Sustainable boating – Part 3 – The design approach


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Omikron Yachts - OT-60
Omikron Yachts – OT 60. A fine example of a 360% approach to sustainable boating research

Third installment of a BAM (Boats by Motor) dossier to try to shed some light: what does sustainable boating mean? This time we address the topic of the design approach needed to reduce the environmental impact of a boat. Let’s start with a provocation: “What if in recent years the motor-sailing boating world were learning from each other?”

In previous articles in our survey, we focused on “direct emissions” in the boating world:“How much do we pollute, from a carbon footprint perspective, while sailing or cruising?” An approach that necessarily focuses attention on the propulsion system. It is the most immediate and intuitive; it is the direct derivation of the reasoning that is basically done in the automotive world.

Not objects, “places to live”

Regardless, however, that even in the way of automobiles discourse should be approached more broadly (considering other aspects such as the entire life cycle of the product, the water footprint, and so on…) when talking about boats it is always necessary to remember that these are not just objects, but places, places to live. So much more complex to consider than an automobile, plus in recent years we have seen a significant acceleration in change both from the point of view of construction techniques and market demands. And I would start with the latter…

Sailing and motor: worlds so far apart?

It is interesting to reason about how the worlds of sailing and motoring are drawing closer together, even if saying so seems incorrect, almost heretical. But in extreme summary:
– in recent years, sailboats have become faster and faster in their extreme and innovative applications (read foils, or hi tech racing cat and monohulls, even if not flying);
– at the opposite these, sailboats in their mass-produced and cruising interpretations, are increasingly “domesticated ,” indeed tamed. Owners, guests, those who charter them demand an increasingly high level of comfort.

Azimut Seadeck 9
Azimut Seadeck 9, in search of sustainable boating even in series

As at home…

The days of sailing, that of big numbers, hard and pure, are long gone. The cruising sailboat to be enjoyed first and foremost on the move, savoring the pleasure of the journey, is giving way to the boat understood as a “static place.” Maybe in beautiful places, at anchor, buoy or harbor that is, but still “stationary” (as much as it can be, since it is by nature floating). Let everyone rejoice or gloom, depending on their own convictions. But so it is. Speed (in absolute terms) and comfort were the exclusive preserve of the power boating world.

The importance of travel

In contrast, motor boats are becoming slower and quieter:
The first question is no longer, “How many knots does it tie?” But rather, “
What is the best gait, the most efficient gait
“. The allure of the super engines, of the three gasoline V8s displaced and perfectly chromed by the much noise and great showmanship is relegated to the passion of a very small number of boaters and builders.

Much more thought is given to the ability to create an efficient system: propulsion, hull, displacement (the latter being, in a nutshell, synonymous with habitability). Top speed is no longer the sole indicator of a boat’s quality, although, of course, it always remains a key evaluation factor. Again, as was said for the way of sailing, you may or may not like it. But so it is. If you go in search of new records, you do so in the world of electric.

The fastest electric boat in the world!
World’s fastest electric boat made by Princeton University students

Sustainable boating at 360%.

At the same time, if the motorboat was once understood as the ideal tool for moving quickly from one place to another (perhaps even suffering a bit from moodiness and vibrations) and then enjoying the break, now the moment of travel itself is also gaining more and more value. Hence the great development of the new “hybrid” hulls, semi-displacement and semi-planing; hence also the adoption of hybrid and electric propulsion systems, which by definition for now do not lead to great top speeds (except for a few moments).

The basic values are also quietness, no vibration, low fuel consumption. A 360% approach to sustainable boating is increasingly present. On the one hand, technology is making it more and more possible, and on the other hand, the demand from the “market,” from boaters understood as people and not just buyers, is going in that direction.

Word of mouth? EFFICIENCY

Ability to perform and meet one’s own ends .The definitions of “Efficiency” can be almost endless, first because they are almost always related to specific applications, but this one (Treccani) is particularly centered because it focuses on “one’s own ends” . No longer absolute values (“How much does it do?” Car or boat that is), but relative to specific use (“How does it do it?”What are the consequences for me as a user and for my environment?) for “my” and my (global) community’s interests.

Prestige M48
Prestige M48 – A “real” motor cat.

Example 1. The new cruising Cats

In future installments we will go into the technical details of the various construction and design aspects of this approach. For now we will focus on two glaring examples of what has happened in recent years:
Power cruising catamarans. They are now all the rage; they were almost unknown in the market until recently. Now the great advantages of habitability and efficiency in navigation have suddenly been “discovered,” sidelining the disadvantages (wanting to summarize: bulk in port and cost). This is because if once hulls and generally sail designs were simply borrowed, now lives new generation of hulls (narrower) and thrusters (less powerful) that make the system more efficient.

Seakeeper Summer Demo Tour 2023
Seakeeper gyroscopic stabilizers are increasingly popular, not just on super yachts

Example 2. The “optional extras”.

Boats, whether sail or motor, are becoming more and more complex. It is the consequence of the “domestication” I mentioned earlier (the word actually does not exist in the vocabulary, but forgive us, it gives a good idea). If we demand the same level of comfort that we have at home on board, it is obvious that we will have to fill our boat with facilities that make our lives easier and more comfortable. A process that brings more complexity, but also more weight. More displacement.

Just think, over time, of air conditioning, outriggers, power-assisted movements of planks and hatches, as well as tables, tables or running rigging in the case of sailboats. Electrification, which we have discussed in previous installments, is also a source of great management complexity and increased weight.

On the one hand, planners and designers must learn how to handle these apparatuses in their complexity and application in a “hostile” world such as the marine world. On the other, they must learn to manage the weights: to reduce them (truly), to allocate them in the most suitable places. In the next “episodes,” in detail, some virtuous examples…

by Luca Sordelli




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