Award-winning Setzer Yacht Architects share what makes a microyacht
Story Ward Setzer and Joshua Setzer
In 2004, the owner of a 150-foot (46-meter) vessel came to us with a challenge: produce a design for a boat half that size that would be equal if not superior in luxury, performance and functionality to his larger yacht.
There’s nothing particularly new or unusual about an experienced large-yacht owner pursuing a simpler, smaller vessel. Many yacht owners progress through the same, basic lifecycle: Starting with a small center console, runabout or cruiser, they usually move up the range to a full superyacht before heading back down in size when maintenance, time and costs become more than they expected. “When you feel like you’ve built a city and a small corporation that you must constantly keep running, you’re no longer doing what you fell in love with in the first place, which is yachting. You have to go back to your roots!” an owner once told us.
It used to be that large-yacht owners wanting to build in the 82- to 115-foot (25- to 35-meter) range believed they would have to sacrifice either quality or luxury. The unofficial industry mantra seemed to be “a better yacht is always bigger than your last.” Clients were often surprised, or even outright skeptical, when we suggested otherwise—that through clever design and careful project management, a 115-foot yacht could compete toe-to-toe on quality, performance and functionality with vessels at least 50 feet (15 meters) longer.
The mindset of today’s owner is entirely different; hardly anyone is unfamiliar with the idea of “less is more.” Many owners have come to value simplicity in yacht design, but the shift is more complex than a focus on smaller, more “minimalist” yachts. The real trend, especially in recent years, is not toward a stripped-down design aesthetic, but a smarter, more compact one. At its core, this is not about less is more, but about getting more from less, a sort of ultra-practical approach with a laser-focus on value for money and ease of ownership. The owner who approached us in 2004 sought a vessel that was a perfect example of this trend in action, a fully custom 84-foot Lyman-Morse motoryacht named Wombat (now Excellence).
What really made the Wombat project unique was that the owner entered the design process with an expectation, from the onset, that the downsize should serve as a major upgrade. There would be no tradeoffs, sacrifices or compromises on quality, performance or functionality. Just as mobile phones and computers become smaller and smarter every year, Wombat was expected to be smaller and smarter than her predecessor. This is the essence of the trend. Large yacht owners are recognizing now, more than ever, that they can find the full luxury and functionality of a megayacht within a far more manageable, microyacht platform.
How can designers and builders meet this goal? It certainly isn’t easy. Designing an efficient layout is of prime importance. Numerous challenges arise in developing an arrangement plan for compact vessels; challenges that do not have to be dealt with in larger designs where internal space is more abundant. Designers must learn to squeeze without crowding, to utilize every cubic centimeter of available space not only for its highest and best use, but for multiple uses. Make an extra stateroom double as a workout space or studio, allow the dining area to be converted to a TV lounge and maybe turn an infrequently used cabin intended for visiting grandchildren into a live-aboard captain’s cabin. On the technical side, replacing a double helm with a single one or splitting mechanical systems into forward and aft machinery compartments can open up a lot of space.
These are the types of decisions designers and clients must navigate together, and the stakes are high. A yacht can end up feeling twice as large as it is or one-half of its actual size depending on the layout and the ergonomics. It can be the difference between missing, meeting or vastly exceeding client expectations, and it’s where the real skills of a yacht architect become apparent.
Multiple open-plan vessels between 72 to 118 feet have been designed to deliver a large-yacht experience without the need for a third, enclosed deck. How can enough internal space be squeezed from the compacted platform? Let’s take as an example the award-winning 78-foot NISI 2400. One of the design’s most helpful aspects has been the yacht’s original, plumb-bow hull design, which allowed us to assign generous forward accommodations in a bow space that is typically too narrow to be usable. Additionally, blending the helm, galley and salon in a single, open main-deck space increases natural light and provides 360-degree ocean views through full-length windows. The technique is known as “borrowed landscape,” and as anyone who boards the vessel can attest, the result is powerful. Combined with a seamless indoor-to-outdoor flow of dining and entertainment activities, the NISI becomes a highly versatile yacht platform, where nearly every bit of usable space serves multiple functions.
Another example is the new Explorer series under development for Outer Reef Yachts. The goal of the project is bold: to establish a vessel line from 95 to 125 feet (28 to 38 meters) that provides accommodations and features similar to a tri-deck vessel 26 to 39 feet longer, without sacrificing range, safety, or ease of ownership. Designed with disillusioned owners of 131- to 164-foot (40- to 50-meter) tri-decks in mind, the vessel will allow this group to decrease their yacht ownership burden without compromising their ability to accommodate and entertain. How is this accomplished? Whereas the efficiency of the NISI platform was driven by a few major layout decisions, the Outer Reef design employs dozens of smaller independent features. These include an elongated superstructure that maximizes storage space, staterooms that are convertible to gyms, combined captain and crew quarters split by a half level to maintain privacy, staircases stacked within a central core, a sun deck and skylounge that integrate into a single entertainment space, and a salon and dining area that can be quickly converted to an open or closed floor plan, depending on the owner’s need. A final touch is the strategic placement of “conversation pits,” designed to counteract the tendency of open floor plans to decrease intimacy. These small seating nooks are located on each deck and allow groups of two or three guests to retreat as needed into more private discussions.
While there have always been plenty of reasons to question the adage that bigger is better, the alternative is not “less is more.” In yachting, that ideology misses the point completely. There is, however, every reason to expect more from less. Greater value from a more compact platform. More functionality from a single space. More customization from the same base package. A deeper sense of relaxation from a one-week getaway. This is not necessarily easy to deliver, but it is certainly possible. Getting more from less starts with smart layout planning, but this is only the beginning. What is most exciting is that as design, materials and technology advance, the boundaries of what can be achieved on a yacht of 66 to 155 feet (20 to 35 meters) will continue to expand, much to the benefit of owners. While the progression through bigger and bigger vessels may remain as a right of passage for yacht owners, it is no longer the only path available. Downsizing today is a more viable means of upgrading than ever before, and the case for it becomes more compelling every year.
Behind the Design
With 22 years of experience, the award-winning team at Setzer Yacht Architects provides custom design, styling, naval architecture and project management solutions for discerning yacht clients. The firm has designed hundreds of vessels ranging from classic to ultra-modern, working closely with builders around the world including Trinity, McMullen & Wing, Lyman-Morse, Delta and NISI. Setzer maintains a diverse project portfolio, with several superyacht clients over 150 feet, and six projects currently under contract at 70-120 feet.
For more information, visit setzerdesign.com.