Photographer: EMILIO BIANCHI

The Fuel-Guzzling Yacht Industry Wades Into Hybrid Technology

  • Heesen agent says some consumers demanding cleaner technology
  • 50-meter yacht can travel at 9 knots in virtual silence

Even the diesel-guzzling yacht industry is exploring hybrid engine technology.

Luxury boat makers have trailed behind automakers in the quest for new ways to power engines, but Thomas Conboy, North America sales agent for Dutch yacht company Heesen, said his industry is paying attention to the growing demand for environmentally-friendly technology.

“This is a topic that’s hot in the world today,” he said at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, where one of Heesen’s new hybrids, Home, is on display. “So if you’re not doing it, or at least looking at it, you’re probably not paying attention to what society is wanting.”

Source: Heesen

The 50-meter (165-foot) yacht costs about $38 million. A new hybrid mode allows it to travel at 9 knots in virtual silence for about 9,000 miles using less than 12 gallons of fuel an hour, compared to about 26 gallons per hour when it’s traveling at 12 knots with its traditional motors on. In the hybrid mode, it uses diesel generators to power electric shaft motors instead of batteries, according to Conboy. In that sense, Home is no Tesla, but it’s an improvement for an incredibly fuel-inefficient mode of transportation, which -- as Conboy noted -- can also be guilty of environmental sins such as killing wild animals in the name of interior design. When not using the electric motors Home has a range of about 4,000 miles at 12 knots.

While a few other ships use the technology, Home is the first to combine it with a fast displacement hull form that was designed by Dutch naval architect Van Oossanen. 

Source: Heesen

Read more: Track where the yachts are

“You can be in the Greek Isles or down in the BVI or the Grenadines, and you can run around virtually silent,” Conboy said Wednesday, adding that the yacht costs about the same as an equivalent diesel model because the size of the engines is dramatically smaller.

Photographer: David Churchill

Conboy noted that hybrid technology yachts still represented a small percentage of overall sales, and accounted for less than 10 percent of Heesen’s current production.

“Yachts are still not the greenest things in the world, obviously, but we’re making inroads to try to be more conscientious,” he said.

Photographer: David Churchill

Noting that the battery technology needed for a true hybrid isn’t quite there yet, the jury is still out for Conboy on whether the trend of more eco-conscious yachts will catch on in earnest anytime soon. Buyers willing to shell out the cash needed to purchase a yacht in the $30-million range want proven technology and not something viewed as a trend.

For Heesen, though, Home, which features interior design by Venice-based Cristiano Gatto, has been well received, winning the green award at the Monaco Yacht Show, according to Conboy, among other prizes.

Photographer: David Churchill

“We’re going to be behind the auto business, but it’s going to be a similar trend,” said Conboy, adding that the yacht industry tends to follow technology advances in other industries instead of spending huge amounts on research and development itself.  “A lot of the stuff that comes out for the first time is thought of as being gimmicky maybe. I think there will be more demand for it as time goes on because boat owners that are coming in today are more conscious about the environment.”

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