What are the limits of a Yacht Designer?

Discussion in 'Education' started by FirthofForth, Aug 6, 2014.

  1. FirthofForth
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    FirthofForth Junior Member

    In reference to a Yacht Designer who doesn't have a formal Naval Architecture degree but has completed one of the distance learning Yacht Design courses, such as Westlawn or MacNaughton:

    1. What is the largest boat they could safely design by themselves and put to commission without needing to consult a Naval Architect?
    2. What acceptable type would this be, and could this include a small commercial cargo vessel?
    3. Specifically talking about boat design, what skills would the Naval Architect have that the distance learnt Yacht Designer wouldn't have from one of these distance learning courses? Where would the gaps start to appear?
    4. What do the various Coast Guard and other regulatory authorities think about the difference between the two. Do they even care?
    5. How sensitive are clients to the difference between the two in the boat design world?
    6. Is Professional Indemnity available for Yacht Designers, who don't have a formal N.A degree?

    Would be interested to hear responses from both traditionally schooled N.As and also Yacht Designers who have graduated from these distance learning courses. I'm trying to evalute the two routes and the asociated education required.

    Thanks for your time..
    Last edited: Aug 6, 2014
  2. Ad Hoc
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    Ad Hoc Naval Architect

    You do realise you're opening up another (and often) cited can of worms of yacht designer v NA roles?

    In essence one can boil it down to "knowing your limits" and being professional about it.

    For example, a graduate NA walks into their first job. Being a graduate NA they assume "wow I have degree in NA I know how to design". Their first task is being given a blank sheet of paper and asked by the chief designer, please provide me with a midship section of a 30m patrol boat that is fit-for-purpose....or they have the choice of picking up the specification of the 30m patrol boat and to simply read it from cover to cover.

    Which do you think they graduate should take?

    It makes no difference whether one is a graduate NA or yacht designer, what is it you think you know and what is it you actually do know....and where there is a gap between the 2 what does one do about it.

    What makes this become very contentious, is ego....for which i'm sure you'll discover as this thread grows in responses :)
  3. gonzo
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    gonzo Senior Member

    Many great designers don't have either degree. They may be mechanical engineers like Herreshoff.
  4. PAR
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    PAR Yacht Designer/Builder

    Eventually a project grows exponentially, to the point where no one person can cope with all of the systems and complete the job, within a reasonable amount of time. Understanding how this works takes experience and a bit of humbleness, at least in regard to realistic self expectations to meet goals and deadlines. This when a team needs to be assembled. In a nut shell, if you think it's too big (or it's close), you've probably bitten off more then you can chew and should consider breaking up the duties, so the project can proceed on schedule.
  5. DCockey
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    DCockey Senior Member

    The people below do not have degrees in naval architecture.

    Steve Killing - degree in civil engineering

    Roger Long - not sure of Roger's education but he does not have a degree in naval architecture

    Rob Stephens - degree from Bowdoin College (not engineering or naval architecture)
    Paul Waring - Landing School design program

    Nigel Irens - "studied for a diploma in Boatyard Management at Southampton College of Technology"
  6. FirthofForth
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    FirthofForth Junior Member

    Hi, thanks very much to those who posted. So my key take home points are:

    1. It's not about the qualification, but rather what you can actually DO.
    2. Qualifications N.A or otherwise don't necessarily imbue innate competency or success.
    3. It's important to know our limits, and work with others to fill knowledge gaps if required.

    If anyone has anything else to add then feel free. Thanks.
    1 person likes this.
  7. TANSL
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    TANSL Senior Member

    Yes I would like to add a few thoughts:
    1. A title (degree or call it as you like better), by itself, does not increase the added value of your person. But you are supposed to get it you had to make great efforts, efforts and determination to be able to apply in all circumstances of your life.
    2. A title assumes that you know that after you there is no one, that is, you solve the problem or they will seek someone else to do it.
    3. Any title puts your limits, you determine them yourself.
    4. Silly but important subject : there are countries that, in one way or another, require that the project is signed by a professional with proper title.
  8. Eric Sponberg
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    Eric Sponberg Senior Member

    Here's my take:

    1. The largest boat you could design is whatever you are comfortable with, technically. But when I say "design", I mean the total package--all the drawings including all the structural bits, not just the pretty pictures of profile and arrangement plan. Are you comfortable designing all the structure, including interpreting and understanding the engineering principles behind classification society rules and the like? If you are, fine, go as big as you feel comfortable with.

    2. I guess type does not really matter, whether sail or power, fast or slow. The same applies as in question 1--what do you feel comfortable designing? Know your limits.

    3. A degreed naval architect has had all the important science and engineering courses: Physics, chemistry, material sciences, fluid mechanics, engineering mechanics, engineering dynamics, drafting (CAD in today's curricula) advanced mathematics (calculus and differential equations, among them), economics, and some liberal arts courses, and then, of course, design--artistic design, structural design, computer design and engineering, and a couple of design projects. There will also have been some writing courses and public speaking exercises (you have to write about and present your designs to your peers and professors). A yacht designer gets little of this to the level that the naval architect gets it. Remember, yacht designer courses usually last one year--a naval architecture degree is a 4-year+ engineering degree. That's a lot more time to cram in a lot more information.

    4. In the US, anyone can present a design for review and they don't have to be a naval architect or a yacht designer to do that. This applies only if you are having your design reviewed for commercial vessel purposes. Recreational craft do not have to go through the USCG for review. If your plans and specifications are not detailed enough (and that means ALL the plans and specifications), they will ask you to supply more information. If you supply good stuff, so much the better, but if you cannot adequately answer their questions, they will have a less than optimum opinion of you it will be mush harder for them to review your design. The same applies to classification societies and their rules and review process--if you know how to understand and apply the rules to create the structural drawings of the boat, then you're fine. But if you have to struggle through the engineering of the rules in order to create your drawings to submit for their review , then your quality is going to suffer, and they'll know it.

    5. I think most clients understand the differences between yacht designers and naval architects. Sometimes they care, sometimes they don't. If they don't, then I think that is because many clients don't have a clue as to what really goes on in the background when designing a boat. A good boat design has lots of drawings, and each drawing has many, many hours put into it to make sure that the boat can actually be built. Good drawings are very complete and easy to read. Bad drawings are incomplete, hard to read, and raise more questions than they answer. As a designer, you should be able to justify every little detail on each and every drawing to your customer. If your customer asks you for a detail or an answer to a question, and you can't answer, then you haven't done your job. If you don't know the answer, then say so, and say you'll get back with an answer or that detail properly drawn.

    6. There isn't even any professional indemnity insurance for naval architects--well, there may be, but it's really expensive, and very hard to get. I remember the last time I looked into it some years ago, and the price of the premiums for just $1 million in coverage cost more than I made in a year. Insurance companies and policies come and go. Look at it from the insurance company's perspective--You are betting them that any boat you design could fail in some way--that's why you would get insurance. However, if a boat fails, there is a high probability that it will sink to the inky depths--the evidence is destroyed or it is not easily obtainable. The insurance company must defend you and your design against lawsuits for faulty design, but how can they do that if the evidence is at the bottom of the ocean? Their exposure is huge. Generally, I have found that we who create original designs for vessels that float cannot be easily insured. Those sorts of policies are best meant for designers who design boats worth millions, and there is enough money in the design and construction budget to cover the cost of the premiums. Finally, I'll offer this--if you have professional liability insurance, you are asking to get sued--your insurance policy gives you deep pockets, and if your clients know you have deep pockets, then they will go after you if they feel justified in doing so. I would be very surprised if any insurance company would consent to insure a yacht designer who has no professional qualifications other than a one year yacht design course. You won't be able to get it, and it will be enormously expensive anyway.

    That my 2¢ worth. I hope it helps.

  9. FirthofForth
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    FirthofForth Junior Member

    Hi Eric, that's an absolutely cracking post! Thanks for that. Very thorough and has really helped to enlighten me on this matter.

    Thanks also to TANSL's recent contribution.
  10. rxcomposite
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    rxcomposite Senior Member

    I was told that in New Zealand, there is no Naval Architecture course, only boatbuilding in community colleges.

    Yet when you go to a shoreline, you see thousands of boat lining the horizon. Seems like everybody owns a boat. I guess they trust the designer/boatbuilders so much.
  11. DavidJ
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    DavidJ Senior Member

    I had similar questions back before I started my education. Formal schooling or correspondence? I was lucky enough to know an established boat designer and I asked him how I could learn to be like him. He had a degree but he actually recommended something different. He had been in a fairly unique situation because his parents owned a boat yard. He grew up building boats. The first design he drew after coming out of school was built at the family's yard.

    I was working in boat building and repair at the time, mostly fibreglass. What the established designer recommended doing was to continue working on the building side and to try and learn as much as possible about how boats are actually built. He also said that I should get out sailing as much as possible. While doing this "hands-on" education he said to do Westlawn. Looking back on it I think that was good advice, but as Simon & Garfunkle said a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest. I already had my heart set on going back to school. I preferred the idea of learning in a classroom with like-minded people. I also find it easier to motivate myself to get assignments done when there is a teacher breathing down your neck.

    So I chose to go the university route and while I still like the dream of being an independent yacht designer that's really all it is now - a dream. The worst part about becoming a naval architect is that it is a really good job. It pays quite well. The work environment is clean and comfortable. Flexible hours are common. It's usually fairly low stress. Several people I was in school with had signed up to become yacht designers. None of them are actually pursuing that.

    What I realized was that to become an independent yacht designer would require a ton of work outside of work. Lots of drawing up my own designs and trying to sell them and myself. It would require a real commitment and dedication to chasing that dream and it might require a period of living in near poverty to make it work. I guess I always knew that. What I didn't realize was how damn near impossible it would be to actually do that. I drew my own designs for the first couple of years out of school, but it got tiring working two jobs. One for pay in the day and one just for myself in the evening. As I gained experience in the workforce and my knowledge and responsibilities went up my pay went up with it. It's really hard to give up a cushy life to chase a dream.

    Another thing I learned was that my skill set wasn't ideal to becoming an independant designer. My first job out of school was at a yacht design firm and as I saw how the business worked I realized that good design and smart naval architecture was completely secondary. I had thought that good engineering sold boats, but what I actually saw was that good talking sold boats. In my opinion the most important skill for the yacht designer to have is the ability to sell. To sell your designs, to sell yourself, to sell your company. The ability to sketch up design ideas quickly is also useful. The hardest part of yacht design is getting the client to sign on the dotted line. Why would they choose you over other designers? After that you can always hire someone or subcontract out the engineering and other design aspects.
  12. jehardiman
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    jehardiman Senior Member

    If I recall correctly, the UK generally requires a RINA Chartered Engineer to stamp and sign for any "public" vessel/marine structures as well as its meeting all the requsite regulatory (commerical) or RCD (non-commerical) requirements.

    In answer to the 3rd question, it has been my experience that the term "Naval Architect" or "Yacht Designer" have a lot of shades. Generally, a 4 year degree for "Naval Architecture" here in the US is a BSE in "Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering". This degree is everything in, on, and about the ship...keel to truck, cutwater to dunce cap as well as structures, materials, economics, basic oceanography, and other stuff. In some ways it is more and in some ways less specalized than other 4 year degrees offered in "Marine Engineering" (the plant), "Naval Engineering" (ship construction), "Ocean Engineering" (marine structures). However, once out in the real world, the term "naval architect" is applied to the position, not the degree. Right now I work in an office with ~50 "naval architects", most who carry the qualifier "-structural", "-electrical", or "-mechanical". These are mechanical, electrical, or civil engineers that have been hired to work on ship systems or structure...they can't do journeyman hydrostatics, let alone complex hydrodynamics. They can follow the cookbook rules that large organizations live by, but they don't personally identify themselves as a "naval architect".

    So when a person identifies themself as a "naval architect" I would expect them to be able to equaly discuss the optimum arrangement of the hawse and the devil's claw to the wildcat and spurling pipe as well as the care and feeding of a duplex steam pump and not just how to construct the Kn curves or the calculation of the tertiary plate load. Simarily, if a person identifies himself as a "yacht designer" I would expect him to not only be able to draw a pretty shape in CAD, but to also tell if his lines are developable, to select the proper size cleat for the breast, and know how many feet away the electric bow thruster can be away from the battery bank based on the motor pigtails. In actual practice though, I have found many that will identify themselves as a "designer", but not have a clue about the mathematics behind the CAD program or why the ABYC standards specify a maximum number of conductors per cable bundle.

    As far as insurance goes, that's what the rules, Class Socities, and inspections are about. Realisticly, more vessels, especially small vessels, are lost to navigation errors and poor operation than to inherent flaws in the design because the rules force at least "maximum reasonable assurance" to the suitability of the vessel to its intended purpose. No smart owner is going to accept a vessel he cannot insure, and no insurance company is going to insure a vessel (for an acceptable cost) that dosn't comply with the rules. As I have stated before, the class and the regulatory rules are more about managing the risk for the insurance company than about preventing the loss, because most losses cannot be regulated out of existance.

    Here is an incident you should follow that happened in the UK. The legal fallout of this will answer some of your questions.

    Last edited: Aug 8, 2014
  13. FirthofForth
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    FirthofForth Junior Member

    Hi Jehardiman and DavidJ, these were great posts. In particular:

    Jehardiman - I'm very glad you brough up the example of mech/civil/elec engineers working in industry, as it's a route that I had thought of taking. The fact that they don't identify themselves as "Naval Architects", and your further comments about required competencies, speaks volumes.

    DavidJ, very interesting your point about your experiences where good design and smart naval architecture became secondary to the actual selling process, and the role actual marketing and promotion has in the success story. That's a great insight.

    Rxcomposite - thanks very much for your input too. I see you're from the Philippines. It would be interesting to hear how things are done there! I used to live there for a year.
  14. Petros
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    Petros Senior Member

    a degree in "navel architecture" limits your career options, since you get balled early on as only having education in boat design and engineering, even though you learn the same fundamentals and processes as say a mechanical engineer. the demand for pleasure yachts swings with the economy and popular fashion, so long term employment in yacht design is rather rare.

    My degree is in ME, and I have worked in aerospace, automotive, consumer products, and have over 20 years in my own consulting firm mostly in the construction trades. though I have done a number of marine engineering projects, and have designed and built over 20 small boats of my own design as an avocation. I have never been without work, there was always an employer than could use my more general skills, and the same is true now with my own consulting firm. I have lots of interested and flexible skills that I can apply to a lot of different design challenges, and have made a comfortable living with a variety of interesting design challenges in engineering.

    Rarely have yacht designers ever get full time work in their chosen career over their working life, most spend many years as a draftsman in other industries waiting for the next commission or for the demand to return to recreational boating. Even many well known designers had other careers.

    So consider that an engineering degree can be applied to a lot of different industries, for well paying jobs, but the same skill set can also be used to design yachts and pleasure boats, should the opportunities come your way. but you will be able to make a living in between those special positions or commissions that make it worth perusing.

    good luck.

  15. TANSL
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    TANSL Senior Member

    Dear Petros, I think you do not know the many, many disciplines comprising naval architect's career. All trades needed to build a house, and a few more, are needed to build a ship: masons, carpenters, fitters, loftmen, electricians, mechanics, draftsmen designers, welders, sailors, glaziers, plumbers, decorators, curtain rods ... And all of them, in the shipyards, depend directly or indirectly from a naval architect. I don´t know of a career that includes more alternatives than those of a naval architect, but that does not lead me to despise other degrees.
    Is not that what the OP asked and, in my opinion, you're wrong, or at least have the same reason I am. I think it's great that you like your profession, but that does not make it better than others.
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