Catamarans: Fad or Future?

Written by Francesca Webster

While multihulls have hardly taken lift off over the last decade, with catamarans and trimarans remain around 2% of the global fleet (according to SYT iQ), in recent years we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of catamaran concepts, designs and launches. Many of the companies that have backed the multihull often cite efficiency, “eco-friendliness” and “sustainability” as key motivators for the adoption of the hull form. But what is the science behind these claims; and has there been enough of a significant  change in the mentality of the yacht owner, to justify the number of designs which are flooding the market? We spoke to some of those companies to get an inside look at the multihull movement and how it might shape the future of the global fleet.Sea Cat yacht renderingsPhoto: RossinaviMonohull or multihull?

In an article published in 2010, naval architects James Roy and Alex Meredith Hardy of Lateral Naval Architects weighed up the pros and cons facing the multihull conversation. Having created innumerable designs for fast ferries, and commercial catamarans over the years, both engineers were surprised that the yachting industry had been slow to uptake the hull form. With efficiency and high speeds (+40 knots) on offer, as well as the beamy main deck platform, some might consider catamarans an ideal substitute for a monohull. But aesthetics are everything in the yachting industry, and the boxy form of catamarans has failed to catch the eye of those owners who frequent the Mediterranean.Silent 120 yacht renderingsPhoto: Silent-YachtsThe catamaran hull form does have hydrodynamic benefits. As Roy and Meredith Hardy wrote “by dividing the total displacement between two hulls, the displacement-to-length ratio is improved, and in turn the wave-making component of the total drag is substantially reduced.” In layman’s terms, catamarans can be more efficient than monohulls of the same GT due to reduced drag, but as Roy explained to SYT, points of comparison must be carefully defined, with GT, rather than length being the optimum comparison base.

Despite the arguments around the improved efficiency of the hull form, many builders who dominate in the sector indicate more than this as driving the sustainability of the hull form. Many of the major players in the 24-30 metre catamaran sector – consider for example Sunreef, SILENT-YACHTS and Wider – build hybrid-electric yachts that also utilise solar power. Widercat 92 yacht exterior design Franz Boese, Chief Marketing Officer of SILENT-YACHTS commented, “Technically speaking, it makes much more sense to create a solar powered multihull than a monohull. The main reason is space. With the wider beam of a catamaran, there is more space to install solar panels. This increases the potential energy production of the yacht, which is crucial to create a well-rounded experience on board, without any compromises or limitations.”Widercat 92 yacht exterior design Marcello Maggi, who heads up W-Fin Sarl, the holding Company that owns 100% of Wider equity, shared this sentiment, “From an engineering point of view, the greater width compared to a monohull allows the exploitation of a greater surface area intended for the use of solar panels, an additional source of energy for the Wider serial hybrid propulsion system.”Sunreef 43M Eco yacht exterior design The Sunreef Yachts Eco yacht series feature both sail and power cats, taking the solar concept a step further with its innovative ‘solar skin’ – an in-house technology that takes the solar concept to the next level by coating the hull with integrated solar panels. Aside from the solar benefit, the vessels incorporate wind generators, custom-engineered lithium batteries, non-toxic paints and green composite structures, demonstrating that it takes more than a hull form alone to create an ‘eco’ yacht. Sunreef 43M Eco yacht exterior design Francis Lapp, Founder and President of Sunreef Yachts commented, “Twenty years ago nobody believed in our approach. Today, the trend for big multihulls is a fact – everyone wants to build them. Customer expectations have changed. Superyacht owners look for a better length-to-volume ratio, more stability, fuel efficiency and green solutions. They seek wide open spaces to enjoy with friends and family. They want to be close to the sea.” Sunreef 49M yacht exterior designPhoto: Sunreef YachtsOf course unlike many of its competitors, Sunreef also offers a sailing catamaran as part of its Sunreef Eco range, Lapp summarised the pros and cons; “sail yachts have the obvious advantage of wind propulsion. On top of that, we use hydro generation – this means our sail yachts recover energy from the propellers’ rotation while under sail. Power yachts on the other hand, offer more space for solar panels – for example on the bow terrace. They can also be fitted with a kite.”SpaceCat yacht exterior designGaining momentum

At the 2021 Monaco Yacht Show, local designer Espen Øino of Espen Øino International took to the stage of the Design and Innovation Hub to discuss the topic of sustainable yacht design. He cited the potential of the catamaran and SWATH (Small Waterplane Area Twin Hull) hull forms for their efficiency. Øino had only recently unveiled a catamaran design in collaboration with SilverYachts, the SpaceCat, the first of which was sold in May this year. Referring to catamarans as the “SUV of the seas'', Øino recognised that the hindrance to catamaran popularity has, so far, been their characteristically boxy aesthetic, but he also firmly predicted that we will be seeing far more multi-hull vessels in the coming years a sentiment which has been echoed by many in the industry.SpaceCat yacht exterior designPhoto: Silver YachtsNot only have we seen a larger number of catamaran concepts entering the scene over the past few years, but there have also been a number of shipyards focusing their attention on this area of the industry for the first time. In December last year, Italian shipyard Rossinavi unveiled its first catamaran concept, the dramatic and eye-catching 43-metre hybrid Sea Cat 40, the first hull of which was sold in June. This initial foray into the sector was then followed in May with the release of the 44-metre Oneiric with Zaha Hadid Architects, demonstrating a real investment into the hull form. Oneiric catamaran yacht concept by RossinaviRossinavi has been developing this series of catamarans for over a year and will unveil at least two more designs in coming months using a fully developed platform. Federico Rossi, COO of Rossinavi explained, “We are invested in creating vessels with a reduced carbon footprint. and we have a diesel-electric yacht currently under construction. But we want to be innovative now, without having to wait for alternative fuels such as hybrid propulsion. We believe the best way that we can improve the efficiency and therefore sustainability of our vessels is by employing the catamaran hull form and that is why we have entered this sector.” Oneiric catamaran yacht concept by RossinaviMultiple hulls = multiple benefits

Historically plagued by criticism for their looks, it would appear that many owners are coming around to the style and aesthetics of catamarans – or,at least, that they are willing to overlook them in light of the varied benefits the hull form offers. Recent additions to the global fleet include the 65m support vessel Hodor and the 68m Wayfinder from Spanish shipyard Astilleros Armon. Hodor yacht sternPhoto: Clint Jenkins PhotographyUnlike the smaller cats from Sunreef and SILENT-YACHTS, the two vessels have been specifically chosen for the width and stability they offer, making them able to carry a huge selection of tenders and toys. Hodor has a 14-metre beam, a helipad, a fleet of tenders, the largest of which is 17-metres, an ROV launched from a purpose built crane, a dive centre with decompression chamber, a selection of four-wheel drive vehicles and a full suite of toys. All of this alongside cabins for 20 crew and a number of guests in luxury accommodations. 

As previously mentioned, the benefits of multiple hulls have many, and the companies discussed here have a firm belief in the growing popularity of the hull form. As Marcello Maggi of Wider concluded, “We believe that our catamaran is a catalyst for several elements that make her suitable for a customer choice. The abundance of the surfaces that can accommodate the cutting-edge mini solar panels that avoid turning on the endothermic devices, increasing the comfort aboard with limited noise and vibration, and these are some of the strength points of this innovative product.” Sunreef 43M Eco yacht All of the companies we spoke with shared the same sentiment; that clients are opening up to the concept of a catamaran, many in part for the various “green” benefits they offer, be it additional solar panel positioning, hydrodynamic benefits and hybrid potential. As Federico Rossi commented, “We hear clients saying right now, ‘We are ready to move into the multihull sector’ and I think part of this drive is to do with a new generation of owners who are focused for the first time on leaving the world in a better position than they found it. They have a greener vision of the world and share a feeling of responsibility toward the oceans and so it doesn’t surprise me that there is a movement toward catamarans for these Millennial owners.”

With at least 30 catamaran’s of sizes ranging from from 24 to 56 metres currently in-build, we will certainly be seeing an increase in the sector over the coming years, and from the opinions shared above, it is fair to say that the trend is only just beginning to take shape… so watch this space. 

This article was originally published in Issue 42 of SuperYacht Times newspaper. To read more stories like this one and to never again miss another issue of the SuperYacht Times newspaper, subscribe here.

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