Assessment of a ship for conversion.

Let’s assume a prospective yacht owner has gone through all the analytical steps to decide on a yacht conversion objective.
(see our article on the subject).
The next move would be to start viewing conversion objects. At that stage, decisions may have to be made fast. The boat may be coming for auction, or appear to be in high demand, or simply the buyer is in a go-do-it-done mood.

There are countless details that will be critical at some point during the conversion works. Designers, architects and project managers will be able to analyse the plans with class and flag, and make decisions about those doubts… or could it already be too late by then?

Let’s look at the “model of operation” options in turn, with a few examples of critical points. The older the original certification of the boat, the more intricate the gap analysis will be. That is even assuming the boat has class and certification still in place.

  1. Private or commercial?

At first sight, it may appear that a private yacht is a way easier goal to achieve than a commercial one, however there are caveats. Many of the recognized yacht flag codes strongly advise private yachts to comply. While not an obligation, one must realise that the insurance, for instance, may consider non-compliance as a reason for weighty penalties. In case of serious accident that could be attributed to the “non-compliance”, there will be a lot of explaining to do, and it could really not be enough to avoid litigation and more penalties.

There are also flags out there that will simply not consider any ship above 24m as private. The ship will be inspected as per SOLAS, period. Those flags that do not have a yacht code but will allow registration of private yachts without certification will probably restrict the yacht’s liberty of movement and acceptability in mainstream ports.

Aside of all this, the main reason to have the yacht coded is resale value.

Some examples of points to look at:

  • Tonnage change due to conversion, particularly if the vessel is close to a threshold GT.
  • Load line items like doors and sill heights, freeing ports, ports and windows, vents, hull openings, to mention a few.
  • Structural items (We have seen quite a few large ships with a non-compliant collision bulkhead for instance.
  • Fire protection, structural as well as functional.
  • MARPOL status and all tank related issues.
  • Lifesaving appliances and all “applying to all ships” SOLAS regulations.

Instinctively, one would chose to stay with the current classification society of the vessel, but sometimes, societies are more amenable than others to look at exemptions or interpretations. Again, there are choices flowing out from elements discovered at the first visit.

Many safety aspects have to be already envisioned at this stage
  • Yacht or “passenger”

For most flags, any ship carrying more than 12 paying guests is a passenger ship. Below that, a ship falls under the “general cargo ship” rules. It is also true for yachts. Under flags that have a dedicated yacht code, those statuses go with the systematic acceptance of some exemptions and some degree of flexibility.

The conversion from anything towards a passenger yacht or ship is always a challenge and happens at considerable cost. The main differences are in life saving appliances (firm requirement for life boats and davit launched rafts), fire protection (both structural and equipment), electrical sources and lighting, but also some perverse issues such as corridor and stairway width that also apply in crew areas.

Consequently, any vessel that has a current passenger ship certification should be critically looked at with the options to maintain the notation, and the status of equipment that she has. Typical example is a ship with open life boats and hand launched life rafts (pre 1998) could be allowed to keep them (in our business for ease of installation and aesthetic arguments.)

FUNCHAL, one of the more exotic candidates for a conversion.
  • Passenger yacht or ship?

If a vessel has been coded as a passenger yacht, depending on the number and nature of the exemptions granted, keeping the “passenger” status under another flag may be impossible without another major conversion. On the other hand, a passenger ship equipped for more than 36 passengers may well get advantage from going below that 36 guests limit to allow some flexibility in the configuration and equipment of the final product.

Even if the owner wants to be able to host commercial events with over 36 guests, there are options, with “class C” under European flag, and on the base of risk assessment under most yacht code flags.

  • Conclusion

We should assume that the prospective owner of a boat has an idea of the plan when attending or commissioning the first visit of a vessel.

Any vessel is potentially subject to several conventions: Tonnage, Load lines, SOLAS, MARPOL and more recently MLC. Each of these can be applicable or not depending on the size, intended use, and chosen flag. These conventions create the obligation or not to follow several codes: LSA, FSS, FTC, Stability, just to name a few. Those codes and conventions keep evolving with time and the number of elements to be considered is impressive.

While brokers and many yacht surveyors are suitably versed in the main elements, it takes a long experience of facing issues during conversion to be able to make an instant gap analysis during a visit that will typically last a day or less. Naval architects and yard managers will also have the information, but could lack the understanding of how a yacht operates in real life to satisfy guests. Let’s be fair, this is not their core business.

With time short and the risk of losing a bargain if a decision is not made fast, how do you approach that important first visit ? Keep in mind that with most projects, the cost of the refit will be way above the current value of the asset. The decisions made at this point must be based more on the future yacht potential than on the condition of the vessel as surveyed.

After purchase, if this step has failed, the same exercise still has to be made, but now, with less options. In case of problems, it’s either change the model, or swallow the extra costs.

(c) pictures from, KHMB Design,

Solving the Boat Equation

Breaking the Deadlock

A boat, any boat, is always a compromise. I have showed recently how that affects classics of similar length such as The Krupp yacht “Reveler” and the US built “Delphine”

Within the last few weeks of this year 2020, two vessels have been presented to the press with extensive details and comments: The explorer yacht “Shinkai”, by Feadship, and the light and fast under 500GT yacht “Phi”, by Royal Huisman.

No alt text provided for this image

Both yachts are around 55m, and interestingly “Phi” at 58,5m is reported to be the longest yacht under 500GT. On the other hand, “Shinkai” at 54,9m is still a long range explorer good for 5500 miles at 12 knots. To achieve that, she is able to cram an impressive 140000 litres of fuel in her 974GT volume.

With probably much less fuel and a top speed of 22 knots, “Phi” does not have that kind of range, and also does not really need it. Indeed, to achieve the small tonnage, most of the social spaces are inside/outside areas protected by cleverly designed fashion plates. That kind of restricts the use of the yacht to warmer climates and friendly seas.

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Over her four plus decks, “Shinkai” achieves not only the habitable volume and tankage, but also carries an impressive collection of toys including a 3-man submarine and large limo tender.

Both yacht can carry 12 guests, and 11 or 12 crew to proverbially ensure a relaxed luxury yacht experience. Interestingly, both yachts reportedly will use gyro stabilisation, albeit in different variants.

This pair of yachts shows how two experienced owners can achieve two completely different results of the boat equation within the same size category.

As usual, we are quite impatient to discover more, and particularly GA plans to see how all that fits together. This quick introduction, though, should give food for thoughts to any potential yacht owner who would not have the previous experience to know exactly what they want.

(c) Pictures “Royal Huisman” and “Vitruvius”… and “Navsource,org”

How independent are your internal audits?

Breaking the Deadlock:

In our yachting world, we pride ourselves in our short communication lines, optimised collaboration at all levels and utmost reactivity. To achieve that, operators work in very tight-knit communities where everybody, in theory, knows what everybody else is doing.

That could create a challenge in terms of independence of auditors, but the code recognizes that challenge and words it. 

12.5 Personnel carrying out audits should be independent of the areas being audited unless this is impracticable due to the size and the nature of the Company. 

In a very large corporation, operational departments run production based on their own procedures and work instructions. At regular intervals, auditors come from the upper storeys of a tower in a big city and examine the situation on the work floor. They are arguably independent. They may have participated in the creation of general management systems under which the work place operates, but did not write the work instructions.

In a small shipping company, however, the situation is very different. The DPA and auditors often are very close to, or even the same as, the operational managers. They have often written the whole system under which the ships operate, very likely down to the working instructions. When they are on board for an audit, does it feel like an independent scrutiny, or more like a review of the processes they manage on a daily base? Is it unreasonable to assume that while performing an audit, if they find a failing, they will very likely rather question the people than challenge their own system?

Guidance 41 of IACS for auditors of the ISM code does recognise such a challenge, and addresses it particularly in the appendix on “captain owners”. IACS formally recommends third party internal audits in those cases.

Let’s look at various aspects of an audit that would benefit from third party audits.

  1. the experience of the auditors.

Granted, most DPA’s today have followed some formal training, and they probably have sailing experience, albeit not necessarily in the same branch of the industry, possibly even in a navy. Given that one does not want to burden the ships unnecessarily, the audits would typically be one per ship per year. At the end of the day, your typical auditor’s experience would be anything from two to ten audits a year, while the rest of the time, they polish the system or manage operations, being closely involved in the very processes they “independently” audit.

2. An audit or a survey?

Given the lack of experience, companies often give a preset plan or a check list for the auditor to fill in. A very commonly seen drawback of this is that the less experienced auditor will stick to it to perform a good job. Once a deficiency or shortcoming is observed, it is recorded and one moves on. To be clear, the existence of a deficiency is not in itself a non-conformity. There is a possibility that the deficiency is known, recorded and handled to satisfaction. If not, then the non-conformity is not the deficiency itself, but a failing in a system that allowed it to exist. The auditor should not rest before that failing is identified.

This is an internal process that should go way deeper than during an external audit. The time allotted for internal audits, and their subsequent analysis at head office level is generally too short.

(The existence or not of a non-conformity and its handling is the subject of its own, up-coming article)

3. motivation.

Clearly, the objective of the code is continuous improvement. In small organisations, it can be clouded by the motivation to show that the system works. Many people in management still have the credo that the system works well if no non-conformities are raised. I could not agree less. When I was auditing companies on behalf of the RO/flag, one of my KPI’s was the relation between near misses, internal non-conformities, and findings from external audits. In many cases, the external audits raised more findings than all internal processes together. Does that seem logical? How can one man, coming from outside, not knowing your system and learning as he goes, suddenly discover in one day more improvement information than what your own DPA department has raised over one year with its intimate knowledge of the working of the company?

4. …or the lack of it

I have lived that scenario many times: the audit goes on, notes are taken, then there is the closing meeting. The auditor reviews his notes with the captain or head of department ashore, lists his findings, then chooses the one or the few worth writing about. The others are supposedly in good hands, I trust you to handle it, there is no time to fill in 10 forms… for whichever reason, most of the improvement information is lost. In addition, the auditor may be sympathetic to the ship’s staff, and not willing to impose too much on their time as they have to remain in good working terms.

5. A fresh look.

As a DPA, I have had to argue with some operational managers on the theme of having known, trusted, close to home external auditors each time, rather than letting the RO use their local staff. My view was that using auditors without a previous knowledge of our system would increase the chance of improvement information being identified. I do believe that it can also help in the scope of internal audits. There is also the chance that, when the auditee is stuck with an issue, an internal auditor will feed the auditee answers. At that point, an external auditor would have to work with the auditee to figure out the answers from available documentation, and coach them at the same time.

In Conclusion:

To sum up the advantages of using a carefully chosen third party auditor for your internal audits, you would have an experienced auditor, performing a real audit without interference from in house objectives and agenda’s, allowing the management to learn as much as possible from the working of their operations without the stress of the penalties potentially associated with external audits.

Bonus points kick in when that auditor has R.O. external audit experience, is given time to process the collected information into a constructive report, and possibly coaches the company DPA staff if they stand in during the audits.

That solution also helps the quandary of “who watches the watchers?”.
The Crew and Systems department of your company also needs internal auditing. Who does that, again, with experience and independence?

(images from Safety4sea, ABS, SEATAM, ClassNK)

Benchmarking for Green Yachting.

For the last decade and more, the IACS classification societies have offered ship owners the optional possibility to get a “clean” ship notation. That goes in steps from operational equipment, over to design, recycling and eventually also operations.

While this notation was mainly a marketing tool in the early days, the advent of IMO tier III, ballast water convention and more recently the sulfur cap have slowly merged the additional notations with standard practices, leaving still many voluntary options open.

In the yachting, there has been a more recent trend to try and improve the image of our industry in the field of environmental awareness too. Some owners are truly committed to help make a cleaner world. Others, maybe, just want to avoid being branded as the ugly villain from the movies, polluting regardless of consequences.

The public could argue that the best thing to do, then, would be not to own a huge vehicle that serves a purely selfish purpose. The industry has already demonstrated that this argument is far from valid, considering the positive economic impact of large yachts.

Several project and even existing yachts go a long way to reduce footprint. But how far do you go, and how efficient can that be. “Meten is Weten” (measuring is knowing)

Last year, the media officially launched the “Water Revolution Foundation”. The non-profit organisation had already been around for a few months and has several goals, all connected to helping reduce the environmental impact of luxury yachting. They have produced an “assessment tool” that should help owners, designers and operators to asses, control and if possible reduce the impact of a vessel through its complete life cycle.

Last week, The Yacht Club de Monaco held a series of events that would normally have been part of the Monaco Yacht Show. Next to Covid related subjects, we saw a press conference for the launch of “Superyacht Eco Association (SEA) Index, the first benchmark for yachts in terms of environmental performance”.

Water Revolution is mainly based in the Netherlands and started with highly specialised scientific as well as industry players. It is backed by some of the largest yards, designers and media organisms in Northern Europe. The SEA, reportedly backed by YCM, Credit Suisse and Nobiskrug, has not published much in mainstream media. From the launch presentation, we gather that they are adapting the IMO energy efficiency design index (EEDI) calculations to luxury yachts. That is a more limited approach, considering mainly carbon emissions in operation. The goal being to promote designs that will result in a yacht operating with the lowest possible emissions. In any case, the availability of another option to assess and benchmark a yacht’s eco performance must be a good thing. Both benchmarks can probably happily work together.

To quote Bernard d’Alessandri, secretary general of the YCM:
“Raising awareness is no longer enough – time now for action and solutions!”.

For more info:

Images from:
Groupe Sinot / Lateral Naval Architects
Superyacht Times
Dennis Ingemansson Design

Becoming a yacht captain.

For those contemplating a career on yachts, there is a nice summary on “becoming the captain” given by superyachtyachtcaptain on youtube. It describes one possible route for a UK citizen, or anyone following the MCA system. Other countries have equivalent systems to grow from the ranks and become an officer, and ultimately a captain or chief engineer.

The MCA was very early to recognize that yachting was becoming a serious industry rather than a pleasure activity. They created specific codes for ships and crew certification. That crew route, however, was mainly designed to allow those who were already in the industry to grow and keep their rightful place in officer positions.

I have been a yacht captain for over eight years now and I have seen a lot of new crew joining my ships. Some of them were the old fashion backpackers out for a quick buck and fun before they engaged in a “real” job, some needed the money to move on in a career or in their studies, there have been many different circumstances.

Many of my young crew, however, do consider pursuing a career on yachts and more generally at sea. Most come from a social environment that would allow college studies. Hearing them talk makes me think of myself at the same age: not from a maritime background, born and bred far inshore but with a passion for ships and the sea.

So in a few quick sentences, what is the difference between the “yacht” route and the “commercial” education?

(c) HZS

AGAINST maritime college

  1. You loose at least two years of income. College does not pay and the curriculum in most maritime countries is two to four years.
  2. You’ll start dockwalking aged 20 or more, and possibly with less patience considering your level of education.
  3. To fulfill the sea time requirements of your unlimited licenses, you will be limited in your choice of yacht (commercial above 500 tons etc…) and may even have to do a stint on a cargo ship or supply tug, you name it.
  4. You’d be hired as a midshipman on a cargo or passenger ship, but probably still as a deck or engine hand on a yacht.

FOR maritime college

  1. You are really “unlimited”, not only in tonnage, but in the type of ship you sail on.
  2. Get fed up with yachting? you can find a good, well paid, truly rotational job close to home and family (ferries, towage, offshore industry etc…) 
  3. Your license is endorsable by most IMO flags. National “yacht” licenses are sometimes hard to get endorsed by other flags, particularly out of the MCA system.
  4. You want to step ashore? Some jobs will just specify “college education”. The argument is not whether it is justified or not, it is a simple fact nobody can ignore.

So there we are. I do hear influencers out there saying that nobody needs college education to “make It”. True enough, but it never hurts to have more in your pocket.

Another thing many people in our modern and functional world chose to forget is this: Any college education allows you to test and prove that you are able to concentrate on, and understand, complicated matters that are, at the time, apparently totally useless to you. That is an extraordinary skill too much underrated in these days of pure functionality.

I hear and read a lot about mentoring in our industry today. I can only urge all my colleagues who “mentor” newcomers to keep the college alternative in mind, and make their mentorees aware of all options available in their particular circumstances, and the long term consequences.

Building the “Pit”

The Primaat, from the drawing board of e.g. van de Stadt, is a light and very nimble cruiser. I have been sailing one in the nineties and used to say that she could sail on the memory of a wind.

I have recently failed to secure a nice light second hand gaff cutter on the market. To replace that, I was drawn to the idea of taking a Primaat hull and modify her to give her that last century look, and hopefully feel at the helm.

The first step has been taken. A hull has been purchased and arrived at our shed in Wolphaartsdijk.

In the meantime, decisions have to be made regarding sail area and centres. Rigging must be planned before we start on the deck and coachroof.

We have decided to go for a significant increase in main sail area, as a smaller sail would not look good. That means that we could end up sailing a lot on a very deep first reef, but we’ll have even more power in very light airs than she already had.

The fore triangle centre moves forward thanks to the bumpkin. Its area is also increased from the original plain sail plan. The final balance will have to be judged at trials, but looks all right so far. We always have the option to add a small skeg before the rudder. That was done on two small cruisers that we studied in the past years during the development of prototypes.

MORE COMING, in due time.

New Classics – Sail

In 1960, the Robert Clark designed yacht “Carita” left the yard of De Vries Lentsch. The 57m three masted schooner, today named “Fleurtje”, had the shape of an elegant millionaire’s yacht of the turn of the century. In the following years, classic lines inspired several designers to create reproductions or near replicas of famous boats. Those remained quite confidential though.

“Fleurtje”, arguably the original large new classic

In 1984, Astilleros launched the 62m topsail schooner “Jessica”. A few years on, Pendennis completely altered her looks, with longer overhangs and removing the topsails. She was one of the longest sailing yachts and still is today. (See top picture)

Jessica as built

On a smaller scale, several yards started to offer “new classics”. Having produced “Kim” with a classic look above a modern fin keel underwater body, Andre Hoek went on to design the “Truly Classic” range, still going strong today. He was also the designer for some amazing large luxury yachts including recently “Marie”. Finally, next to some of the new “J”, Andre Hoek designed a number of plumb bow sailing yachts inspired by the pilot cutters of the South of England.

“Adele” by Andre Hoek

Gerard Dijkstra is another famous architect of sailing yachts. Next to revolutionary designs such as the Dynarig, he produced several successful pilot cutter inspired designs including Hetairos and Kamaxitha. Dijkstra also shares with Hoek most of the “J” fleet of today. Many of those designs go for modern sail shapes, although some are very smart using full battens to create a forced roach emulating gaff sails with topsail.

Dijkstra’s “Hetairos”

Dijkstra was the designer for tall ships, sail training vessels that are not relevant to this article, except inasmuch as they gave lead to yacht inspired from them rather than by original classic yachts. “Athena” is one of those, but also the smaller Meteor and “Mikhail S Vorontsov”.

“Mikhail S. Vorontsov”

Bill Langan, formerly of Sparkman and Stephens, produced “Eos” and knocked “Athena” off the Nr 1 place at the time. In the tall ship style, we also find “Baboon” and “Montigne”.

“Eos” beats “Athena” in length by a whisper

Of course, next to the modern interpretations, there are some replicas around that have been built recently. We already mentioned the J’s for which one of the class requirements is that they are built on a period lines plan. Yachts such as “Elena” and “Germania Nova” are also very close replicas.

In this category, there is the particular case of Ed Kastelein. A scion of the Holland-America line owners, he became a hotel operator, then a serial classic yacht owner. Hist last projects include “Zaca a te Moana”, “Eleonora” and the magnificent “Atlantic”.

New against old: “Atlantic” races “Creole”

So to sum things up, there are basically three kinds of large new classics: Pure replicas, Tall ship inspired yachts and classic lines on a modern underwater body. 

The Windjammer project (Dijkstra)

To be fair, there are so many more large size modern sailing than motor classic yachts. It is impossible to be exhaustive here. One thing is certain: more will come. There are beautiful projects out there, in the books of the mentioned designers and others too. Our heart goes towards some of the Van Meer designs for a 74m topsail schooner, Dijkstra’s windjammer project, or maybe Hoek’s Expedition Schooner project. 

(c) All pictures from Google searches, except for “the Windjammer project” from “Dijkstra Naval Architects”

Yachting differently

The launch of yacht RAGNAR finally prompts me to write this piece about yachting differently. For those not in the loop, RAGNAR is a conversion from an ice-breaking PSV (platform supply vessel) into an exploration luxury yacht.

Yacht “Zee Egel”, a former patrol boat

As a youngster sailing with the sea cadets, I often saw ex workboats being used as yachts in our northern waters. The boats the cadets used were mostly repurposed patrol boats, tugs, anything large enough to hold a lot of young people in camping conditions and were not too expensive to operate.

A huge boat for little money!

Brave class ex torpedo boats. A project going south

I saw many people start a project with a dream, buy a workboat for a song, fail, try to sell, and finally the project would die and the owner be the poorer for it. Others, though, made it, mainly because they were realistic about the costs and size of the boat. They ended up with something that was not standard, often bigger than what they could afford as new build or even second hand yacht. They thoroughly enjoyed the boat and ignored any comments from outside.

Translated in our today world of glitter and glamour, I sometimes still see people smirk at similar endeavours, albeit on a larger scale. Let me give you a few examples of things that have worked well:

1.     Quite unusual.


This conversion of a large fishing vessel is definitely not following the canons of proper looks. She has a huge swimming pool/tender dock with landing barge style aft door. The master cabin is in the wooden structure on top of it. What do you think?

2.     Efficient and fast to build.

Olivia (c) superyachtfan

These two yachts had extensive interior refitting but the outside was barely altered. The result is that most changes are cosmetic and do not require structural dismantling. An additional perk kicks in when there are no class sensitive alterations requiring plan approval.

akula-(c) edmiston

It is not always possible to keep it down to cosmetics. In some workboats, spaces such as the engine and technical rooms take much more space than actually needed by the yacht

3.     Functional.

Alk (c) uboatworks

Sometimes, the repurposed boat remains covering part of its prior function. ALK, while sometimes used as a yacht, is principally the submarine tender and training ship of U-Boat Works. SARSEN was used as an exploration yacht, but also chartered out to scientific projects in which she would have mostly professionals on board.


Incentives and consequences.

Clearly the incentive to make a conversion that is not as extensive as that of RAGNAR is fast delivery and reduced cost. It is not uncommon though for such a project to drift into further refining and end up being as lengthy or as expensive as a new build with the same finish.

What you accept when undertaking such a project is instant devaluation. There is little to no chance that the final result will be attractive to a new buyer in the same state or configuration. One must thus accept that the yacht can possibly only be sold-on at the price the original conversion object was purchased, if that. Most of the cost done in the refit are probably forfeited.

ULYSSES (c) Superyacht World

One of the most striking example in the last years is ULYSSES. Not a conversion, but a new build yacht with “workboat” looks and non-faired no-high-gloss hull paint. The intention was clearly to let the world know that this yacht means business.

The owner of ULYSSES ordered a new yacht, almost identical but slightly longer, even before the first one was launched, putting ULYSSES up for sale at the same time. Within six months of her launching, ULYSSES was brought to a shipyard to be fillered, faired and high gloss painted. We can only assume that it was upon advice from brokers and market players for a better resale value. The second ULYSSES was launched with a faired high gloss finish.

Wings or no wings?

Breaking the Deadlock: Exploration ships and the Polar Code.

Following some comments on the launch of the first Damen SeaXplorer, let’s have a look at what exactly you should be ready to sacrifice to Polar capability in terms of stabilisers on your explorer yacht.

The Polar Code defines three categories of ships. To simplify to the extreme, A are ice breakers, B are sturdy ice classed vessels and C are all the rest. Category C vessels are intended to navigate in open waters. That can include waters with floating drift ice, growlers and thin new ice, but no compact first year ice. I have taken a small tanker up the St Lawrence river in February with no ice class. With care, that is possible but challenging.

Let’s have a look at some successful polar exploration ships, all falling under C category

In 1977, Willy de Roos crossed the Nortwest passage in one single season. His boat, “Williwaw”, was a steel sailing ketch of just under 15m. Two years ago, friends of mine visited Vernadsky base, the furthest South you can get without becoming bored. “Grand Jack”, their boat, is from the same shipyard and even smaller than Williwaw.

In a more professional league, the bark Europa has been successfully touring Antarctica every year since long before the Polar Code was created. They too regularly call in Vernadsky.

None of these boats have stabilisers, though we know that it’s exactly what masts and sails are. I put them there to show that a ship does not have to be a purpose designed ice breaker to safely tour the polar zones in summer. The arguments being about stabilizer types and ice capability, let’s have a look at the options.

Stabiliser tanks: compensate roll by allowing controlled movement of a liquid. Fuel is not a good option as the quantity varies, that leaves permanent water ballast. That is a serious waste of space on a ship that should dedicate all her capacity to comfort and supplies for her guests.

Retractable stabilisers are the best option. Usually there is not much waves or swell around ice, so the “wings” can be retracted for protection. Their housing however uses again a lot of space. In addition, they are not very good for “zero speed” stabilization. That means that you sacrifice some comfort all the time you are not in polar areas to those few weeks when you want to be there.

Not retractable stabilizers are the most current option for most yachts. They are exposed and can become damaged if the navigation team does not carefully plan and monitor the passages around ice. That is a question of experience and planning. Experience of such yachts successfully cruising polar waters abound, and I will only mention Sherakhan and Planet Nine, both with “exposed” wings, that came back with no damage.

What will you sacrifice?

Since most polar cruising is done in the summer, the interesting places are accessible in mostly open water. Vernadsky is mostly accessible to cat C ships, but to get there you may have to wait a bit or skip around Lemaire Channel. The Northwest passage, as we have seen with “Williwaw”, is also a possibility, though despite Global Warming, two cruise ships had to turn back last season.

Also you may have to forego the traditional “I tow my yacht in ice“ photo shoot.

In the end, it all boils down to what the plan is: If one wants to do commercial charters specialised in polar regions, the vessel should be provided with either retractable fins or tank stabilization. On the other hand, if the vessel is a true explorer to visit all five oceans and six continents of our planet, compromise may lead people to go for the space gain and efficiency of traditional stabilization.

I would finish on a different subject: No one has commented the subject posts on the absence of life boats. Now if we get started on safety, in true exploration potentially far away from any rescue capability, there is no better way to ensure survival, while you wait for help, than having fully enclosed life boats, or the SOLAS approved equivalent limo tenders, for all occupants of a yacht.

SOLAS and other animals.

(Breaking the Deadlock series.)

In our industry, we often hear people talking about specific yacht certifications (LY3, PYC etc…) as opposed to SOLAS, the latter being considered as the certification for ugly dirty cargo ships. While there is a part of truth there, it may be interesting to explain how that all falls together in the end.

Port State Control (PSC).

While each state is free to create specific regulations applicable to their local shipping, their ships run the risk of being prevented from trading abroad if they do not satisfy international rules. That is mainly due to Port State Control, a system allowing states to examine visiting foreign ships on a “no more favourable” base with respect to their own shipping. In most countries, that implies compliance with SOLAS, MARPOL, MLC and other international conventions, while in the United States, that also implies compliance with the appropriate chapter of the “Code of Federal Regulations”.

Building a yacht under SOLAS.

If you want to build a ship strictly to the international rules, there will be a number of requirements that are normally not considered desirable on a yacht. To name a few, high door sills, life boats, no windows on the lower tiers of superstructure, limited hull openings, not to mention bridge windows that should be slanted forward, non smoked and non polarized. Designers will very quickly be faced with the need for some freedom from those requirements. There are three ways to deviate from the set standards: Exemption, equivalent arrangement and waiver.

The first option is an exemption. That is allowed under reg 4 of SOLAS Chapt 1. The main issue for flag states is that they are bound to declare and document any issued exemption to the IMO. An excessive number of exemptions or frivolous ones based on the will to register yachts may be frowned upon by the venerable institution and eventually result in a flag getting bad marks, and possibly being downgraded to a Grey or Black list. Nevertheless, there are issues for which exemptions are regularly granted, such as position of navigation lights, bridge visibility and other non-critical issues, for which a good justification can be provided.

The second option concerns equivalent arrangements. That is allowed under reg 5 of the same Chapt 1. The approval of an equivalent arrangement is based on a risk assessment and agreement on “trade off” to compensate for deviating from the strict requirement and restore a level of safety identical or higher than the one obtained by following the rule. Among the most common examples are the provision of a larger than required amount of life rafts in exchange of life boats. Another one is an increased level of survivability of the ship in case of damage as trade off for windows in the hull sides. There can be larger than allowed combustible materials in some spaces in exchange for a denser sprinkler system… This method requires the most work, but allows quite a large level of flexibility, and principally, does not carry with it the requirement to declare granted arrangements to the IMO. Nevertheless, it is good to have the arrangements carefully documented so that PSC inspectors can satisfy themselves of the maintained safety level.

The third and easiest way is a waiver by the administration to enforce a given requirement. SOLAS expressly states that possibility for administrations in specific rules, but the administration could satisfy itself that waivers can be granted in other cases. There is clearly a risk there as PSC could identify the waiver and call it a deficiency.

REG, MI and other “yacht” flags.

As seen above, the best option is to obtain agreement on equivalent arrangements for the desired deviations. The process is cumbersome and the risk assessments are difficult to pass through class and flag. I was involved in a refit with a list of 37 issues to be passed. The documenting and clearing of those took several months of intense efforts, meetings and communication back and forth.

Some flags of the Red Ensign Group which were traditionally more involved with yachting decided to come together and create a code that essentially is a list of standardized trade offs. They keep their finger on the pulse of yacht design and have advance knowledge of the demands that will be made in terms of arrangements, materials and other particular design features. That has allowed them to produce the original Large Yacht Code. That code is ratified by IMO and the involved deviations can be granted systematically, as long as they strictly follow the code.

After a few years, the same group followed with the evaluation of the case of small passenger ships (maximum 36 pax), and the trade offs that IMO could accept in that case. Passenger ships are notoriously harder to certify than vessels carrying 12 passengers or less.

The Marshall Islands and several other non REG flags have followed the same path and also certify yachts on the base of a code approved by IMO.

The same flags strongly encourage private vessels, in theory exempted from SOLAS, to follow the codes at the design and building stage to protect owners from unexpected PSC problems, but also mainly to guarantee safety at sea. Indeed, if there should be a serious accident, the owner of a yacht that does not follow any code should be ready to do a lot of explaining.


The code vessel will have a flag certificate of inspection confirming its status, but will also be issued the necessary statutory certificates (cargo ship safety or passenger ship safety), along with a declaration of exemptions granted with reference to the code.

Truth of the matter: Is a code vessel over 500 GT a SOLAS ship?

The answer can only be yes, she is SOLAS, with exemptions under the applied code.