View from the bridge: The value of design input from experienced crew


Better by design: Captain Iain Flockhart argues that superyacht crews should be consulted when planning yacht designs.

The vast majority of people who design yachts have never spent any appreciable time working at sea, writes captain Iain Flockhart

This leaves them largely inexperienced in the critically important practicalities of what happens aboard a large yacht each day.  This is not conducive to the efficient designing and running of an expensive asset. Such built-in inefficiencies can reflect badly on the crew members who have to work around an avoidably flawed design.

Oversights, mistakes and omissions are all time consuming and expensive to correct to achieve a better result. Moreover, they are, of course, avoidable if the correct input and guidance are sought and taken onboard at the beginning of the process.

As a ‘build captain’, well-versed in working with new designs, I have experienced substantial, persistent and totally inexplicable resistance from shipyards in trying to get them to implement simple, practical suggestions at the design stage when the cost implications are so negligible they are hardly worth  mentioning. One example concerns  a service lift that was being installed on a very substantial vessel. The  yard  simply would not extend down to the tank / storage deck, where all the fridges, freezers, dry stores and a vast amount of other general storage werelocated. Months of argument resulted in complete and unnecessary deadlock.  The crew members lament this will  never be resolved.

The secret to success

Provided that owners have properly-experienced senior crew lined up for their new-build projects, they should start to draw on their knowledge and experience at an early stage.  The secret to success in this process is that you must have faith in your captain and senior crew.

Many yards and design houses are frankly still naive as to the practical day-to-day requirements of operating a large yacht. Their focus leans towards giving their clients what they want, often without consideration of the important practicalities. I would urge any owner to have a discussion at an early stage with their yard and senior crew to get them fully involved, and in cooperation during the design process.

Some owners will not have existing crew and, therefore, will need to look elsewhere for help.  My advice to such an owner is to seek an independent consultant. The most useful input will most likely come in the form of a highly-experienced yacht captain who has worked on many and varied vessels.

An experienced captain’s input is likely to be the most valuable. Bridge design, specifically, ergonomics, light management, reflection etc. is of great operation importance. However, you should seek advice from all other heads of department to ensure that the entire vessel has had the input of experienced seagoing personnel.

Even the best yards can be guilty of blindly following a plan so as not to upset an owner, where it may in fact be to the detriment of the vessel, ergo the owner, in the long run.

Get an experienced purser or chief steward involved at an early early stage.  The practicality and logistics of the location of pantries, serveries, storage areas, laundries etc. is a fine art and an experienced purser or chief steward will be able to greatly enhance the workflow of the interior from the design stage.

The deck department needs to be involved, as yachts carry more and more toys these days. The areas required for their efficient stowage and frequent servicing need careful consideration. An experienced mate or bosun will be a great asset to consult with on the design or refit process. I have also seen some very impractical mooring set ups due to bad design. All of this could and should have been avoided by proper consultation with crew experienced in the field.

Particularly if the space for the galley is tight, an experienced yacht chef will be able to help design it to minimise the deficiencies and maximise what space is available for prep, cooking, plating, stowage and general workflow.

Making their vessel a little too unique

Owners generally want to put their own personal stamp on their pride and joy. This is all very well and to be expected. They should however keep in mind the potential consequences of making their vessel a little too unique in a way that will limit its resale potential.

An owner may not want a jacuzzi on board, he may not want jetskis, but it makes sense to consider a pre-disposition for them. Then, when the vessel is due to change ownership, these items may be easily added because they may be considered essential to many prospective buyers.

The input of senior crew can be absolutely invaluable and should be given due consideration in your new build or refit project. It has many benefits and will lead to a happier crew which is always a good thing for an owner, as it reflects on the level of service provided and helps with crew retention.

About the author

Iain Flockhart is a highly-experienced yacht captain with more than 250,000 nautical miles experience in the role of professional captain since 1996. He grew up on sailing vessels but chooses now to work on motor yachts. He enjoys simple pleasures such as using his seven-metre RIB to go exploring and wild camping in his native Scotland. Iain is currently looking for new opportunities to command a superyacht. Contact him at [email protected]

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