Everything you've ever wanted to know about naval architecture (but have been too afraid to ask)

The role of a naval architect in yachting is truly unique. Dealing with numerous aspects of a vessel’s design both above and below the water – hull design, stability, hydrostatics, hydrodynamics, aesthetics, strength, stiffness, seaworthiness, safety, classification and so on – there is no comparable role to be found in aerospace or civil architecture. 

But what, exactly, does the role of a naval architect entail, and how can one enter this career from the outside? Here, we speak to Perry van Oossanen and Niels Moerke, Managing Directors of the Dutch studio Van Oossanen Naval Architects to find out the answers. Illusion yacht anchoredPhoto: Jeff BrownWhat is the difference between naval architecture and yacht design?

Niels: In the end, the naval architect is responsible for the overall performance and safety of a boat, whereas the designer is responsible for the look and feel and emotion that comes through for the owner. It’s about function before form for us. Niels Moerke of Van Oossanen Naval ArchitectsWhy do you need a naval architect for each individual project? 

Perry: Every project needs its own naval architect because every single project is different. Even when a project starts off with a similar design brief, each owner will have their own unique and specific requirements for how they want to use the yacht, which means that there will always be distinguishing features between each project. 

We sometimes have projects which start off looking very similar and then small things can change along the way, meaning that you end up with totally different vessels – even a little change can have a huge impact on the naval architecture. In short, you cannot simply transplant the naval architecture from one vessel to another. Perry van Oossanen, CEO of Van Oossanen Naval ArchitectsHow much maths is involved with being a naval architect?

Perry: You do need to be numerate to be a naval architect, but it is more about number crunching than maths, which can be quite time-consuming. Most of the maths is solved by the computer software that we use, so it’s more about having patience and being willing to work hard.

How do I become a naval architect?

Niels: Firstly, you can attend a naval architecture school. There are both bachelor's and master’s degree levels available. When you finish this degree, you are not a naval architect, but you will at least know the basics. We often find that in university you learn all of the different aspects individually, but how they come together in the design of a project, you can only learn by doing it. 

To this end, we always have two or three students doing internships at our studio to help them gain this vital hands-on experience. Illusion yacht by Heesen in Golfo PeveroPhoto: Charl van Rooy / SuperYacht TimesWhat have been some stand-out projects for you?

Perry: One of my favourites was the 60-metre Samurai we did with Alia Yachts, as we had a truly fantastic team working alongside us on this. Other projects which stand out for me include the 65-metre Heesen Galactica Star (now Illusion) – our first Fast Displacement project – and we’ve also really enjoyed working with Royal Huisman on Project Phi. PHI yacht delivered at Royal HuismanWhat are the most rewarding elements of your role? 

Perry: For me, it is the fact that you can have a big impact on the end result of a project, much more so than if you were working in other related fields. If you chose a career in aerospace, for example, you will be one of hundreds of engineers working on a new aeroplane, whereas in yachting, you will be part of a team of just two or three people. In this way, you have a great responsibility and will be helping to shape some of the most complex structures ever being built. 

Another highly rewarding aspect can be found in the teamwork behind a yachting project. This is not just our team in the office, but also working alongside the designers, the shipyard and the owner’s team. Speaking personally, I also really enjoy the process of creating something – I find it really fun! 

Finally, how do you explain the role of a naval architect to people at dinner parties? 

Perry: This is an interesting one! Sometimes I say that I am a shipbuilding engineer, or that I am an architect, but for boats, not buildings. 

Niels: I tend to explain it by saying what we don’t do – we don’t create a nice picture, but our job is to make sure that the vessel sails efficiently, safely and comfortably. That’s naval architecture in a nutshell! 

Van Oossanen Naval Architects

To find out more, and to discover the opportunities available at Van Oossanen, visit the company’s website.

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