew mess forward.

Sanlorenzo says that younger Europeans who enjoy making boating a family affair are beginning to like the country kitchen approach.

Michael Joyce of Hargrave Custom Yachts says that about 60 per cent of the boats his company sells are RPH models. He believes that despite the main deck space penalty the type carries, the raised pilothouse hits an aesthetic sweet spot, especially with older owners who may carry with them in their heads – or in a frayed manila folder – an image of what a yacht should look like. Hargrave will soon introduce new models.

‘They’re reacting to the styling elements,’ he says of the raised pilothouse type. ‘They’re reacting to the perceived prestige of that profile and whatever subconscious imprint they have of it. There are certain things you perceive to be the best.’ A boat that is too tall for its length doesn’t look good.

Sanlorenzo's models offer the option of a formal dining room forward and country kitchens.
The reduced beam of Hatteras' newest raised pilothouse design allows for fewer crew and a more efficient propulsion.

In the 24m to 34m class, size, draft, stability issues and aesthetic concerns prevent a tri-deck arrangement, but that hasn't prevented some builders and designers from reaching out for something different to revolutionize the RPH form.

Nuvolari-Lenard have designed several raised pilothouse models for Palmer Johnson including the markedly non-traditional Sports Yachts. Carlo Nuvolari correctly asserts that the Sports Yacht models don't look like the typical raised pilothouse yacht. They are more reminiscent of the express-type boats that exist at the lower reaches of the market, but he suggests they tap into owners' passions.

'People buy boats with their hearts,' Nuvolari says. 'Because the wheelhouse is not so high, you can style out quite a beautiful yacht.'

'The long waterline enhances the efficiency and enables slightly higher speeds. Besides this, the layout provides features like sliding doors at the sides giving a much more open feeling to the salon when required and a flexible layout of the guest cabins,' says van der Velden.

Moonen's 100 RPH places the tenders in a stern garage to allow more room on the flybridge.

'It's not that none of these features have never appeared before, but I feel that here we managed to combine all of them in one vessel in a very elegant way, making her unique and of interest to many potential buyers.'

Not everyone wants more from their raised pilothouse design. Hatteras, which has built both sportfishing yachts and motor yachts over the half-century of its existence, is introducing a new 30.4m raised pilothouse model in 2013 that aspires to offer many of the benefits of a larger yacht, but in a more economical package. It is a four-stateroom boat, but it has a beam of 6.85m, narrower than its predecessor. It has an exceptionally spacious aft deck and a single central staircase to access the lower deck. Its last 30.4m craft was launched in 2006.

'With the beam reduction, we're getting better economy on propulsion and maintenance,' says Eric Cashion of Hatteras. 'There's no need for a big crew. We're seeing folks wanting the size, but not a big team of crew to manage.' Indeed, the renewed respect for the efficiency of slimmer hulls across the board may itself drive designers back to the raised pilothouse form.

While not exactly a flood, the new raised pilothouse designs coming into the market suggest the enduring appeal of the arrangement. Like de Basto and others, Joyce believes the form has bright future. 'You're going to see more raised pilothouse motor yachts over the next five years,' he says.

Originally taken from Mega Yacht Volume 13 (2012).

Originally published: MegaYachts Volume 13 (2012)

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