Yacht Design, what has happened in the last 10 years?

This is the first of two articles dedicated to the development of yacht design over the last decade. In this issue we look at custom and semi-custom yachts. We will then go on to examine the production boats

by Maria Roberta Morso

The years fly by rapidly in the world of yachting, dotted with international boat shows. Flitting from Cannes to Monaco, Fort Lauderdale, Miami and Genoa, as well as more distant destinations such as Singapore and Australia, we bear witness to evolving design driven by changing times and market requirements.

Which way is the wind blowing? Which yachts have represented a turning point in design? Which elements are involved in establishing a trend?

We have decided to analyse a relatively brief period from 2007–2017, although it encompasses 2008, which was a particularly topical year. The international financial crisis that exploded during that year took the nautical sector right back to square one. Anyone who tried to deceive themselves that the market would continue to grow forever and had made foolhardy investments is no longer on the scene.

Those who survived the dead calm of the market instead had to face a period of profound reflection on corporate and marketing strategies, as well as on stylistic decisions and production and technological innovations.

Yacht Design

Wally Power

«At the height of the crisis, we decided we had to find a way to make ourselves more appealing on the market», stated Vincenzo Poerio, Benetti CEO, in an interview. «Our objective was to reduce custom yacht construction times, which represented one of our biggest obstacles in that important market segment».

In fact, one of the routes followed by many large yacht manufacturers entailed the development of naval platforms with associated engineering so as to achieve a drastic reduction in delivery times, sometimes by as much as six to eight months. The yacht would still be custom made inasmuch as the owners would have a say in the hull design from the waterline upwards, the superstructure and the layout.

Regardless of the crisis and its repercussions, I would say that in general, with the exception of a few cases of genuine innovation, the development of yacht design is progressing slowly and very cautiously, predominantly driven by commercial considerations. This thought leaves a bitter aftertaste and reminds me about something I heard being said to someone who really understands commercial success: “A beautiful boat is a boat that sells!” I understand the point of view, but I don’t like this attitude.

A beautiful boat is a beautiful boat, the result of an out-of-the-ordinary creative process, with an upward-looking vision metaphorically speaking. The boat that sells may be at most a good boat, a good product suited to market requirements. I understand that if the figures don’t add up the designer’s creativity remains a stylistic exercise unto itself, but let’s not talk inappropriately about beauty, let’s keep the two categories separate.

Personally, I’m extremely grateful to those who, driven by passion and a far-reaching vision, linked to the economic factor per se only slightly or not at all, are prepared to take risks and sow the seeds of development, even if the results are often reaped by others.

How could we fail to think of Luca Bassani whose Wally yachts boosted sailing first of all and then the motor yacht industry?

Two particular yachts stand out above all the rest of Wally’s prolific protection as heralds of real innovation: the Wallygator, a ketch made in 1994, and the outstanding WallyPower 118 from 2003, which was a true pioneer and whose stylistic elements were variously and extensively copied over the following years.

A small number of other genuinely innovative manufacturers succeeded and continue to manufacture products that, by making a significant contribution to design development, are also rewarded by commercial success. Without wanting to wrong anyone, a couple of names come to mind: Pershing, and more recently Arcadia and Cantiere delle Marche. Neither of them discovered America, but they managed to introduce an authentically innovative angle to something that was in the air, so to speak.

Yacht design

Arcadia 100

The market rewarded them at different times. Powerful, fast and bold Pershing yachts, oozing with pure energy, proved an overwhelming success. The yachts from the young Cantiere delle Marche are understated, extremely habitable and possess a simple elegance, built to plough the seven seas with great autonomy. The Arcadia models are unusual, original, practical and ‘green’.

Both Cantiere delle Marche and Arcadia occupy a niche and the former has managed to command a large slice of the market in its segment. In these cases, creativity, intuition, knowledge of the market and a dose of audacity proved to be the winning blend.

However, there are others who progress through sheer determination, capability and design awareness, gradually developing their product, step by step, without taking any risks.

One great Italian example of this is Gruppo Ferretti, particularly as regards its Ferretti Yachts and Custom Line brands, which managed to keep the group’s name flying high even during the darkest years.

The Custom Line Navetta 26 dates to 2007 and was the earliest example of a long and successful line of stylistically evolved models with a consistently high standard of technical features. The Navetta 37 and 33 that made their debuts at Cannes in 2016 and 2017 bear perfect witness to this. Pershing is continuing the product development process with its extraordinary aluminium 140, currently under construction.

It is following a parallel path to that adopted by Gruppo Ferretti for the Azimut Benetti colossus. It is worth remembering the Benetti Classic that gave an exceptional boost to semi-custom yacht production in the late 1990s. Alongside this production and its serial models, Azimut Benetti also managed to maintain a solid portfolio of bigger and bigger custom yachts, despite the crisis.

CRN-J'Ade 22


Sanlorenzo deserves a special mention. After it was bought by Massimo Perotti in 2005, it aimed high, achieving success in both serial production and in the semi-custom and custom sectors.

Big names from the world of international yachting, such as Sunseeker, Palmer Johnson and Princess have struggled due to the crisis, but thanks to captivating products and an international clientele they have managed to protect their names and their characteristic style.

Before going into a detailed analysis of yacht design evolution, it is worth emphasising the difference between serially produced, semi-custom and fully custom yachts.

The yacht production and  yacht design dynamics are different and we will explore the two aspects separately, although certain aspects regard all three sectors, primarily thanks to the development of materials such as glass that now makes it possible to create huge transparent surfaces that enhance the relationship between the yacht interior and exterior, whatever its size.

To make things easier for readers, this is how our proposed analysis will be structured.

In this first article we will be exploring the top end of the market, looking at custom yachts that offer examples of driven innovation, but also strong signs of a deep-rooted conservatism, primarily due to yacht owners. Big Italian names, including Benetti, CRN, Sanlorenzo and ,Picchiotti together with the Dutch Feadship and Heesen and the German Lürssen, have produced real milestones in the history of yacht design over the last ten years.

We will also be discussing semi-custom production, a sector that is also intriguing in stylistic terms. Despite remaining within the confines of ‘easily marketable’ yachts, the manufacturers and designers look to custom yacht owners, offering sophisticated stylistic and technical solutions.

The second article will investigate the most significant signs of development in production boats.

Boat yards that did not exist ten years ago and those that have changed course following a change of ownership deserve a side note. We have already mentioned Cantiere delle Marche and Arcadia, but key positions are also occupied by brands such as RossiNavi, which has built up a top reputation for construction quality thanks to its perseverance and professionalism, and Baglietto which, boosted by its prestigious name, has succeeded in maintaining its position within the manufacturer empyrean despite its fluctuating fortunes.

Benetti Seasense yacht design

Benetti Seasense

Another important Italian brand, ISA Yachts, floundered after having built quality semi-custom and custom yachts. Thanks to huge investments in the yard and its products, the new owners are hoping to relaunch it.

Our analysis considers specific aspects such as layout, the relationship between the interior and exterior, and the bow design. These elements will provide us with interesting examples and indications regarding the most important trends.

Yacht design, what happened in Italy and elsewhere
In 2007 the luxury yacht market had the wind in its sails. Italian yards such as Benetti and CRN produced very traditional looking 50–60m yachts with stylistic features that made them immediately recognisable. They included the Annaeva, Amnesia III, Ability and GiVi.

Stefano Natucci, a legendary designer at the yard in Viareggio, had by now impressed his highly personal flowing style on the brand, characterised by composite profiles with dynamic curved lines and slender bows, almost becoming a trademark for Benetti custom yachts. In 2017, it is difficult to separate a Benetti/Natucci from a Benetti/Benetti, with a few rare exceptions.

For their part, the big yachts from CRN almost all bore the authoritative signature of Zuccon International Project, featuring compact lines, generous superstructures and harmonious volumetric relationships.

The international designer  worked along very simEspen Øinoilar lines, designing Kismet and Saint Nicholas for Lürssen in 2007. That was also the year that Baglietto broke the mould with Tatiana Per Sempre, a 44m yacht designed by Paszkowski. This steel-coloured shard was characterised by its low superstructure and a single black ribbon of windows from bow to stern.

The seeds of evolution had been sown and would start to show results over the coming years, particularly with the growing dimensions of custom yachts, which soon measured a huge 80, 90 or 100 metres and more. These large sizes have constituted a trend over the last ten years.

From 2007 onwards, notwithstanding the crisis, even open yachts – at risk due to their high consumption – grew bigger and bigger. The Leopard 46m made by Bacigalupo in 2007 is the forefather of a line of streamlined, high-performance yachts whose only thing in common with open yachts is in the name, even flaunting spacious flying bridges harmoniously incorporated in the superstructure. Overmarine’s yachts were of a similar style. Ten years later, it has remade a model that made its debut in 2007, the Mangusta 165 that, revised and evolved, is now manufactured in an E (evolution) version and is proving a great commercial success.

SY A Yacht design


In 2008, Philippe Starck amazed the nautical world with his A, a 119m built by Blohm&Voss. A anticipated styles and layouts that, albeit in a less extreme fashion, would appear again and again, such as the reverse bow and a huge beach club that also opens out to the sides thanks to drop-down terraces.

There have been very few bows like this, it’s true, but the beautiful slender bows inherited from the beginning of time have been definitively thrown into question.

The straight bow, for example, is one of the stylistic elements that configures an evolution in large yacht design over the last decade. As well as having a strong stylistic impact, it allows for the optimal use of the internal volumes with the same overall length.

Some of the character-packed yachts launched in Italy over the last decade with straight or slightly reverse bows include the Benetti Nataly and, in 2017, Seasense and the Isa Forever One and Okto.

And now we come to the evolution of the layout. Internal space is a tyrant. Many large yachts have sacrificed elegance in favour of gigantic superstructures designed to encompass everything and more. This is true of both semi-custom and custom yachts. Space is a luxury, just like the relationship between interior and exterior.

However, some bucked the trend and, well aware of the lure of speed, constructed a small series of aluminium custom yachts between 2007 and 2015 that all share a highly streamlined design recalling the fuselage of an aeroplane: SilverYachts, a German-owned firm with its yard in Australia produced four yachts, two measuring 73 metres and two measuring 77 metres, that reach a speed of 27 knots and beat all efficiency records. Abetted by the crisis, ‘green yachts’ became an increasingly pressing issue.

Many yards launched projects, of varying degrees of success, to ride the eco-friendly wave. The hybrid made its first appearance and the Long Range 23 built by Gruppo Ferretti under the Mochi brand marked the start of a trend that, unfortunately, even today is struggling to gain a footing, primarily due to the costs associated with lithium batteries and a relatively modest all-electric range.

However, the idea has been established that one can happily set out to sea in a spacious yacht, capable of great autonomy, while consuming very little. In 2010, Tilli Antonelli left Pershing and founded Wider. Tilli did not lose sight of the pleasure of getting off the beaten track and developing intelligent, practical solutions, remaining an outsider.

yacht design

Wider 150

With the exception of the Wider 42’ and the 32’, which we will discuss in our article on serial yachts, Tilli, together with Fulvio De Simoni, his legendary trendsetting yacht design partner, started work on a project that was as daring as it was interesting: an aluminium yacht measuring approximately 46 metres with diesel-electric propulsion with Azipod.

Both the external design and the layout are unusual. The large garage in the stern opens with a complex mechanism and, once the tender is out, the compartment is transformed into a luxurious swimming pool. Two large side hatches open up to become an extension of the sophisticated beach club.

The fact that the operation did not prove a commercial success takes nothing away from the significance of this project. This fact did not escape Massimo Perotti, who started up a partnership with Tilli Antonelli who, having concluded the Wider project, threw all his expertise into developing a series of ‘green yachts’ for Sanlorenzo.

In fact, two SL 86 Hybrids are due to be launched this year. Other northern European yards have done the same, as in the case of Heesen Yacht with its much-admired Home, but this raises another question relating to the world of yachting, which is the matter of increasingly efficient keels and hybrid propulsion.

Perini Navi, a world leader in the large sailing yacht sector, produced three magnificent motor yachts in the Vitruvius series designed by Philippe Briand between 2010 and 2016: Exuma 50m, Galileo G 55m and Grace E 73m. With their simple lines and great autonomy enabling them to travel to the most remote corners of the planet, these yachts are the epitomy of elegance and efficiency.

PHILIPPE BRIAND_Vitruvius_Cam4_final


Drop-down or sliding terraces have had a big impact over the last decade, permitting a direct link with the sea while also increasing the available space. All yards use them now and it is difficult to say who was the first to develop them. They are so sought-after that they are even adopted on semi-custom yachts from Sanlorenzo, Benetti, Custom Line and Heesen, to name but a few. At the same time, the windows have become bigger than ever and the distinction between interior and exterior spaces is less and less marked.

The stern of the yachts has acquired notable importance, leading to the development of so-called beach clubs, which, fully equipped, become one of the main attractions offered by the yacht as a whole.

Swimming pools are also bigger than ever. Alpha Nero, built in 2007 by Oceanco and designed by Nuvolari and Lenard, boasts an enormous pool with transparent stern wall. A breathtaking sight. The trend became consolidated in the yacht design over the years, but we had to wait until 2017 to find an equally spectacular pool in the Benetti Seasense.

CRN produced very large yachts over the course of this decade. The 72m Azteca designed by Nuvolari and Lenard, J’Ade 60m, the brainchild of Norberto Ferretti and his designer Gianni Zuccon, and the flagship Chopi Chopi 80m also from Zuccon International Project, Saramour 61m designed by Paszkowski, Yalla 73m from Omega Architects and Atlante 55m once again by Nuvolari and Lenard, were all highly innovative yachts in stylistic terms. Design became increasingly sophisticated, with almost obsessive attention to detail.

yacht design

Leopard 46

Riva, one of Gruppo Ferretti’s key brands, maintained its position as an icon of the yachting world. Even in the case of this renowned brand, the dimensions increased over this ten year period and it began to produce a greater variety of yachts, with class being one thing that all Riva production had in common. Officina Italiana Design was behind the yard’s success over the last decade.

‘Small’ models were developed alongside large opens and huge Fly yachts such as the Corsaro and the 122’ Mythos. We will also soon be seeing the first Riva mega yacht, a 50m currently under construction in the Ancona yard.

Sanlorenzo, both as regards its custom and semi-custom production, launched yachts that made a mark on the market and contributed to the evolution of design. Its 4H from 2007 is the forerunner of a successful series of yachts of different sizes, all with a sporty, sophisticated design and numerous panoramic terraces.

At the same time as it was building custom and semi-custom yachts in steel and aluminium or aluminium only, and mass producing sophisticated composite yachts, Sanlorenzo also embarked upon the construction of yachts of different sizes, explorers designed for long journeys, such as the 460 Exp and the very recent SX88 with fibreglass hull and carbon superstructure.

Explorers are still a niche yacht today. Intended for owners who love long voyages and are prepared to do without slim lines, explorers or expedition vessels represent a market segment that underwent consistent growth over the last decade. Cantiere delle Marche is the brand that really established itself on a world level in this sector with the production of two stylistically different lines, which share a strong construction and top-class systems.

The Darwin Class series designed by Hydro Tech and Nauta Air by Nauta Design are available in different sizes and each yacht is highly customised. The yard, basing itself on naval platforms of different dimensions, modifies the length and layout in keeping with the client’s requirements. Everyone has their eye on the commercial success and quality of these yachts. Let’s leave Italy now to take a look at northern European yards.

yacht design

Sanlorenzo SX88

The German Lürssen, a quintessential mega yacht builder, did not seem to be affected by the crisis. Its enormous yards launched gigantic yachts, including the biggest in the world, the Azzam, a very elegant yacht measuring more than 180m, designed in Italy by Mario Pedol and his team at Nauta Design.

Thanks to its determined shareholders and solid financial position, the Dutch Heesen Yachts builds yachts on spec, which are always sold before being completed. As Poerio said, custom yacht delivery times are prohibitive and it is impossible to wait for a client before starting construction.

At the same time as working on new stylistic solutions with Omega Architects, the Oss yard focused on keel efficiency during this ten-year period, working hand in hand with Van Oossanen, one of the best naval engineering firms in the world. One-off yachts such as Galactica Star, designed by Omega Architects in 2013, and Galactica Super Nova by Øino in 2016, encompass many of the elements we have identified as signifying a stylistic evolution trend in yacht design.

Flowing yet simple lines, free from stylistic frills, large spaces in the stern for relaxing in, big swimming pools and even bigger beach clubs. The Limited Editions semi-custom series from Amels seems to have no limits.

Limited Editions 180, 188, 199, 212, 242 and 272 designed by the great Tim Heywood are real evergreens. At the same time, the yard also launched custom yachts such as the recent Here Comes the Sun, 83m, also designed by Tim Heywood, with its large volumes and classical, harmonious shape.

Feadship, considered the world leader in custom yacht production, made an incursion into semi-custom yachts during the crisis with two models, the F39 and F45. However, Feadship really leads the field in its preferred custom yacht sector. In 2008 it launched the 72m Predator with its aggressive design and reverse bow, while over the following years it produced an impressive series of large yachts, each one significantly different from the next (indeed, at the height of the crisis, while others were clutching at straws and trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes, the Feadship management very honestly expressed concern regarding the drop in orders!).

azzam yacht design


The very best was the Venus 78m, resulting from the creativity of two geniuses, Steve Jobs and Philippe Starck. It stood out for its simple and carefully studied lines, resembling those of Apple products, and its immense windows.

The ocean and sun entered the rooms, the exterior and interior spaces merged. Venus marked the apotheosis of a trend. The years have passed and Feadship is still riding the crest of the wave. Madame Gu, a 99m yacht designed by Andrew Winch Yacht Design, stood out for its sleek silhouette in Porto Cervo bay in 2014.

Winch is a designer who sets trends on international level. In 2017 it was the turn of Faith, a 96m vessel designed by Redman Whitley Dixon. Glass has become an irreplaceable design element. What is more, it is also a structural element.

In this yacht the large pool is made entirely from glass, which also forms the roof of the beach club. Five layers of transparent glass measuring just 7 mm thick are able to withstand tonnes of water and create a magical effect. We do not have the ambition to offer a complete overview about yacht design and we can not talk about everyone. The many excluded will excuse us. We used some examples because they are significant of a tendency, without wanting to harm anyone.

(Yacht Design, what has happened in the last 10 years? – Barchemagazine.com – March 2018)