h3o Yacht Design, a different approach

h3o Yacht Design  has a different approach, looking at things from a different angle. Founded by Andrea Colli and Mario Bonelli, h3o is a versatile design studio that deals with motor and sailing boats, both large and small,  as well as leisure and working vessels. All its designs are highly original, focusing particularly on “green” mobility, without shying away from complex issues

by Luca Sordelli – photo by Andrea Muscatello

Two plus one. Two architects and one engineer. Andrea Colli (in the picture above), Mario Bonelli and Paolo Portinari. h3o Yacht Design is an integrated design studio with extensive experience in the nautical field. It is very versatile, ranging from sailing to motor boats, large and small vessels, RIBs and tenders.

Give them a floating problem to resolve and they will do so. The trio have very different personalities and backgrounds, as well as playing clearly defined roles in the studio. The “machine” has run smoothly for fifteen years and is now oiled to perfection. Andrea Colli coordinates the studio.

h3o yacht design

Mario Bonelli


He’s the frontman of h3o Yacht Design, the first port of call for clients and yards. He has boats – particularly motor boats – in his blood:«I’ve been fed a nautical diet since I was a boy. My father worked in this sector, producing ‘dinghies’. This was in the 1960s and ‘70s, when Milan was the nautical capital. We had the yard on Lake Maggiore and we imported boats and outboard engines too. When I graduated in architecture my father said to me: ‘Do you want to design boats? You need to start by learning how they’re made and how to sell them.’ So I got some experience as a salesman for Boston Whaler and Uniesse. This was a very important period of my life. Now, as an architect, it means I can understand what boat owners and the market want».

Mario Bonelli, on the other hand, comes from the world of sailing and has travelled all over the world, at all latitudes, as well as taking part in countless regattas. He also graduated in architecture from the Politecnico di Milano before completing a master’s degree in industrial design. He represents the creative heart of h3o, adopting a very particular approach to design and viewing it from a “different angle”: «I like to see things from ‘another’ point of view, to find new ways to plan and design things. I’m obviously aware that if those before us have always done things in a certain way there will be a good reason for it, but being able to discover new methods and implement innovative approaches is in our DNA».

h3o yacht design

Airmax 54


Colli and Bonelli founded h3o Yacht Design in 2004 and entered the nautical world through the main door. «It was 2004. Thanks to PZero, Pirelli was starting to open its brand up to other areas, such as clothing, through licensing», says Andrea Colli.«I suggested making, or in fact going back to making RIBs. We therefore designed their entire first generation, from 3.7 to 14 metres».

Lastly, Paolo Portinari is the group’s engineer. He is also the man who often makes Mario and Andrea’s visions possible, as well as being an excellent sailor and glider pilot. He’s in charge of structures at h30 Yacht Design and designs the hulls. He joined the team in 2010, bringing with him many years of experience in the nautical industry. «One of the things that makes us stand out is our ability to develop very complicated solutions», Paolo tells us. «Whether it’s a case of new designs or refits, coming up with ideas forhulls or reworking a deck plan, the fact that all three of us are keen sailors is very important. We speak the same language as our clients».

h3o yacht design

Torpedo T650

One of your most interesting projects is definitely X-Factor, a high-tech sailing catamaran: «It was a very complex challenge», recounts Andrea Colli. «It began with the enthusiasm of an enlightened owner, an existing boat, a large catamaran designed for regattas. We had to overhaul it completely, make it habitable, and even install a washing machine…».

Mario Bonelli adds: «Many people think that intervening on something designed by someone else is less important in design terms, but it’s often far more complicated and requires much more expertise than starting from scratch. That’s particularly true in this case, where we’ve developed an innovative boat that is energy-independent thanks to its solar panels, its electric propulsion and its great efficiency when sailing». Electric propulsion is a constant feature in your design.

h3o yacht design

Malisi, progetto X-Factor.

This project received an Honourable Mention at the Compasso d’oro ADI Design: «Yes, it was a great satisfaction. We achieved it thanks to Reboat, in the sustainable mobility category. A zero-emissions boat. It is the result of work that began a long time ago with a project called Activ-e, which was subsequently supported by a major energy supplier, Repower».

Everyone talks about electricity, often more for marketing reasons than anything else. What’s more, a lot of yards tend to include “hybrid” boats in their catalogues, which then always run on diesel. «Active-e is something very different», says Mario Bonelli. «It was developed on Lake Garda, a place packed with users from northern Europe who are very aware of environmental issues. Everyone there uses electric bikes. We asked ourselves why shouldn’t we develop electric propulsion for the numerous taxis that operate on the lake too? The idea was a huge success. In this case the problem also involved overcoming the infinite regulatory limits and volumes, creating a 10-metre boat able to transport thirty people. In order to do so we had to ‘eliminate’ the engines. We designed and then developed some electric pods that don’t occupy even 1cm2of the deck space».

The story of h3o Yacht Design ’s projects is an interesting combination of refits, one-off boats and serial production.«Some of the first included two particular yet very different cases», Colli tells us. «The Tornado 38 allowed us to lay hands on a historical and very important name in Italian boating. We invented a new deck and a new interior layout that proved very popular. Our work with Revolver 42 was very different. An extreme project based on a hull by Michael Peters, packed with mobile elements, which had to travel at a speed of 68 knots…».

Let’s go on to talk about serial production. h3o Yacht Design has enjoyed considerable success in this sector, even overseas: «In Brazil», continues Colli,«we developed an entire range of inflatable boats, from 5 to 9 metres, with Torpedo Marine. With Argos, in Miami, we created another line of RIBs, from 2.7 to 6 metres, while once again in Florida – although we can’t say much at the moment – we’re working on a very innovative Crossover project. A boat that recalls the speed typical fishing Centre Consoles used in this area, but ‘crossed’ with cruising boats. It has a lot of convertible parts and is something brand new. It’s due to be launched next year».

«Our most recent project, FFA, also involves developing an entire range»,chips in Mario Bonelli. «The first model is a maxi tender for mega yachts, once again created thanks to the initiative of a forward-thinking owner. We faced a considerable number of design issues and had to invent spaces that didn’t really exist in a 7-metre body».

H30 yacht design Compasso d'oro adi 2018 Reboat Limousine 3

Quite a big problem, all considered… «We had to invent actual tubular vessels. They’re not made from polyurethane and they really have a semi-circular section. This allows us to gain a lot of floor space. It seemed impossible and they told us to just leave it, but they actually work really well. As I said, we like coming up with new solutions. We’ve also developed complex systems for bow rollers, dash-boards, hold doors, hard tops…».

h3o Yacht Design ‘s experience with very different nautical models has given you a thorough knowledge of this sector and enabled you to resolve numerous problems. However, if you had to imagine the boat of the future, one yet to be developed, how do you see it? Paolo Portinari speaks first: «It would allow you to really experience the sea. It has to be exciting, but also very practical». «I agree», reiterates Bonelli. «It has to be able to meet requirements. I really don’t think that everything has already been invented in the nautical world. You need courage, and not just in terms of size, when making bigger and bigger floating ‘things’. Actually, you have to focus on the small things, tackle the fine details, everything that improves life on board. You also have to do away with as much as possible, including faux requirements».

«The other fundamental aspect», concludes Andrea Colli, «is respect for the environment. It’s no coincidence that we’ve invested so much in electrical propulsion. Owners and yards are becoming more and more aware of this requirement. It’s essential to know how to interpret it in the most up-to-date and sincere fashion possible».

(h3o Yacht Design, a different approach – Barchemagazine.com – August 2018)