Superyachts are often described as the ultimate toy, so what is the ultimate toy aboard the ultimate toy? For many, it has to be a submarine or submersible. These high-spec pieces of equipment can carry up to seven people, and any superyacht owner or crew can be specially trained to operate them. Some models are able to reach a staggering depth (around 2,000m in some cases), and they enable owners and guests to dive into remote parts of the ocean to get up close and personal with marine life. With the developing interest of the superyacht community in conservation and expeditions to previously unchartered territory, Louise Harrison of Triton Submarines, spoke with SuperyachtNews to discuss the growing role that submersibles are playing in superyacht owners’ interest in exploration.
Media coverage (such as the BBC’s Blue Planet) has raised the profile of yachts and vessel carrying out oceanographic research. Do you think this is the way to engage more people with ocean conservation?
We think it’s a great way to engage people across the board – the Alucia [the vessel involved in the filming of Blue Planet] has had a pivotal role in so many research and filming activities over recent years, blurring the lines between the two in a positive way. Making research and adventure so easily visible for the public has to be one of the very best ways to engage them. The Alucia team have also helped raise the profile of submersibles in general, allowing the public to see how they can be used and how polyvalent these vessels are.
How can the superyacht market encourage owners to use their vessels as platforms for research?
I think submersible owners can and already do lead by example – apart from the obvious advantages a submersible owner has in terms of charter operations. The submersible experience itself makes such a great impression on owners that it almost becomes a given that they start to care about the state of our oceans. Typically, it’s a small step from this to inviting researchers and explorers on board, and owners and their families frequently get directly involved in the work that scientists do. It’s a very nice synergy. So, as much as we can and should talk about this, owners already seem to be taking the lead.
Does the industry need to fully prepare for a new generation of owners, ones who are interested in exploring and helping the planet, rather than the typical yacht owner that we have seen in the past?
Absolutely. Particularly in expedition yachting, as we move from pure ownership towards an experiential focus, I think the market is already taking on board that the new generation of yacht owners are more exploration-savvy and environmentally aware than their predecessors. To not take that into account would be committing the cardinal sin of not understanding one's customers, but equally, non-expedition superyacht owners are also showing more interest in these kinds of subsea vessels, so it would be a mistake to ignore them, even if we have to offer slightly different submersible solutions for this market sector.
"I think the market is already taking on board that the new generation of yacht owners are more exploration-savvy and environmentally aware than their predecessors. To not take that into account would be committing the cardinal sin of not understanding one's customers."
Do you think the industry will see a bigger drive towards having technology and equipment on board so-called ‘typical’ yachts (rather than vessels that are dedicated to exploring)?
I’m not sure it’s a drive as much as a necessity, if we accept that owners are become more focused on exploration than before. The challenges of taking any yacht and these ‘toys’ to far-flung destinations is setting a new yachting paradigm, so not only are ‘typical’ superyachts also being equipped with submersibles and the like, as they head to more exotic destinations. The more stringent environmental restrictions applied to operations these days may also steer their usage. The beauty of submersibles is that by being electrically-powered, they won’t pollute or damage undersea areas of interest if used responsibly, and as an ever increasing number of jurisdictions around the world are putting regulations for submersible use into place (the latest being set for French waters), there is an increased awareness and acceptance of their use.
Do you agree that there has been a growing trend of owners seeking out new experiences, rather than just traditional owner cruising?
Definitely, although obviously the growing trend in yacht support vessels means that some owners get to have their cake and eat it. Take for example pairings like M/Y Vantage - M/V Advantage. A luxury yacht for the traditional yachting scenario paired with a rugged support vessel means that the owners and charter clients can have the best of both worlds.
There has been a steady rise of the number of submersibles on board yachts. Is this a way for guests of all abilities to explore and enjoy life under the sea?
Unfortunately the submersible market has been stigmatised due to people’s fears and an awful lot of fiction and misunderstanding, but finally we’re starting to get to a place where people are realising just how amazing the submersible experience can be…and that’s reflected in the numbers of sales versus five or ten years ago. While the numbers of submersibles delivered are still small in comparison to yacht sales, that number is steadily growing. And diving in a submersible is so effortless and fun for passengers of virtually any age, it transcends any other dive experience. Once a potential client gets down there, the submersibles tend to sell themselves, so in addition to all of our marketing efforts, the more people tell others about their subjective experiences, the more we will see submersibles move into mainstream yachting.
Image courtesy of Triton Submersibles