The challenging and colourful world of superyachts

Welcome to the colourful world of superyachts. Image courtesy of Lürssen Yachts
Welcome to the colourful world of superyachts. Image courtesy of Lürssen Yachts

Feature article by Robert van Tol, Operational Director, Superyacht Builders Association (SYBAss)

The phenomenon of superyachts is known by most people and speaks to the imagination. They are often to be spotted at a tropical holiday destination or on television as back drop of Formula one races in Monaco and the Middle East. Superyachting can be seen as the ultimate leisure activity and is only accessible by the very few in the world.

The global fleet of superyachts sailing the world’s oceans totals some 4,500 with those over 40 metres in length comprising around 1,500 in total . Nowadays the average number of superyachts over 40 metres delivered worldwide per year is 80, whereas only fifteen years ago this average was 30. It is therefore a fairly young industry that has experienced significant growth in demand in a relatively short period of time. Similar growth trends have been seen in the number of Ultra High Net Worth Individuals (UHNWIs), the target audience that are able to afford commissioning these vessels.

The superyacht industry is often perceived as small and therefore squeezed between the maritime leisure and professional marine industries. Yet the output of the superyacht building industry is similar in Compensated Gross Tonnage (CGT) to the passenger shipbuilding industry, which is often considered to be much larger . (CGT) is a macro-economic indicator that provides an estimate of the amount of work involved in building a ship of a certain type and size, ultimately expressed in man-hours per gross ton (GT). Currently also a global economic impact study is being conducted to analyse the economic value of this industry.

Superyacht coatings
The polished appearance is where superyachts ultimately stand out. The finish of a superyacht is paramount and takes up a significant share of building time and costs, more than for any other vessel type in the maritime industry. It is not just the glossy top coat that is unique for superyachts, the entire underlying coatings system is seen nowhere else. Where the paint for other types of vessels is a necessity, for superyachts it is an asset and of critical importance. Together with the design, the paint job – combined the total visual appearance – of a superyacht is what influences the emotion. A high gloss, successfully applied finish contributes to the perception of the overall quality of a superyacht and can even influence the resale value when well maintained. It is considered a must in the superyacht world.

At the moment the coatings process is a major topic and with legislative restrictions the industry is challenged to deliver to the ever increasing high demands and expectations of their distinguished customers. While challenges are common practice for the shipyards – coping with ground breaking designs, complex and rare materials and challenged to come up with innovative solutions – collective actions were requested from their representative bodies to develop standards and training programmes to enhance professionalism in all facets of the coatings process. The costs and time involved for coatings have such an impact on the total project, yet there is so much room for further improvement.

The requirements related to coatings systems increases constantly, while legislation (products, facilities and the application process) makes it more and more difficult to achieve the high quality demands. The pressure increases on the various parties involved in the process, not only the shipyards, but often also the subcontracted applicators and the paint manufacturers. Despite every party having their own roles and responsibilities, in the end the shipyard carries all the risk towards their clients.

Improvements are required in the multiple sub-stages of the coatings process, and therefore affects multiple stakeholders involved in this process. Only by cooperation between these various players and on their own initiative, can the coatings process can be improved.

Challenges and solutions
Over time the superyacht industry has grown by demand. On top of the increased demand in quantity, the wish from owners for bigger, more extreme and ever more voluminous yachts has forced this industry to exceed its previous performance every time. In the meantime legislation has enforced stricter requirements to the operations of the yachts, as well as the build process and the facilities.

Inter-/national legislation
In terms of coatings, legislation – both European and global – applies various demands and limits specifically related to:

• Emissions of, and exposure to, solvents in paint products and underlying systems;
• Substances (mostly named biocides) used in anti-fouling;
• The application process inside the facilities of the shipyard, interior supplier or applicator;
• Chemical structure of the various paint products and coating systems.

The legislation makes a differentiation in legislation for companies and ‘do-it-yourself consumers’, in the latter category this can also include the crew of yachts when the captain instructs them to paint something on board the yacht.
The task of the representative trade associations is to provide legislators and governments with information and accurate data, which also provides an opportunity to guide towards good and constructive legislation. Close cooperation between the various international organizations, such as ICOMIA and SYBAss, but also the European Confederation of Paint, Printing Ink and Artists’ Colours Manufacturers Associations (CePe) and the International Paint and Printing Ink Council (IPPIC) is important.

Yachts of 40 metre and above are mostly semi or full custom yachts, one off projects that are a vision of the distinguished owners. While the shipyards, at least those that are member of SYBAss, are very experienced with building yachts and continuously optimize their building process, it is still possible to optimize certain parts of the process further. There are obviously shipyards that build yachts in series or on pre-engineered platforms, but the possibility for customization always remains and so will the challenges.

The call for standardization in certain parts of the process becomes stronger. Remaining focused on coatings, there were multiple areas identified that could be subject to standardization. These ranged from the coating environment and surface preparation, to the actual application process and inspecting the coating. Coating inspections refer to how to measure and what to measure. And subsequently what and how to report.

Besides regulations deriving from the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and/or the European Union, there is also self-regulation. An industry can set up a working group on specific subjects and invite all major stakeholders involved and set up self-regulations. The ideal platform to do so is the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). With an increasing need for standardization of certain processes and procedures, a specific sub-committee for large yachts ISO TC8 SC12 has been set up. ICOMIA and SYBAss members are active in this sub-committee, of which working group 5 focuses specifically on ‘the finishing acceptance criteria for large yachts’.

The ISO standards mostly provide guidance and are referred to in order to establish a minimum performance level. ISO standards also provide classifiable opportunities to stand out from a certain minimum.

The following ISO standards related to coatings have been developed:

• ISO 11347; how to measure; this standard has been used for 3 to 4 years and will be updated based on experiences and developments;
• ISO standard with criteria for a successful application process is currently being developed;
• ISO 12944; covers the preparation of the hull and superstructure prior to the paint job. This used to be only for steel due to the larger vessels. Standards for the preparation of aluminum, composite and stainless steel will be developed and added to this standard;

ICOMIA published an ICOMIA Technical Guideline: Minimum Acceptable Finish and Appearance for Super Yacht Gloss Coatings in 2011 and will publish a similar document on tolerances for contract acceptance this year. These documents are guidelines, not to be confused with standards that one can refer to.

Spraying in progress. Image courtesy of Benetti Yachts
Spraying in progress. Image courtesy of Benetti Yachts

Because of its importance, coatings quality is often judged by the visual appearance, with the potential risk that it is different than expected and/or can be perceived as low quality. Difference in perception of a paint job leads too often to a dispute. Accurate measurement results must prevent such conflicts and provide objective data on the paint job. However, sometimes the measurements do indicate that the specification has been met but still the visual appearance is not satisfactory. Choice of colour and the shape of the surface can highly influence the visual appearance and therefore the perception of the quality of the paint job and even the entire yacht. Reliable advice and guidance in the choice for colour is therefore very important and must be made at an early stage in the process.

In addition, variety in inspection report formats, or the lack of a format, results in incomparable measurement results, and two parties that defend themselves with different parameters. There is a need for a standardized and widely adopted report writing format. In this way the results of the measures, taken with the prescribed measuring equipment and delivering the determined variables in the ISO standards, can be reported in a consistent and reliable manner.

Next is the interpretation of the results. The role of an inspector, and the boundaries of this role, is very important here. The judgement of inspectors can have an enormous impact and has resulted in the rejection of complete yachts before. Obviously the impact of a rejection is tremendous. Delivery date gets delayed, which delays the next project in the shipyard. Profit margins are under pressure; but, vitally, it causes a negative experience for the client.

RMCI course & qualification
Besides their own measurements, the shipyards often rely on the inspections executed by external surveyors on behalf of the owner’s team. As stated before, too often inspections have different outcomes and this causes a dispute. One of the areas found with room for improvement was the knowledge and understanding of the specific nature of superyachts and the unique coating systems applied compared to other maritime sectors among surveyors. In addition a commonly agreed format for report writing was missing to be able to compare ‘apples with apples’.

The Superyacht Builders Association (SYBAss) and the International Council of Marine Industry Associations (ICOMIA) have approached the International Institute of Marine Surveying (IIMS) to develope a dedicated Inspectors course. Several respected industry representatives have contributed to the development of the Registered Marine Coatings Inspector (RMCI) course and its tailored course manual. IIMS is the appropriate independent professional body for providing such a course.

For course registration a minimum level of NACE, FROSIO or ICorr Level 2 is required. Experienced superyacht inspectors can apply without these pre-qualifications but have to have a minimum number of years’ experience in the superyacht industry and provide sufficient references that will be checked by the registration committee.

By passing the exam and upon certification it will be ensured that the participant knows the specific nature of superyachts and the unique coatings systems that are applied to these vessels. Also the role of the inspector is made clear and the participant knows what the boundaries are and when to refer to other experts. This has been captured by the code of ethics. The certification proves a minimum level of understanding but is no guarantee for expertise. Expertise needs to be built up by surveys carried out over time. On the RMCI website a register will be published with the certified surveyors for the industry to find a certified surveyor, but also to check if one is certified. This register will include the references of the surveyor, which are kept by the online personal logbook. The certified surveyors are encouraged to become a member of a professional body such as IIMS and to carry personal professional indemnity insurance.

The RMCI course is part of an industry wide programme for improved professionalism in the area of superyacht coatings. Over time the RMCI certification is expected to become the standard for coatings surveyors and inspectors operating in the superyacht industry.

Members of SYBAss and ICOMIA encourage coatings inspectors to complete the RMCI course so that a collective performance is delivered that each client can expect from a professional superyacht industry – with certainty and confidence.

Profile ICOMIA
ICOMIA, the international trade association representing the global marine industry since 1966, unites 35 national marine industry associations in one global organisation and represents them at an international level.

ICOMIA’s Superyacht Coatings Applicators Group, which comprises leading independent paint applicators, acts as a centralised body to serve, inform and update the superyacht applicators of new international regulations that they specifically need to comply with and to maintain good relations with international organisations, Governments and other bodies on behalf of the industry.

With the support of its members throughout the world and in conjunction with the appropriate associations, ICOMIA lobbies international authorities and major organisations, organises international events, publishes documents and guidelines and produces tools to facilitate the growth of the industry.

Profile SYBAss
The Superyacht Builders Association (SYBAss) unites and represents the world’s leading builders of custom and semi-custom yachts over 40 metres in length. The association’s activities are divided over Promotion, Regulation and Professionalism. Consultative status at the International Maritime Organization (IMO) allows us to give the superyacht industry a voice within the maritime world at large. Safety on board and emissions are the main topics that are monitored on behalf of the member shipyards. Good relations and cooperation with the Maritime Coastguard Agency (MCA) and classification societies result into more alignment and constructive legislation rather than disruptive.

The efforts in the field of coatings are related to our activities under ‘professionalism’. The SYBAss Coatings Working Group exists of a mix of shipyards from various regions in the world and meets annually to discuss the coatings process. Existing projects are reported on and new needs for collective action are identified.

Multiple stakeholders are involved in the coatings process and only by working together can the level of professionalism be increased. The Coatings Working Group therefore always invites other stakeholders of the coatings process to join the meeting and seeks collaborations to collectively come to solutions.

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