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Vector, elegant 105-metre yacht designed for Oceanco
Credit: Luiz DeBasto

Superyacht designers on the unstoppable rise of the beach club

13 September 2021• Written by Cecile Gauert

The leisure space at a yacht’s stern is more prized than ever. BOAT looks back at the unstoppable rise of the beach club...

From the mid 2000s to today, yacht designers and builders have placed increased focus on water access. Recent deliveries such as the Oasis 40M and Alpha YachtsSpritz 102 have replaced the back end of the boat with terraces with sea views. The beach club is taking on a whole new dimension.

A few years ago, designers shifted the focus from the top deck, which was seen as the main recreation area on a yacht, to the lower deck, specifically the transom area. Who were the trendsetters? The 105-metre Lady Moura, built by Blohm+Voss in 1990, really pushed the envelope, and her fold-down terraces were an early inspiration, although her beach club wasn’t at water level. The Jon Bannenberg-designed Lürssen Coral Ocean, delivered in 1994 as Coral Island, was another custom yacht filled with innovative features, including balconies and guest water access. “Coral Ocean already had a lovely stern and open sea access,” says designer Pieter Van Geest, although he says, “Eco [now Zeus] had the first low aft deck with open sea access.”

Oasis 40M: A collaboration between RWD and Benetti
Courtesy of Benetti

Then there was Princess Mariana (now Pegasus VIII), a 79-metre Espen Øino-designed superyacht delivered in 2003. It had a floodable tender garage/beach club and side balconies. It’s hard to pick one single influencer, but what is certain is that moving away from classic wraparound transoms like the charming canoe stern and opening up water access was becoming a big trend. 

Designer Frank Neubelt remembers getting requests for platforms with integrated ladders and with room for a couple of chairs in the 1990s. One of his first superyacht designs, the Moonen Xanadu (now Azul A), had such a feature. “Xanadu’s owner requested a sauna in the transom area, so in 1996 a mini beach club was born – all at just 34 metres,” he says. However, with few exceptions, platforms were just large enough for crew to handle lines and the tender, and the closest you got to the water from the aft section of the boat was on sportfishers. The waterfront was a working area, a bit like it was on shore for many years.

“Proximity to the water is a new phenomenon in our western civilisation connected with the Industrial Revolution, new wealth and more pleasure time,” says Luiz de Basto. De Basto translated one of his early architectural concepts for a villa with unfolding terraces to yacht design, and began integrating fold-down terraces on all kinds of boats starting in 2008. “In the beginning, yacht transoms were all enclosed – no one wanted to be near the water. Yachts were used more for formal gatherings,” he says.

Whatever the tipping point, by the mid 2000s, multiple concepts began cropping up. In 2005 Italian builder CRN delivered the 54-metre Ability (now Alouette II), designed by Zuccon International Project, as a pure custom yacht with a 19-square-metre “beach deck” connected to a fitness room/spa behind glass doors. The design, the yard said at the time, “rearranges the rules of standard naval design, transforming the stern into a VIP area, with a fully-fledged  ‘balcony on the sea’.”

Neubelt’s work on large custom yachts as a co-founder of Newcruise developed his earlier concepts significantly: the 68-metre Nobiskrug Triple Seven delivered in 2006 features a split-level beach club/bar arrangement and elegant stairs connecting the large swim platform to the main deck, an arrangement he expanded for the 73-metre Siren, delivered in 2008.

Nauta Design, building on its extensive experience with sailing boat design, where connection with the water is so much a part of the lifestyle, made a big splash with the first iteration of Project Light, an 80-metre custom project developed for a client with builder Fincantieri in 2006.

Courtesy of Benetti

“We shifted the attention from the interior to the exterior, from living inside to outdoor living, and even when inside, to enjoying the outdoor view through great glazed surfaces, low bulwarks and a seamless connection between inside and outside,” says Mario Pedol, co-founder of Nauta Design. Among the many features was a covered space at water level connected to an indoor lounge behind sliding glass doors and fold-down terraces on the three sides. The 2008 financial meltdown put a stop to the project, but Nauta continued to evolve the concept and in 2009 released a 90-metre version. “That was our first design where a beach club really had an important function,” says Pedol. The next logical step was to include a full wraparound platform, which Nauta showed in several concepts.

Overall a transformation of the aft section of the yacht from a work area to a leisure area became more evident at that time. Two examples illustrate this trend beautifully: the Nuvolari Lenard-designed Oceanco Alfa Nero, delivered in 2007, boasts a vast aft main deck with pool/helideck located above the tender garage; and the Michael Leach-designed 96-metre Palladium, delivered in 2010, has a two-level water activity centre, with the beach club proper – pool, sunpads and observation area – on the main deck.

Courtesy of Benetti

A more active lifestyle, a desire to interact with the water and fabulous toys drove the change, and technical evolution (and evolving rules) made it more possible to push boundaries, even on smaller yachts.

Wider Yachts, one of the first builders to adopt a hybrid propulsion system, helped expand the idea to the sub-50-metre category when it unveiled in 2011 its concept for what would become the 46-metre Wider 150 several years later. “I think that Wider did quite some development to make the beach club special,” says Frank Laupman, founder of the prolific design company Omega Architects and designer of the trendsetting Heesen Galactica Star, a stylish 65-metre yacht with beach club delivered in 2013. It was for the owner of a Wider yacht and cruise line executive that Laupman designed the beach club concept for a small “cruise liner with yacht DNA”. The dual- level beach club area has two convertible zones. The lower level can be closed for safety reasons when the yacht is in a marina, the designer explains, “because owners want to maintain privacy and security at some point”.

The 110-square-metre beach club is 80-metre Tatiana’s main attraction
Courtesy of Bilgin Yachts

And that has been part of the most recent evolution – to make the beach club or sea lounge usable any time, especially as it takes more space on the lower deck. At Sanlorenzo, a glass bottom pool on the aft deck is also a light conduit into the beach club/tender garage, a solution the shipyard first implemented on the Sanlorenzo 52Steel, designed in collaboration with Officina Italia Design, and more recently on the 62Steel.

H2 Yacht Design created a spectacular two-pool arrangement and 110-square-metre beach club on the 80-metre Bilgin Yachts Tatiana, which was delivered earlier this year. It includes a spa, space for massage en plein air and a hamman in keeping with an increased focus on wellness several years in the making

On many Lürssen yachts, the main recreation deck was away from prying eyes and, more recently, lounges and terraces migrated to the lower deck, expanding the spa area into a fully-fledged multi-use recreational area. Lennart Pundt, head of project development for the German shipyard, sees this evolution and an increased care for the environment as closely linked. And that isn’t about to change. With the switch to lower emissions or silent, exhaust-free propulsion options, the lower deck will be more pleasant an area than ever.

Hot Lab designed the 43-metre Atlantique for Columbus Yachts with a “sailboat-style” stern.
Courtesy of Columbus Yachts

“The massage [area] and spa are no longer disconnected from the activities on the water.  The beach area is becoming a fully functional total wellness and activity centre,” says Laura Pomponi, of Luxury Projects, who recently designed a spectacular arrangement on a private 70-metre Benetti. Although of late, there is another evolution. “We often arrange the beach club as a relaxing area with lounge seating, big-screen television and buffet cabinet or counter for direct service of refreshments between watersports activities. Then, at night, the service counter turns to a bar and a DJ table appears in a corner, turning it into a nightclub,” she says.

What could be more pleasant than to linger at the water’s edge, at least in fair weather? Even when they visit Westport Yachts’ facility in Fort Lauderdale, clients often suggest meeting for coffee on their beach club, says Alex Rogers, the company’s director of sales. The prolific American builder was a latecomer to the trend. “We are very conservative,” says Rogers. “We like our boats to work; it’s another moving part and you don’t want to get stuck somewhere with the beach club open.” But clients kept asking and so they worked with nautical engineering company Nautical Structures on implementing a beach club on the Westport 125, the first of which was delivered in 2017. They chose a door that opens upward and a fixed platform. This has multiple advantages: it offers the ability to insert lights, speakers and showers, provides shade and won’t be disrupted by choppy water. Westport will implement this feature in all new models for the foreseeable future, and tailor it to individual needs (fishing or diving).

Giorgio Cassetta designed the Spritz 102 for Alpha Custom Yachts
Courtesy of Alpha Custom Yachts

And that has been part of the most recent evolution – to make the beach club or sea lounge usable any time, especially as it takes more space on the lower deck. At Sanlorenzo, a glass bottom pool on the aft deck is also a light conduit into the beach club/tender garage, a solution the shipyard first implemented on the Sanlorenzo 52Steel, designed in collaboration with Officina Italia Design, and more recently on the 62Steel.

H2 Yacht Design created a spectacular two-pool arrangement and 110-square-metre beach club on the 80-metre Bilgin Yachts Tatiana, which was delivered earlier this year. It includes a spa, space for massage en plein air and a hamman in keeping with an increased focus on wellness several years in the making

On many Lürssen yachts, the main recreation deck was away from prying eyes and, more recently, lounges and terraces migrated to the lower deck, expanding the spa area into a fully-fledged multi-use recreational area. Lennart Pundt, head of project development for the German shipyard, sees this evolution and an increased care for the environment as closely linked. And that isn’t about to change. With the switch to lower emissions or silent, exhaust-free propulsion options, the lower deck will be more pleasant an area than ever.

A window into Route 66's plush interior
Credit: Luxury Projects

“The massage [area] and spa are no longer disconnected from the activities on the water.  The beach area is becoming a fully functional total wellness and activity centre,” says Laura Pomponi, of Luxury Projects, who recently designed a spectacular arrangement on a private 70-metre Benetti. Although of late, there is another evolution. “We often arrange the beach club as a relaxing area with lounge seating, big-screen television and buffet cabinet or counter for direct service of refreshments between watersports activities. Then, at night, the service counter turns to a bar and a DJ table appears in a corner, turning it into a nightclub,” she says.

What could be more pleasant than to linger at the water’s edge, at least in fair weather? Even when they visit Westport Yachts’ facility in Fort Lauderdale, clients often suggest meeting for coffee on their beach club, says Alex Rogers, the company’s director of sales. The prolific American builder was a latecomer to the trend. “We are very conservative,” says Rogers. “We like our boats to work; it’s another moving part and you don’t want to get stuck somewhere with the beach club open.” But clients kept asking and so they worked with nautical engineering company Nautical Structures on implementing a beach club on the Westport 125, the first of which was delivered in 2017. They chose a door that opens upward and a fixed platform. This has multiple advantages: it offers the ability to insert lights, speakers and showers, provides shade and won’t be disrupted by choppy water. Westport will implement this feature in all new models for the foreseeable future, and tailor it to individual needs (fishing or diving).

Westport's president calls the 172 a "game-changer"
Courtesy of Westport Yachts

One of the issues with a lower deck beach club is that water is seldom still. A passing speedboat can be enough to send waves into a low-lying space and disrupt the reverie of a sunbather, rendering the space impractical with anything more than a light chop – unless, of course, it’s designed as a “wet space”. For this reason and more (deck height, for example, is a key factor) designer Giorgio Cassetta says these lounges at water level are better suited to much larger yachts, otherwise not only can they get very wet, “they can feel like a cave”.

There are ways around that. An interesting solution is on 49.7-metre Rossinavi Lel. Structural grills in aluminium flanking the large beach club allow light to flow into a well-finished, covered 90-square-metre lounge. It has a 2.5-metre-high ceiling and an internal staircase for safe passage up and down from the main deck. Designer Luca Dini says it is “the largest beach club in a 50-metre yacht under 500GT.” This feature allowed saving on the gross tonnage while increasing liveable space.

On very large yachts, gross tonnage is less of an issue and the height above the water is usually sufficient to protect sunbathers from run-of-the-mill waves. However, large unfolding sections of bulwark can be subject to a lot of strain, says designer Lukasz Opalinski. An industrial designer by training, he imagined a solution that allows bulwarks to slide outwardly, additional deck sections stored under the swim platform filling the gap to form a large flush swim platform with a central articulated section with steps descending into the sea (now standard issue from Opacmare). He illustrated his idea with Indah, his newly released 120-metre concept.

Indah's bulwarks slide outwardly
Credit: Opalinski Design House

The Italian Sea Group’s recently delivered Geco has an attractive open-stern beach club area. It is designed to avoid complications on a yacht that has to be ready for charter for weeks at a time. “Mechanical unfolding things are nice and sometimes needed, but in Geco we wanted to keep it simple to be sure that everything worked at any time, in any situation,” says head of design Gian Marco Campanino. The beach area is fixed, without moving parts.

However, many builders are pushing beyond the traditional beach club, expanding the lifestyle to several tiers, cascading from the aft deck down to the water level. Cassetta posits the traditional beach club has peaked and the lower deck spaces may revert to a more traditional use as storage, watersports and changing room. “There’s a trend, which I very much support, to go from enclosed beach clubs to main deck areas that flow down into the sea in a much more laid back and informal way,” he says. This idea would be similar to what he has designed for Alpha Yachts or Tankoa. “The main deck, which was neglected until five years ago, has become the new place to be because people have realised that there’s less roll there, you’re closer to the sea and have 10 or 15 metres of space that you can use in connection with an internal area without having to walk up the stairs. It just works.”

Vector, elegant 105-metre yacht designed for Oceanco
Credit: Luiz Debasto

It’s a concept that’s seen on a couple of the new semi-custom Benettis. The Italian builder tapped RWD some years ago and gave them carte blanche to develop something new, which would appeal to younger and more active owners. In 2016, they came up with the first concept for what would become the popular Oasis series, which started with the 40-metre Rebeca, and also worked with Benetti on the B.Now series. The thinking was “to take people to the sea”, says RWD’s Andrew Collett. “Traditionally you have this cockpit or seating in the way that was deleted, which opened this whole new area, and with engineering and the tender garage moving, we started to push the decks down and then the natural thing was to open the bulwarks. And the Oasis was born,” he says.

Life on board is becoming less formal and that’s a trend that is here to stay, de Basto says. Even interiors reflect a “more relaxed and informal” approach. Spaces that transform from day to evening use – for instance, a dining space that can be set as a buffet in open air in the day or be enclosed with sliding doors at night – are part of it. Floating islands, netted pools and temporary docks for all manner of water toys, he says, also have transformed the way people enjoy their yachts, expanding the idea of the beach club to just about any size of boat.

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