Design, particularly when referring to yachts at a sustained level of excellence, means much more than just marine architecture. Design means a truly perfect and complete balance between a series of parameters and requirements in which quality is foremost, including marine engineering, a rational overall system, impeccable cruising performance, safety, comfort, the space and brightness of the interiors, the standard of materials and appearance, and functional efficiency. Modern yachts are true "floating villas", intended for those who enjoy experiencing the infinite fascination of the sea, while surrounded by exquisitely designed and intelligently planned living space. Those who choose a yacht are driven by quality research, excellence and style values.
Until the 1950s almost all yachts were made of boards of wood (steel was also used for bigger yachts) but nowadays there is a much wider range of materials. Most common is fibreglass, but also steel, aluminium and even ferrocement are used. Wood is still used (traditional board based methods as well as modern technologies based on plywood, veneers and epoxy-glues etc.), but wood is mostly used when building individual boats, less often in industrial boat building.
Sailing yachts fall into three basic catergories: 'Weekender', 'Cruiser' and 'Racer'. Yacht designs vary depending on the yacht category.
Weekender yachts are small, sub-9.5 metre (30 feet) vessels. Such boats are designed to undetake short journeys, rarely lasting more than 2 to 3 days (hence their name). Weekenders usually only have a simple design cabin, often consisting of a single 'saloon', with bedspace for 2-3 people, and clever use of ergonomics to allow both galley (kitchen) space, seating and space for navigation equipment.
Modern wooden yacht 30''Cruisers' are by the far the most common in private usage, making up most of the 7 m to 14 m (23 to 46 ft) range. And the yacht designs can be quite complex, as designers try to find a balance between docile handling qualities, interior space, good light-wing performance and on-board comfort. The huge range of such craft, from dozens of yacht builders worldwide make it hard to determine a specific description. However, most favour a teardrop-planform hull, with a wide, flat bottom and deep single-fin keel to give good stability. Most are single-mast 'Bermudan sloop' rigged vessels, with a single fore-sail (of the 'jib' or 'Genoa') type and a single Mainsail. Spinnaker sails, with huge areas, are often supplied for lightwind use. These types are often chosen as family vessels, especially those in the 8 to 12 metre (32 to 40 ft) range. Such a vessel will usually have many rooms below deck. Typically there will be 3 double-berth cabins, a single large saloon (galley, seating and navigation area) and a 'head' (toilet/showeroom). The interior will be finished in wood panelling, with plenty of storage space. Cruisers are quite capable of taking on long-range passages of many thousands of miles, so have large freshwater tanks. Such boats have a cruising speed of around 4-10 mph. This basic design is typical of the standard types produced by the major yacht-builders. Most of the large luxury yachts (30m+, 50 feet+) are also cruiser, but their design varies greatly as they usually are 'one off' designs to the specifc needs of the buyer.
In recent years, private yachts have evolved from fairly simple vessels with basic accommodation to sophisticated and luxurious boats. There appear an increasingly large number of wealthy young men and women who aspire to a super yacht lifestyle. These young customers bring a breath of new challenges to yacht designs because, unlike previous generations, they have different design tastes and are more attentive to current fashions. Requests linked to their free time are currently highly varied, and they use their yachts more assiduously but for shorter, more intense periods. The yacht has become a private entertainment centre on the water and, consequently, carries an increasingly wider range of equipment connected with activities at sea: jet-skis, water-skiing and SCUBA gear and much else. The numerous hi-fi audiovisual systems installed on board yachts have been further extended by those owners who want a cinema quality film reproduction system. And almost all owners also want latest generation satellite communications aboard.
There is also a growing request for increasingly high performance yacht designs. Sailboat hulls have really changed a lot, and this evolution is going to continue: ever longer waterline lengths, sail area/displacement ratios that would be more appropriate to a racer, appendages made more complicated by more frequent use of knife-blade and bulb keels to keep up the stability levels required for a cruising boat. Above all, today's big sailboat owners - perhaps much more than in the past - want to be able to handle their yachts on their own rather than leave it to a crew. They therefore demand sophisticated equipment suited to this purpose.