Yacht design career (not naval architect) for a middle aged fella

Discussion in 'Boat Design' started by Vineet, Jun 6, 2021.

  1. Vineet
    Joined: Apr 2021
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    Vineet Junior Member

    Hi all,
    I know there is a lot of community knowledge and experience here to offer guidance and advice on my questions.
    Let's just say I knew a fella who was 45 and he wanted to enquire about how practical it would be to make a career change. And let's say that fella had a long term, unmet desire to design sailboats as an actual career instead of a hobby. How practical 0f a move would it be for this guy to make a jump like that? How much time can he expect to go through training/education and then to actually start making some income after it? What would it take for him to actually make a livable income in the industry? For simplicity sake let's just assume he's motivated and has adequate but not ample means for this bold new adventure. What should he reasonably expect to invest (time and cash) in getting to the starting point of his bold, new career move? What courses might he chart? He's not old. He's not young. Is there enough space between him and the windward shore to make a safe passage in a blow?
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  2. bajansailor
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    bajansailor Marine Surveyor

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  3. Ad Hoc
    Joined: Oct 2008
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    Ad Hoc Naval Architect

    Welcome to the forum Vineet,

    That is a subjective question which only "that fella" can answer. It is down to his own perception of how easy it'll be in terms of the task ahead.

    Well, if you are studying and by studying getting a proper education, i.e a degree in naval architecture, once graduated ..how long will it take post graduation, to get a job...
    All in all from start to THAT point, post graduation, around 4 years. Assume there are jobs for you that are available..

    You need to define what you mean by "liveable income"...is that just enough to pay rent and food, or to buy a new car or a house or feed a family etc? That is too vague.
    However, for yourself, post graduation, a learning curve of some 5 years as a minimum before you can start to stretch your financial muscles to have a disposable income.

    Cash , depends upon the course and location.
    Time around 10-15 years if you are serious about it....assuming a half decent disposable income.

    A degree in naval architecture...as that sets you up to design anything. One then finds a job in the career path of their choice. And then begins the learning....since the degree is the basic foundation.
    The job for the next min 5 years is the basic apprenticeship... and then becoming more nuanced in education and speciality...and so on.

    If you just want yachts, and you feel NA degree isn't for you... there are one or two Uni's around the world, that do Yacht design degrees, such as Southampton in the UK.

    If you feel that is still too much.. there are on-line courses offer a "taste/flavour" of design, where you scratch the surface of naval architecture, but tailored towards small craft and yacht design. But there is a gulf in education between this type of course and a degree in naval architecture.

    Thus where does your 'fella', want to go.....
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  4. Vineet
    Joined: Apr 2021
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    Vineet Junior Member

    I'm a Pacific Northwest Coast bloke who hopes to venture to Hawaii and if my ambitions grow past that I would love to reach the Marquesas and or the Tuomotus. That's the big picture. The smaller, preliminary picture is to spend time sailing my more immediate local in Washington and North into BC.
  5. Alik
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    Alik Senior Member

    In recent decades, yacht constructuction has moved from small shipyards towards large international brands. And most of these brands have in-house design teams, there is almost no space for individual yacht designer. Moreover, any recreactional craft (yacht) is now a subject of complicated regulation, so actually the design can't be run by one person. Say, preparing stability analysis to ISO12217 takes 1-2 weeks for a qualified naval architect; detailed structural calculations to ISO12215-5, -7, 10 - more than 2 months for a 50' boat. Add to this drawing work. Given it all together, this requires teamwork, no individual can do it anymore.

    Secondly, most of design offices today design different types of craft - yachts, commerical, paramilitary, etc. Large names in the industry do it, no one can survive in the business doing only yachts. To be at this level, one needs education with formal naval architecture degree (not 'yacht designer'), plus experience of about 10 years.

    Third, design of yachts is a low income work. Private clients don't really want to pay for 'papers', unlike government or commercial boat operators.

    There is a niche for individual yacht designer who basically does it as hobby, but are get paid. But I would not consider it decent income. And they are very dependant on subcontractors who do strucutral design, stability, performance analysis, etc. Those sometimes contact us for 'calculations' and 'workshop drawings'. We are unwilling to do it and never take it: why do we need 'yacht designer' if we can do the whole project ourselves, why do we need to make those guys competitive? ;)
    Last edited: Jun 7, 2021
  6. Vineet
    Joined: Apr 2021
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    Vineet Junior Member

    Very useful information
  7. JSL
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    JSL Senior Member

    I reviewed Sponberg's article and based on my 45+ years in the boat design business*, he is pretty well 'on course'. One item I would mention is boating experience...using, maintaining, cleaning, servicing, etc.: it is very important to help avoid what one builder I worked with called 'architect's dream'..... An impractical idea or feature. I have had the 'pleasure' of assisting in 'correcting' a few 'dreams' (not my design) and it was not always pleasant.
    As to time allowance for learning/training, allow about 5 years plus another 3-5 years for 'practical'. Even seemingly minor things like learning the correct terminology will absorb time. During this learning period, if you can manage to get a job working for a recognized boat designer or naval architect the whole process speeds up .
    And yes, you can make a decent living but if you want to get rich, buy a lottery ticket.
    Good luck
    *recreational and commercial boats, sail, power,.... 15' to 80'
  8. DCockey
    Joined: Oct 2009
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    DCockey Senior Member

    The Landing School in Arundel, Maine has an eight month residential program in yacht design. Yacht Design — The Landing School https://www.landingschool.edu/yacht-design They talk about a close to 100% employment rate for graduates of the course but that employment is not necessarially designing yachts. I've met several gradutes of the course including one who is the resident designer at a local boat yard but I don't think he does much new boat design, maybe one boat every few years.
    My guess is a sailing and cruising lifestyle is not compatible with getting into the design business. More likely are 60 hour weeks with time-off dificult to schedule because delivering what the customers need will be first priority.
  9. Vineet
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    Vineet Junior Member

    I really appreciate all of your input. The ideal meets the real as disappointing as it may be. But I'd rather be disappointed now then later.

  10. Eric Sponberg
    Joined: Dec 2001
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    Eric Sponberg Senior Member

    Thank you for all your comments. I happened to "check in" to see how things are going for some, and appreciate that my article "So you want to be a boat designer...." still resonates.

    At the moment, we are in port in Darwin, NT, Australia, waiting out, yet again, to continue on our circumnavigation amongst COVID pandemic closures. The Delta strain of the virus is wreaking havoc around the world. There are literally hundreds of cruising boats still stranded throughout the Pacific, now about 18 months, that cannot move because ports are generally still closed. Australia and New Zealand are still closed, and they have been big destination draws in the past.

    From my standpoint, now retired over 5 years, I find that the field of naval architecture in general is very much alive and well. Not so much in yacht design, but in commercial craft design. The news practically every day describes advances in design, engineering and ocean research that just begs for more people to be trained in naval architecture and marine engineering. The variety of new vessels being built these days is just phenomenal, and they don't get designed and built on their own. Today's high school graduate pursuing a naval architecture degree is going to have a full lifetime of very well paid and interesting work. I congratulate all future graduates who select this field of study.

    As for yacht design (recreational craft design), as reflected by comments above, there are isolated designers and practitioners who continue to find work, particularly if they are also the builder of their own designs. But it would be extremely difficult for the new independent yacht designer to find work enough to support himself for the first few years of practice. I am not saying it cannot be done, but I think it will be harder than it was for me 40 years ago. Good luck anyway.

    For updates on our circumnavigation, you can go to my wife's blog about our trip: Link: www.arlissryan.com/blog.


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