At any one time, the worldwide brokerage market is awash with cheap second-hand vessels; whether that’s because of the general economy, oil price, consumer demand or any of a host of other factors, this is one sector of the market where bargains are to be had.

Some of these vessels are suitable for conversion to a yacht, and there are plenty of notable yachts in the world’s fleet that began life as working boats: converted fishing boats, patrol and pilot boats, tugs, ice breakers, passenger and cruise ships.

However, there are just as many commercial vessels that, although sitting there at bargain basement prices, are wholly inappropriate for conversion to a yacht. In many ways, the conception and development of a commercial vessel is a complete juxtaposition to that of a yacht. Commercial vessels are designed and engineered for a very specific set of technical and operating criteria (i.e. they have to do a very specific job to generate an economic return), whereas a superyacht is designed and commissioned as an unrestricted service, no compromise in an ‘anything I might want to do with it’ kind of fashion.

Potential restrictions of restricted service operation
At Lateral Naval Architects, we have seen a fair number of owners approach us with visions of getting a relatively cheap superyacht based on a commercial vessel they have ‘acquired’, been sold, or inherited. High-speed ferries are a classic example. These vessels are fast, lightweight and have large open-deck areas. At first glance, they seem perfect for a conversion to a superyacht, but like many commercial vessels, they are designed for restricted service operation. Fast ferries are generally designed to the High Speed Craft Code (HSC) which, on the basis of a defined area of operation, allows them to dispense with many features that add space and weight.

The whole concept of a fast ferry owes its existence to the HSC code, in much the same way yachts do to the Large Commercial Yacht Code (LY3), an equivalence of SOLAS that makes it fit for purpose and nothing more. If you now want to convert your cheaply acquired ferry into an unrestricted service yacht, you are faced with adding a significant amount of weight, function and capability that the original platform was never designed for.

Offshore support vessels (OSVs) are another example. These truly robust, ‘go-anywhere’ vessels have extremely high levels of stability relative to a passenger vessel and are, therefore, extremely stiff. It is impossible to stabilise these vessels in the ways required for a typical yacht.

Yet with all the above scenarios in mind, this does not mean we should restrict possibilities. You could happily convert a high-speed ferry into a coastal yacht, or an OSV into a deep-ocean yacht, but there are compromises to be made, and in our industry, owners don’t like to be told about compromise – especially later in the process when the ball is rolling and money is being spent. Best to get these on the table early on.

Have a clear vision
There are some fundamental rules when picking a basis vessel for conversion, but for me there is just one rule that needs to be followed – and that is to conceive your yacht before you look for (and certainly before you buy) the basis vessel. If you find yourself trying to post-rationalise a design based on a vessel you have already acquired, then you’ve probably gone off on the wrong foot.

Meanwhile, back at our campervan, the guy next door is unloading his surfboard from a converted estate van – hopeless for camping and cooking; is that a compromise that sits well with him or could he just not resist the bargain of the original van?

James Roy, managing director of Lateral Naval Architects, spent over a decade within the yacht division of BMT Nigel Gee. He will be leading a session at The Superyacht Design Forum, held in London from 26 - 27 June. Roy will be asking, "Is the industry too prosaic in its approach to the creation of superyachts?"

To find out more about the event, and to register to attend, click here.

This article originally appeared in The Superyacht Report.



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