Party by design: Top tips for creating the ultimate party yacht

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Plan ahead

It’s not all about A-list guests and vintage Champagne. You need to think about technology if you want to host the ultimate superyacht party, writes Risa Merl...

Yacht parties are a study in organised chaos. While they might be all about letting your hair down, creating a memorably wild time on board is made possible only by careful planning. The perfect party yacht is fuelled by technology, whether it’s spectacular flashing lasers or discreet custom speakers making sure the entertainment is up to the minute.

Owners and charter guests expect the latest of everything. Boat International columnist Eddie Jordan certainly had entertaining in mind when designing his yacht, 47 metre Sunseeker Blush (pictured). “A bar on each deck, the right lighting and customised sound are important, as is the positioning of the speakers,” he says, touching on just a few of the items on the long checklist of party yacht accoutrements.

Planning for parties needs to begin as early as the GA stage so the owner can offer the very best entertaining experience. Winch Design incorporates the A/V room into the layout when developing the GA so it doesn’t have to go back and ask the owner for more space later.

“A/V is a moving target,” says Patrick Moussa, operations director of yacht management company Master Yachts. “We bring the experts in early. The hardest things to retrofit are additional wires, while a speaker or TV is easily replaced. The experts will know what’s coming five years from now, and may even know how it will be wired up.”

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Fully integrate the on-board tech

Today’s high-tech party yacht might have a DJ booth hidden behind panels, a video wall that slides up from a sunpad, an LED-sensitive dance floor that reveals itself after dark, and speakers, lights and lasers built into the radar arch. Integrations such as these make the transition from day to night a breeze.

Flexibility is the key word, says Dirk de Jong, Oceanco’s director of design and innovation. “Given the limited space on a yacht, multipurpose areas are always popular. The entertainment system in such an area is usually designed to be unobtrusive during ‘regular’ use, but can then be easily augmented with extra speakers and lights, a DJ booth or a cinema set-up if that’s what the owner wants.”

A good design and A/V specialist will try to make sure that not too much crew involvement is required to put the yacht into party mode. Most party-integrated yachts can transform within an hour, with the biggest chunk of that time going to moving furniture rather than bringing the A/V online.

Automation is important to lessen the demands on the crew. “A yacht is not a club — there isn’t dedicated staff to operate the sound and lighting systems — so smart software solutions and automation should be at the centre,” says Goran Antonijevic, sales manager at A/V specialist VBH.

Photo: Feadship

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Know your needs

Integration doesn’t work for all. Many owners and captains are fine hiring gear as needed. “There is so much you can hire in — like rotating lights and disco balls,” says Eddie Jordan. “One reason to do this is space, two is the cost and third is because it all goes out of date.”

The captains of Joy and Icon (pictured), both yachts known for their party credentials, agree that integration isn’t mandatory. Joy has a set of powerful JBL Professional speakers and woofers that can be brought out for special occasions — “when we really want to crank up the volume,” says the captain.

Icon’s captain, Marcel van den Houdt, says its sound system from Mr Smith is complemented by hiring lights and disco balls when it’s time for a party. The obvious downside to this, though, is there might not be A/V gear or specialists available everywhere the yacht goes.

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Consider bespoke speakers

Music is the life of any party. “Very often people try to have fewer speakers and force the sound, but you need music as a background rather than in the foreground,” says Jordan, who on Blush opted for a customised system.

Specialists can install anything from a simple sound system to a customised one able to achieve the same levels as a nightclub. VBH works with many speaker brands but recommends bespoke speakers such as those from CAT. They can fit in different spaces, are high quality, powerful and suitable for the marine environment. VBH installed custom CAT speakers on Abeking & Rasmussen’s Cloudbreak (pictured) and the Heesens Galactica Star and Crazy Me.

Sara Stimilli, of A/V specialist Videoworks, says future proofing can be achieved by using high quality cables for the audio and space planning to allow for the installation of speakers that have built-in or separate amplifiers.

Photo: Christopher Scholey

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Leave room for entertainment

“The DJ set-up can take up a lot of space, handicapping the bar. Ideally, the DJ would have a dedicated booth out of the way of foot traffic,” says De Jong. But not every yacht has the space for a DJ booth, so sometimes a bar has to do. In that case planning is vital to make this space work. “We take care to define a comfortable position for the DJ, a high level of waterproofing for the audio plug-ins and a wired internet connection,” says Stimilli.

Sound hook-ups for bands should also be planned in various spaces. These plug-ins are beginning to be integrated — “the times of having cables taped over teak decks and people tripping on them is a thing of the past,” says Andreas Iseli, head of exteriors, yachts, at Winch Design.

Also trending are sound stages that can double up as something else. Eddie Jordan covers his spa pool and uses it as a stage for his band, Eddie & the Robbers (pictured), while British design studio RWD has created seating areas that transform into concert stages.

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Don’t forget the dancefloor

Dance floors, especially of the rotating or transforming variety, require careful planning early on. “The deck construction itself may need to be altered to be able to flush-mount the required equipment in the floor,” says De Jong.

The most popular high-tech dance floor at the moment is one made of LED panels, which can make colour wheels, sync visualisations to the music or be pressure-sensitive when they are danced upon. The technology is improving all the time, so future proofing and space savings can be afforded in-build.

Some of the best dance floors are in cave-like spaces, such as the beach clubs on Joy and Icon (pictured). “We can invite guests on at the transom, they walk through the beach club, all lit up in disco lights and with the video wall, and that really sets the scene for the party,” says Joy’s captain.

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Sync up the lighting

Well planned lighting can be a wow factor in itself, as the Gulf Craft Majesty 155 Sehamia (pictured) shows. Meanwhile RWD works with glass focal points — panels set in the bar, wall or ceiling — where lighting reacts to sound, creating a spectacular show. Syncing lighting with the A/V is the easiest way to make the party feel like an interactive experience. This can either be automated, or controllable from the owner’s iPad. Underwater lights should get in on the fun too. Hook them up to the DJ system so the lights move with the music. It makes quite an entrance for guests as they step off the superyacht tender.

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Bar design is crucial

Eddie Jordan knew he wanted a bar on every deck: on the main deck, where guests could be greeted with champagne; the upper deck, where food could be enjoyed al fresco; and the party itself on the sundeck. But the layout of the bars is only part of the equation. Bars can have a simple lighting scheme to be illuminated at night or go all out with screens and interactive displays, like on the 51 metre Heesen Mysky.

“We’ve designed several interactive bars with built-in displays, which can have an ordering system,” says Antonijevic. But it’s important to keep in mind the durability of such equipment in the marine environment — and what the bars look like in the daytime. “We want the spaces to be functional all the time, not just like a nightclub with glowing bar tops and screens, which can come off as cheap and club-ish in the day,” says Iseli.

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Use the pool to your advantage

A superyacht swimming pool is often the party’s focal point, where guests gather — or even take a dip depending on the occasion. VBH has designed a visualisation that followed a person swimming and projected the movement on the pool’s floor. A pool can also afford your party some much needed privacy. The waterfall pool on Heesen’s Quite Essential (pictured) was designed so that it could be turned on as a screen to shield partygoers from dockside onlookers.

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Be brave with visual effects

How about a video wall that tracks your movement? Antonijevic describes a visualisation that combined motion sensors, 3D cameras and pressure sensors to detect movement, then used an algorithm to activate the animation on a screen. VBH installed a special interactive video wall on Cloudbreak, which is fully automated and controlled by an iPad. This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of special effects.

At the end of the night, the best party yachts tie all the tech together — sound, lighting and visual effects — so it’s one big mind-blowing ecosystem and the perfect foundation for a stunning party.

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