MMYD On Sustainability, Sailing & The Future of Yacht Design

By Jenna Mehdi

With over 30 years’ experience in supplying the yachting industry with some of its most visionary high-performance vessels, Malcolm McKeon knows what it takes to design a client’s dream boat. Although the designer’s portfolio is diverse, McKeon’s proliferation in sailing yacht design is testimony to the significance of sailing vessels to the wider yachting industry today. We caught up with Malcolm McKeon to talk sustainability, the multitudinous ways yacht design can lead to greener operation, as well as what inspires him to keep pushing the boundaries of possibility.

Based in the quaint coastal town of Lymington in England’s verdant New Forest region, the name ‘Malcolm McKeon Yacht Design’ is best known in our industry for designing some of the most majestic and formidable high-performance sailing yachts on the water. It is this passion for the sea, instilled in McKeon from a young age, which inspires the designer to build boats whose excellence in performance, comfort, and (increasingly) sustainability have propelled the studio to the forefront of yacht design. 

After coming to England in 1977 to compete for the Hong Kong sailing team in the Admiral’s Cup, McKeon took up a course in naval architecture. ‘A good chunk of my passion is sailing - I love the aesthetics, the sailing performance and being able to push the boundaries on that front, whether it’s a cruising boat or a racing boat. Every client I meet has different ideas and I just love helping them create their dreams!’

While green technology is being developed at a dizzying pace, we were keen to hear whether McKeon had noticed a shift in his client’s attitudes to reflect this.

‘Most of the clients who approach us nowadays are very concerned about the green side,’ McKeon is pleased to report, ‘The environmental impact of yachting is increasing all the time so we really have to include green aspects in the design side of it.’ 

McKeon goes further, reporting a ‘definite shift’ in experienced motor yacht owners increasingly considering the choice of a sailing yacht. ‘Some high profile clients don’t want to be seen on a motor boat. I think we are going to be seeing a major shift as the sailing market grows.’  

In terms of what can be done to enable and encourage this shift, there is no shortage of options at the designer’s disposal. In spite of the oft-discussed unreliability of certain developing technologies, Malcolm and his team have been hard at work implementing practices which go far beyond a greener propulsion system.

The designer is currently working on a large sailing yacht project, the particular details of which are still under wraps, whose green ambitions should serve as a benchmark for designers industry-wide. ‘The yacht will be powered by a hybrid system, enabling power to be regenerated during sailing using “sail milling” propellers to generate power for hotel and sailing loads.’ 

The project, McKeon goes on, will incorporate features such as motion sensors to reduce power wastage in unused areas or at night, and the use of recycled rainwater for wash downs. ‘Every measure has been taken to preserve energy on board,’ he tells us. 

The yacht will also make use of excess power produced while sailing, which will be fed back into the system and stored in a large onboard battery bank.

McKeon’s studio ensures that every project is fitted with retro-fittable battery packs - the most promising area for change, in his view. But what is the biggest hurdle towards a more sustainable future, we ask? 

‘The biggest thing at the moment is the amount of fuel we burn, which I believe we are beginning to tackle with battery technology and energy-saving practices,’ McKeon tells us. ‘Shipyards and designers could do more to make clients aware of the solutions that are available, as well as where small design changes can have a significant impact on the environmental impact of their yacht - for example, when considering speed requirements for a motor yacht.’

In terms of the build process itself, we questioned the longevity of the environmentally positive workflow processes introduced by necessity over the past few months. I used to be on a plane once or twice a week... I’ve only done three trips since April.’ 

Despite remarkably managing to sign two new clients during the lockdown period, McKeon hastens to add, there is no replacing the value of face-to-face interaction. ‘A lot of the meetings with shipyards could be done over Zoom, but there is nothing like meeting a client in person, sitting down and sketching out what they want. It’s the same with our team here too - from a creative standpoint, you have to be all together.’

Ultimately though, our industry is beginning to take huge strides in the right direction. 

‘We have to keep doing all we can to build and operate these boats more efficiently. As far as emissions go, there are increasing regulations coming in to consider too. And of course, we have to build more sailing yachts!’

Design studios such as Malcolm McKeon’s are vital in providing a sustainable alternative to traditional yachting choices without any compromise on performance, quality and comfort. We look forward to bringing our readers more news on this dynamic studio in the months to come.

"Some high profile clients don’t want to be seen on a motor boat. I think we are going to be seeing a major shift as the sailing market grows."

Malcolm McKeon, Designer

"Some high profile clients don’t want to be seen on a motor boat. I think we are going to be seeing a major shift as the sailing market grows."

Malcolm McKeon, Designer
By Jenna Mehdi
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