Categorically undefined: What is an explorer yacht?

Written by Gemma Fottles

There are more and more yachts seemingly every week being designed, commissioned or launched that are marketed to the industry as explorer yachts: strong, sturdy vessels that offer owners the luxury of complete freedom to roam wherever their hearts desire. When we started researching into the growing trend of explorers, however, we very quickly stumbled across a pretty significant and blatantly obvious problem: what, exactly, is an explorer yacht?

Of course, it’s easy to look at vessels such as the 76.6 metre Yersin built by Piriou last year, or the 107 metre Ulysses built by Kleven and delivered in early March this year, and immediately recognise them as explorers. They boast expansive steel hulls, plenty of room on board for an enviable variety of large tenders and toys, impressive ranges and the rugged stereotypical exterior aesthetic of what we all immediately associate with an explorer yacht. But when it comes to smaller yachts technically classed as explorers, that perhaps have the rugged aesthetic but lack the technical capabilities to really explore, it becomes apparent that the lack of a very clear definition is an addressable issue.

Seeking clarification, we contacted some of the industry’s experts. The result? The discovery of an even more intricate web of confusion than initially anticipated. Whilst the majority listed qualities such as unrivalled seaworthiness, a level of autonomy and self sufficiency that enables uninterrupted cruising for weeks, ice-strengthened hulls, and easy to maintain, dependable technical areas as essential characteristics of an explorer vessel, there were vast differences in opinion.

What defines an explorer yacht?

The most important thing is that the yacht is technically built for a longer range of a minimum 5,000 nm and a stronger sea, in culmination with the ability to carry larger tenders in comparison to yachts in the same size range. An Ice Class hull is an advantage, it’s an extra.” Jimmy Broddesson, IYC.

First of all: reliability and independence. It is about over engineering, storage capacity, big volumes, seaworthiness, sturdiness, outstanding quality of the technical areas, long range. There is also another characteristic which definitely sets an explorer apart: the attention and cleverness of crew areas, operational issues and technical areas.” Vasco Buonpensiere, CDM.

There isn't much contention among the real experts. It's not how far you can go, it's how long. The Damen SeaXplorer has full luxury service for an unprecedented 40 days of autonomy without port call. That level of endurance means large stores for provisions, plus waste management systems (zero discharge mode), larger fuel tanks, spare parts and workshops. It goes far beyond transatlantic fuel range. True global capability comes with a Polar Code B compliance, this is much tougher than an Ice Class certification, and something in which we are proud to say the SeaXplorer features.” Victor Caminada, Damen.

The explorer concept can be expressed in two different ways, by the function and simply by aesthetics. In my opinion, a real Explorer will have a high volume hull, with an overall beam higher than equivalent length conventional yachts, will carry more fuel and consequently will have a longer range. In in bigger sizes it might have a diesel-electric propulsion system, it shall carry more tenders than equivalent size yachts, and they will be bigger.” Sergio Cutolo, Hydrotec.

An explorer yacht is a generic industry term for a yacht that has a higher level of functionality and a ‘go anywhere’ specification. I'd presume that clients who commission an explorer style yacht have the intention to expand their cruising grounds from beyond the normal Mediterranean and Caribbean cruising grounds , perhaps wanting to stay at sea for longer periods desiring a higher level perceived of safety than is perhaps normal, in order to tackle adverse weather and sea conditions".Jonny Horsfield, H2 Yacht Design.

I think you have to define an explorer yacht by its capabilities and ability to deliver exceptional experiences that are otherwise unobtainable. For us, one of the first criteria has to be autonomy - can the yacht operate for significant periods of time away from supporting infrastructure and services? Does it have the fuel range, the garbage capacity, etc. to really operate comfortably and safely in remote areas? Of course, in our line of work, ice class is a very important component as well. Our partnership with Damen started when Damen started to see interest from clients in more capable yachts as an offshoot of the Yacht Support vessel range. We took over 150 design criteria to Damen- everything ranging from helicopter stowage to embarkation arrangements in the tenders- and worked with their team to create SeaXplorer.” Ben Lyons - Eyos Expeditions.

My first, glib response is that any yacht can and should be an "explorer yacht" so long as the owner makes the most of his or her boat's capabilities, rather than keeping her lashed to a pier forever. But more seriously, extrapolating that thrill of discovery, a large yacht means having the ability to be self-sufficient at sea and at anchor for perhaps twice as long as a typical yacht of equivalent size.This manifests itself in robust structure, efficient consumption of considerable fuel stores, additional layers of mechanical redundancy, increased cold storage and even an eye towards the reduction of cosmetic maintenance and upkeep demands.” Bill Prince, Bill Prince Yacht Design.

The overwhelming response, however black and white many assume the definition is, highlights a real issue of categorisation in the industry. Aspects that all seem to agree on is a large range - but how long? Room for tenders - but how many? A strong hull - but how strong? Is Ice Class necessary? The list of features in a decidedly grey area is endless, and representative of a need for a clearer, well defined superyacht category.


This article is featured in the latest edition of the SuperYacht Times newspaper - subscriptions available here. What are your thoughts on the hazy definition of explorer superyachts? Let us know at [email protected].

Ulysses photo by Wihan du Toit



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