Since its inception, the yacht has been equated with elegance and luxury—a timeless voyager of the seas. When it comes to exploring the world’s oceans, man has never rested on his laurels for optimal ways to make this adventure exciting and comfortable. Thus, even though yachts bobbing along in open waters have become a common sight, the quest for continuous improvement is still ongoing.
Boatbuilding has made major leaps and bounds since the first seaworthy “boat” set out to sea in 8,000 BC (imagine that). Gone are the days when wood was deemed the primary resource for boat construction. Modern technology has elevated standards to greater heights. Nowadays, lighter and stronger is the name of the game.
Of course, yachts well belong into this category. Perhaps you’ve noticed how this sea vessel differs slightly from its water-exploring counterparts. Maybe you’ve seen how its material isn’t exactly the same as the common ship’s. Your curiosity’s piqued, and you can’t quite figure out what the yacht’s made of: cement, a special kind of wood, some superpower steel?
Nope, nope, and nope.
Most yachts are built from composite materials.
The modern yacht is the product of composite materials all thrown in together, specifically marine composites. Put simply, a composite is a brand-new product resulting from two or more different materials combined.
For a composite material to be, it needs two primary source materials: a matrix (or a resin, if you may) and a reinforcement (a fiber). The thing with composite materials is they’re equipped with features that far exceed the characteristics of their two original materials alone. Sounds pretty cool, doesn’t it?
Take mud and straw, for example. This man-made composite has been around for more than 10,000 years. Nature, of course, comes with her own natural composites. Some examples are bamboo, wood, and bone.
The basic framework of the modern yacht came to be almost accidentally. It was in the 1930s when researchers at the glass company in Owens, Illinois, attempted to shape into threadlike form some glass into fibers. They wanted to find alternatives to mineral wool as filter and insulator, hence the procedure.
But wait, there’s more. In the 1940s, boat engineers got into an experimental mood and decided to use thermosetting plastic to construct boats. They were greatly pleased with the results: the hulls were devoid of seams and sharp angles. It was a smooth construction experience, to say the least.
Combining the abovementioned elements paved the way for revolutionary boatbuilding. Thermosetting plastic provided flexibility, and fiberglass offered strength.
The marine industry was never the same after that.
Composite materials come in all shapes and forms; they’re virtually endless. Thus, it’s little wonder this question always comes up when the subject of yacht building is brought into light: “What’s the most ideal material for constructing yachts?”
There is no right or fixed answer to this query. Composite materials alone don’t make for a solid-enough factor to warrant a conclusive answer. Though they denote elegance and luxury, yachts are actually much more complex than they seem.
Whether you’re eyeing a customized yacht or purchasing a finished one, always be on the lookout for corrosion resistance, strength, and weight. Second, factor in your would-be yacht’s cruising grounds. Will you be using it primarily in freshwater or in saltwater? Steel appears to corrode faster in saltwater, so it’s best to look into that as well.
In addition, take into consideration the size of the yacht’s hull. Some composite materials are more ideal for smaller hulls; others are better matches for larger hulls.
Then there are experts who believe composite materials work best for production yachts than custom ones. However, there are custom-yacht firms that delivered superb results with the use of composite materials. This strengthens the need to take all factors into careful study when it comes to yacht construction.
While composite materials come in several forms (as mentioned, virtually endless), a handful of them are mainstays when it comes to yacht production. Here are 3 of these composites:
Glass fiber was the product of an experiment conducted by engineers at a glass-manufacturing company in Owens, Illinois, in the 1930s. These fibers are well-known for their strength and flexibility; in fact, about 90% of all boats were built from some form of fiber that has been molded from the original glass fiber.
In addition, this product has properties similar to the silica-based fiberglass of this modern era. Goes to show how much of an influence this composite had in revolutionary boatbuilding.
Aromatic polyamide, better known as aramid, entered the yacht-construction scene only about 30 years ago. While a relatively young discovery, it has made a tremendous impact in the creation of seaworthy vessels, yachts included.
This material is perfect for a yacht framework. It is lightweight, and can be woven and interwoven with other composite materials. It stands up to punctures and fatigue too, perfect for voyages into much-rougher seas.
It can be said that carbon fiber is the latest star in the world of yacht construction. It is lightweight and stiff; no wonder most manufacturers prefer to use this in their recent boats or models.
What’s more, carbon fiber has a low weight and mass, has remarkable thermal stability, is strong, and is highly durable. It is a bit tricky to work with, though, and is the costliest of all reinforcing fibers. However, it seems its pros far more outweigh its cons, hence its steadily rising demand and use for yacht construction.