The last decade has seen the sailing yacht industry increasingly use innovative designs in order to develop lighter, faster and bigger carbon yachts and rigs. Driving this innovation are the owners and their desire to reach higher speeds and greater sizes. The years 2015 and 2016 see several new 80m-plus sailing yachts join the fleet, which has meant a bigger focus on the safety implications of operating and maintaining such complex structures.

One of the three masts destined for sailing yacht A. Image courtesy of Damon Roberts, Magma Structures.

Composite specialist Magma Structures has recently delivered the world’s largest carbon composite freestanding masts, and as a result the company is well aware of the safety implications of increasingly complex rigs. Technical advisor Damon Roberts explains that there are two key aspects to consider: safety during normal operation and safety when things go wrong.

“On the first point, larger vessels need more sail area to drive them,” Roberts described. “Extrapolating existing designs leads to larger sails and larger loads but this isn’t a linear relationship because as vessels get larger, their displacement goes up as a function of length cubed. The sail area would naturally go up as a squared function of the rig so it becomes even more difficult to add in sufficient sail as the boat length increases. The loads in every element go up. It is these increasingly high loads that create safety issues during normal operations.”

These issues include the actions of moving potentially flogging sheets and sails during normal sailing manoeuvres, such as hoisting, dropping, trimming, tacking and gybing operations. As a result, special precautions are needed to protect guests and crew and the average large yacht should mitigate against such issues through containment, exclusion zones, limits on sailing, training and experienced crew. “Conventional sail handling techniques are often no longer valid when extrapolated to these large sizes. For instance, downwind sails that fly loose become extremely dangerous to handle at these sizes and loads,” continued Roberts.

“It’s a very different situation when trying to deal with a broken rig on a superyacht, particularly to personnel."

When things go wrong, however, Magma Structures’ managing director Clive Johnson explained that the consequences are much more serious due to the size and weight of the compenents used. “It’s a very different situation when trying to deal with a broken rig on a superyacht, particularly to personnel,” he added. “Clearly mitigation here is greater safety factors, but that is not always straightforward. Higher safety factors can lead to higher weights, which in turn can lead to greater fatigue, loads and less stability.”

Manufacturers recognise the significant implications rigs can have on insurance premiums and safety, and as such the appropriate precautions are put in place. “As manufacturers we would work to classification guidelines and flag state requirements as a minimum,” said Ryan Taylor, production director at Magma Structures. “Typically we would also work closely with naval architects and sailmakers during the design stages and also with key crew at commissioning stages in order to ensure that load scenarios are fully identified and understood and all hardware specified and designed appropriately.”

Additional safety results from the use of load monitoring systems provide the crew with real time load data, helping them to understand actual loads and percentage of allowable loads. These systems can also be used to monitor ongoing fatigue of components and record actual sailing loads as experienced. Regular inspection and maintenance procedures on behalf of the permanent crew are essential.

To read more about the insurance implications of increasingly complex rigging systems, read issue 166 of The Superyacht Report.