In a world where technology appears to be developing at a rate that we could barely imagine two decades ago, it is easy to take a cynical view towards our old friend classification. Many express frustration at the painful, and sometimes conflicted, process of class approval – some, it has to be said, more than others – but the perception that classification societies are increasingly becoming roadblocks to innovation is not entirely unfounded. The danger is not just that superyachts will fall behind other sectors in their technology so much as class will face the fate of all dinosaurs when the giant meteor of change finally hits home.
Or perhaps not. “There seems to be,” says Engel de Boer, yacht segment manager of Lloyd’s Register, “an accelerated rate of change and we all need to adapt quicker to the changes which are happening. As a consequence there are also a lot of changing regulations, not always for the benefit of the industry, but we try to contain it to something that is acceptable to all.” This is de Boer’s eye-opening welcoming statement to a Lloyd’s Register technical seminar held in March in Rotterdam that SuperyachtNews was lucky enough to attend.
De Boer’s candid address delves even further. “We have asked clients what they think of us, and they have told us that we are a respected brand, we have a solid business performance in spite of the challenging markets in which we operate, we have exceptional knowledgeable people, and strong values in our surveyors,” he says. “But we also have points where we need to improve. There’s an inconsistent customer focus, and that needs to be improved. We are known for being bureaucratic and slow, and we are not giving empowerment to those having to make decisions. That mentality has to change.”
To counter these perceptions, de Boer explains that Lloyd’s is taking a multifaceted approach that includes investing heavily in new systems to make processes quicker and service more prompt, and shifting focus back to those in the field. “It’s drifted away from the past where the surveyor would make a decision based on sound engineering principles,” he admits, “and now we can see at times we are tending to hide behind books. It’s not something we have enforced upon ourselves,” he qualifies, “it has been forced upon us also by the auditing culture that now prevails in the maritime industry.”
This is, it has to be said, an encouraging sign. With Lloyd’s boasting more than 50 per cent of the world’s superyacht fleet on its books – more than four times the second most popular classification society, ABS – it should certainly be in the driving seat when it comes to driving change in this critical segment of our industry. And for once, it seems, it is standing up to the constructive criticism of its clients, looking for ways to improve what it does and how it does it, and embracing new technologies within its own organisation to facilitate those changes.
If the other major class societies can follow suit then we may finally be on the road to a system that reflects the times we live in, rather than the era we came from. Moreover, such moves may encourage class as a whole to reconsider the process of evaluating and signing off new materials, technologies and approaches in the design and construction process too. Perhaps there’s still a chance to divert that meteor of change after all. We can only hope.