It’s pretty well agreed now that the Earth isn’t flat, the sun doesn’t revolve around the Earth and that our climate is warming faster than ever before, mainly driven by human activity.
The rush to reduce our carbon footprint is now well underway with electric cars (albeit requiring renewable electricity), hydrogen production, fuel cells and wind and solar farms coming on stream all the time. Energy has become expensive and we are all slowly coming to the understanding that a fundamental change will have to take place to meet our climate change goals.
Hearts and minds can be and are changing. We are much more careful in our disposal of rubbish, we are more careful in our use of plastic and we think before turning on energy heavy appliances.
We drive slower now, consuming less fuel, we wear seatbelts for our own preservation and it’s good to at least see more lifejackets being worn at sea.
So why does all that go out of the window when it comes to our leisure boating? Why is there an ever greater request for more horsepower? Why are we seeing ridiculous multiple outboard installations (sometimes more drag than power) and why are we still seeing hull shapes that are patently inefficient at the hull speeds at which they are being driven?
Why is the mainstream industry still using glass reinforced polyester (GRP) construction without a means to recover it at ‘end of life’ and in some cases still using old-fashioned polluting methods of manufacture?
It has been argued that ‘all in good time’ these factors are being addressed – that we will see a general move to electrification and more eco-friendly building materials. The superyacht industry knows it’s under the spotlight and is working hard on solutions that will eventually trickle down (or not) to us normal mortals, but it’s the mid-range where the volume is and where the worst offenders can be found.
But we don’t have to wait. There are plenty of things we can do right now which will only help our industry in the future and most of those exist in the minds of our boat builders and their customers.
When a customer arrives at the marina in an electrically or hybrid powered car, why are we trying to sell them a boat with a multiple outboard installation with more power that it can usefully use in its local environment and CO2 emissions to match?
In the larger motor yacht sector where we have an arbitrary ‘superyacht’ regulation and legislation change above 24m we have companies producing boats with the largest internal volume possible within that overall length but still required to go fast. As a result the hull shape is not as efficient as it could be at the speeds at which it travels for most of the time.
We still have this fixation on how fast a boat can go. It’s almost part of the selling package except that in the vast majority of cases, the boats are moored in locations where they must first leave port, possibly navigate a river and estuary with strict speed controls and then frequently meet a sea state that precludes any chance of high speed running. Wouldn’t it be better to have a boat with a lesser top speed that used a fraction of the fuel and was comfortable in a seaway?
The world has changed. We’ve changed our thinking on drink driving, wearing of seatbelts and fuel efficient cars and appliances. We need to do the same with boats.
Boating is often seen as elitist and many cases we need to admit that it is. Boating is expensive in real terms, but the notion that you can have anything you want if you can afford it has to change. Just because you can, it doesn’t mean you should! That label of elitism should be seen as a warning sign. It won’t go unnoticed by a future populist government as an easy target for some extra revenue or legislation.
So, what can we do about it? We need to believe and teach others that it’s smarter to own an efficient boat rather than an ostentatious fast one. We could help that by changing the way marinas charge for berths from simply using length to a factor of length x beam, thereby encouraging slimmer more efficient hull designs and we could replace the arbitrary 24m superyacht rule to one of displacement.
We could introduce a form of efficiency labelling just as required on other appliances. We could offer litres/hour at 5 or 6 knots (the maximum speed in most harbours and rivers) and consumption (and CO2 emissions) at the design cruising speed. We could also rate the ‘hotel’ side of the craft for power usage, thermal insulation, solar input and in the case of sailing boats, hydro generation.
If we are prepared to go a little slower, there are plenty of ways to save energy. We might even see the resurgence of the motor-sailer which offers enough power to motor to windward but with sails to augment efficiency at all other points of sail.
The industry needs to do this to move with the times. It is no longer acceptable to counter every argument that we are only producing what the customer wants. We also need to educate the customer. This is not about decrying our excellent motor yacht industry, it’s about adapting to a more frugal (in terms of fuel and emissions) and more socially responsible future.
Disclaimer: Global Marine Business Advisors is a registered legal entity and is a network of independent marine industry advisors. In all articles the opinions expressed are those of the author and does not necessarily reflect those of GMBA.