Yachts of the future: six key trends in high-end yacht design

High-end yacht design is full of complexity and contradiction. A large luxury yacht often needs to cater for charter guests as well as private owners; it needs to be an effective place of business as well as recreation; it needs to offer space as well as comfortable intimacy; and, from an external perspective, it needs to tread a careful balance between voicing the owner’s prestige and enabling him to feel modest, low-impact, even ‘invisible’ amongst a natural seascape.

When you consider the very highest echelons of the market, things are even more complex. After all, when the owner’s ideas are conjured into existence by a design team in pursuit of world-firsts and one-offs, the capacity to subvert, sidestep or reinvent trends is extraordinarily pronounced. What follows then is an informed though ultimately speculative assessment of some of the developing trends that are likely to inform and guide high-end yachts of the future.

  1. ‘Super’ will become ‘Mega’ (or even ‘Giga’)

There’s no doubt at all that the superyacht industry will continue to expand. In particular, there will be considerable growth in semi-custom platforms of between 40 and 70 metres in length, enabling manufacturers like Princess to harness increased production efficiencies to make prestige yachts that bit more attractive from a cost perspective. That said, the value of individuality will continue to increase in the mind of the Millennial boat buyer – and the top end of the world’s yachting industry will continue to push boundaries in terms of sheer scale. There are already plenty of recreational craft of 110m or more and it’s widely recognised that in the next decade or so, the world’s most prestigious yacht builders will be involved in the creation of vessels that push well beyond the 200-metre mark.

  1. Active lifestyles will bring the sea ‘closer’

The charter industry has revealed a growing demand to head off the beaten track and explore the world’s more remote destinations. It is part of a general drive to see the world in a more active way, so large yachts will increasingly cater for that. We will see expansive open stern areas with large beach clubs, easy access to the water and up-rated capacity to accommodate the toys and tenders required to spend time away from the mother ship. As yachts continue to increase in scale, the use of submarines, large tenders, helicopters and small seaplanes will let owners embrace every element of a destination. Expansive aft swim platforms will also be supplemented with large stern seating areas to help make an open stern the communal focus, as well as the point of connection between the yacht and the water. And to reinforce that connection, there will be an increased focus on glass – not just for increasing all-round visibility but also in terms of viewing panels that enable you to watch the underwater world and feel a more intimate connection with the environment around you.

  1. Glass will develop as a building material

Glass is the key means by which an internal space is connected with the external environment – and as technology advances and the cost for Class Approval comes down, yachts will enjoy far greater openness, enabling people to feel part of the scenery without leaving the comfort of their yacht. But as glass is developed as a building material rather than simply as a means of admitting light, designers will have to become very intelligent in their application of the potential that it brings. Too much glass risks putting you in an impersonal space, with views of practical or mechanical necessities you might rather not see, alongside cold, mirrored surfaces when the lights are dimmed. Designers will have to put a lot of thought into where expansive views are required and where the comfortable intimacy of traditional yacht architecture is more effective.

  1. Yachts will adopt multiple functions

Our growing breadth of interest will see us demand far more from our yachts than ever before. We will therefore see much more flexibility built into the design. We will see more in the way of decking that can be opened out to expand the living area over the sea. We will see convertible deck space that can be either left open and exposed to the sun or fully enclosed, enabling the luxury of climate-controlled shelter. And while yachts are likely to become more flexible in terms of their internal layouts, we are also likely to see the continued development of removable pursuit-specific pods that can be lifted on and off a vessel, depending on where it is in the world and what kind of applications the owner has in mind. We already see smaller scale versions of that approach, with interchangeable furniture, seat boxes and deck pods on open dayboats. A more developed version of the same could enable a larger yacht to excel in environments as outwardly contrasting as the Arctic and the Indian Ocean.

  1. Sustainability will leap forward

Both our fondness for heading off the beaten track and our increasing commitment to the environment will see yachts becoming ever-more self-sustaining. While building materials and technologies will help with that, hybrid propulsion will also take major steps forward as battery technologies strive to close the gap in energy density compared to conventional fuels. A great many more yachts will be designed form the ground up to make best use of electric propulsion – and it is likely that greater attention will also be focused on multi-hulls. While they tend to add cost and complication in terms of both manufacturing and berthing, their greater space, softer ride, increased low-speed stability, easier manoeuvrability and more efficient running dynamics puts them (in principle at least) right at the heart of modern marine sensibilities.

  1. Printed yachts will become a reality

It is already possible to create substantial yacht components by means of 3D printing but in the future, it is reasonable to imagine that entire yachts will be generated by this means. Not only would it enable great speed, accuracy and simplicity of construction but it would also help reduce the cost and complication of labour and multiple part construction, while factoring in far greater ease of customisation – freeing up both designers and individual clients to create one-off or small batch craft specifically to their requirements, without prohibitive penalties in terms of time and price.