Sustainability and the future of the superyacht industry were the main topics at Superyacht Forum 2022. The spotlight was on the future of the superyacht industry, right from the opening keynote with Peter Lürssen and Henk de Vries, right up to the brainstorming sessions on the perception of superyachts in the media.
It is expected that this will only become more urgent in the years ahead. Henk de Vries, CEO of Feadship, is of the opinion that the Superyacht Forum slogan, “Evolve or repeat” was still far too tame and “Adapt or die” would have been a more appropriate motto. The sector is currently under a magnifying glass and all hands are needed on deck (pun intended) to avoid losing its social licence to operate.
After two days of intense discussions, the forum received a visit from Extinction Rebellion on Wednesday morning. Their protest fitted in so well with the theme of the forum that Martin Redmayne of The Superyacht Group invited the protesters to tell their story on stage to kick off the keynote session. Extinction Rebellion's powerful plea plea against the superyacht industry obviously did not sit too well with everyone, but it was nevertheless met with applause. This was a civilised response to a cry for help that came straight from the heart and gave food for thought, while providing a fitting introduction to the morning's theme: ‘The wake-up call’.
If Extinction Rebellion had attended the discussions at the Superyacht Forum, they would perhaps have been more optimistic about the future of the superyacht sector. An unexpected supporter during “The wake-up call” session was a banker who explained in a calm manner that there is a deadline that even the superyacht sector cannot avoid; an increasing number of major banks are uniting in the Net-Zero Banking Alliance and committing to the UN and European Union climate goals. This ultimately means that these banks will eventually stop providing banking services to companies that do not contribute to the climate goals that have been agreed globally. This is an absolute deadline, not only for yards and designers, but also for suppliers in the industry.
The good news when it comes to the future of the superyacht sector is that the innovative power and financial resources are in place to lead the way in the fight against climate change. Superyachts have the potential to become the Formula 1 cars of the oceans. The superyacht sector is the perfect laboratory where new technology is developed and tested in practice. This technology can then find its way into commercial shipping and other industries.
Naturally, the superyacht sector has a major advantage over private jets, for example, as wind has been used as a clean source of propulsion for centuries, and this can be the case again, not just for sailing yachts. An inspiring example was the presentation by Simon Schofield, Chief Technology Officer of BAR Technologies, on the futuristic WindWings-zeilen.
BAR Technologies has continued to develop their racing sails for America's Cup sailing yachts so that they can now be used on large cargo and container ships. The first ships with WindWings sails are already being built for Cargill and will soon sail across the oceans. These sails can also be fitted to existing cargo ships. They can reduce the fuel consumption of a large cargo or container ship by up to 30%, and no special sailing skills are required as software with artificial intelligence does the maths for the helmsman.
The superyacht sector is also leading the way in the Netherlands: Henk de Vries of Feadship expects the shipyard to launch the first zero footprint superyacht by 2030. This provides perspective.
Young generation of owners
This perspective is also sorely needed, because pressure is not only coming from banks and activists, but also from a new generation of owners who often have different requirements for a superyacht; they are not just concerned with luxury or speed anymore. These young owners, often from the tech sector, also want to be able to use their ship for social causes such as scientific expeditions or natural disaster relief efforts. Their motto is “Giving back to society”, which places new demands on the superyacht of the future. Scheepswerf Lürssen Shipyard has even set up a separate division for this purpose, where they convert existing offshore ships into a new category of superyachts. These ships have more potential than conventional superyachts, and 30% CO2 savings are already achieved during construction by using an existing ship as a platform for a new yacht.
These developments naturally make our engineering hearts skip a beat. We love challenges and we are well aware that engineers in particular play a key role in designing the superyachts of the future. We eagerly embrace this challenge, especially since sustainability already plays an important role in our new corporate vision. . The inspiring sessions at the Superyacht Forum bolstered our belief that we are on the right track, but that there is still much work to be done. We are ready, but far from finished.