Yacht codes are important publications that ensure that reasonable sets of equivalences to the SOLAS, Load Line and STCW conventions are available to the superyacht industry. While superyachts are international trading vessels that must have international trading certificates, yacht codes essentially help yacht designers and builders avoid requirements not applicable to the industry which would otherwise be inconvenient, unaesthetic or impractical for superyacht construction.
For this practice to continue to be accepted by the international maritime community, and for flag states to continue to uphold the safe construction of any superyacht, flag states will often speak of maintaining what is known as a ‘safety balance’. This is the cornerstone from which flag states can allow deviations from certain requirements in a convention while maintaining safe construction. In the case of windows, for example, if the underlying requirement is that they need to be fire-rated, the designer or builder could look at how they could achieve the same level of safety in a different way.
While flag states will always enforce the underlying requirement or regulation, there are avenues that can be followed to find alternative solutions in a structured, controlled and consistent manner...
While flag states will always enforce the underlying requirement or regulation, there are avenues that can be followed to find alternative solutions in a structured, controlled and consistent manner. In the Red Ensign Group (REG) Code, for example, there are two main tools to ensure safe construction alongside innovation: ‘equivalent arrangements’ and ‘Alternative Design and Arrangements’.
Equivalent arrangements are a more basic approach to requirements. Such as, for example, the one governing the height of coamings on doors. On an aft set of doors on to the main deck, the designer or owner might not want a 150mm coaming, and instead might look at solutions such as installing a reverse coaming or trough, protecting the location of the weathertight door from green seas, evaluating the risk of water ingress of the space to which the door serves and increasing freeboard and water-freeing arrangements. In other words, the regulation says ‘X’, but they are going to do ‘A, B and C’ instead – a simple trade-off to balance the deficiency and the risk to the vessel it poses.
For larger items, Alternative Design and Arrangements comes in. This is a concept that is straight out of SOLAS and is allowed to be used in certain areas, namely machinery, fire safety and lifesaving appliances. The process, however, has to have a very structured engineering approach; there has to be an engineering analysis, a project team has to be established and there is a set of IMO circulars through which the alternative design would be evaluated.
Alternative Design and Arrangements effectively gives ultimate flexibility and allows yards and designers to think outside the box...
Alternative Design and Arrangements effectively gives ultimate flexibility and allows yards and designers to think outside the box. But it is costly as many people need to be involved and it takes considerable time. Furthermore, having the uncertainty of whether something will be approved or not generally doesn’t fit into the ethos of yacht building, which is why most end up building safe rather than pushing boundaries. An owner could potentially go through the whole process, spend a lot on research and development, and in the end the project team could conclude that it’s not the right solution.
Between equivalent arrangements and alternative design, therefore, there is opportunity for design. It is often bemoaned by the industry that the regulations are too prescriptive, but the tools are there to find alternative solutions. There are certainly risks, but for those willing to put in the work and have the right experts involved, there is the potential to have something on the water that defies conventional yacht design and construction methodology.
This is an excerpt from a recent article featured in The Superyacht Report, entitled 'Coding for the future'. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.
Image: British Marine
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