While touring the shipyards of the Zhuhai province in southern China a couple of years ago, one of my hosts – a builder of yachts up to around 25 metres that have proven popular in the country – regaled me with a story of Chinese client who had just ordered a boat. “With normal clients,” my host began, “you negotiate, then sign a contract. With Chinese clients, you sign a contract and that’s when the negotiations begin.” This particular client, it turned out, decided to negotiate on the engine package. Not, you understand, on the size or the power output, but rather whether the boat should be delivered with engines at all.

We chuckled to ourselves at the thought of a 70-foot motor yacht being specified without motors, but then the client had no interest in cruising. His intent was to dock the boat in his local marina – at the time, it would have been one of the only boats there – to impress his friends and business colleagues, and to entertain them without the need to actually cast off.

It hints at one of the barriers that has perhaps presented this most promised market from taking off just yet – that a lot of Chinese (particularly the mainlanders) don’t really understand the concept of leisure boating, and as yet there are only a few who have bought in to it.

 The other challenge – this time facing designers and builders who are used to Western sensibilities – is to reinvent the yacht effectively for that market. Requests for karaoke rooms and large formal dining areas at the expense of sleeping cabins or other social areas mean a rethink of the typical yacht’s layout. In particular, talk to any production builder who has started to make headway in the Chinese market and they will tell you they essentially offer a completely different GA tailored to that market.

Again, we chuckle at the thought of ditching cabins in favour of Karaoke, but behind it lies a more fundamental truth. We have become either complacent or staid in our design choices. Take almost any average superyacht from 25 to 65 metres, and you will likely find the same general arrangement. There’s accommodation on the lower deck, and master forward on the main deck. There’s a main deck formal saloon and dining area, and an upper deck informal saloon or skylounge leading out to an alfresco dining area. And where do we spend most of our time? Yep – in the skylounge, or on the sundeck, or perhaps on the aft platform (and if we’re lucky, in our small aft beach club).

Of all the yachts I have been lucky enough to spend time on, I can’t think of a single moment that anyone sat in the main deck saloon or used that formal dining room. Perhaps it’s time we became a bit bolder in our choices. Why not make the main deck an open atrium or a spa deck? Why not completely reconfigure how we use the spaces on our yachts? Why do we have to stick to the same-old same-old? I know designers who have tried to sneak something a little different through, but it comes down to owners to make the leap and take the chance. Yes, there’s always the argument for communal guest areas and separation, for charter and resale considerations, but a novel layout shouldn’t have to be a detriment to those aspects.

Our Chinese cousins are not constrained by what has gone before – they order a boat with a layout that suits their needs, with no compromises. You may argue that they simply don’t know better, but I see it differently. I think they simply build what they want, and for that they have had it right all along. Who’s laughing now?

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