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30 Tips for Building Your Explorer Yacht

This year I'm 63, how did that happen? If I look back at 47 years in the shipping business, memorable moments have been when an old salt passed some snippet of hard earned knowledge. As others have tried innumerable times before, this is such an attempt. Maybe random format, unstructured or slightly jaded but hopefully useful. Have at it Folks!


  1. Owning a yacht is a significant investment in time and $$. Building one is doubly so. The fastest way afloat is to buy or refit an existing hull and only go down the build route if you cannot find what you need by any other means.

  2. Because of the expense, it is worthwhile to make a concerted effort to use every inch of available space. Waste nothing and think small. Installers can consume space with little thought; do not let them.

  3. Put effort into design, engineering, and planning early on in the build process and before construction starts in earnest. This is the principal opportunity to save cost and delay.

  4. Building to design Code is a minimum design case; adding hull strength and collision resistance at the build stage is much less expensive than the alternative.

  5. Lay out your electrical and instrumentation runs early, gathering them into logical terminations with good access.

  6. On larger hulls, use large-diameter fuel fill pipework for quick filling; remember that air breather pipes must not allow tanks to pressurize in the event of an overflow. Don't join breather pipes within the hull for convinience.

  7. Plan storage spaces early and defend them against lazy or imprudent installers. Crew and owner need to be allocated space for daily yacht operations; avoid surrendering it to subpar suppliers or designs. Plan space for extra mooring equipment and garbage storage in remote destinations.

  8. Monitor vessel weight closely; discuss weight allowances for different areas in advance. Consider material weights like marble, stone, or tiles, adding 15% for designer preferences.

  9. Interior designers may focus on aesthetics at the cost of practicality, sopem have never sailed at all! They also appreciate conveniently perpendicular walls and square corners. Test the ideas before approving them and watch for wasted space. Illustrations may need "interpretation" when they run up against the practicality of a build.


  1. Pipes belong in floors where possible and never in deckheads. Wiring belongs in the deckhead or bulkhead and never bilge spaces. It's a simple but often ignored concept. Joints and connection boxes need to be accessible.

  2. Plan for excess cable trays and brackets. Welded cable brackets are preferable. Cable ties should not use glued saddles. Plan for larger cable trays than initially estimated and run spare cables on longer runs, especially for instrumentation & control through inaccessible areas.

  3. Segregate AC, DC, and data cables. A cable tie is not a pipe clamp; cables should never be clamped to pipes. Use "P Clips" for wires attached to machinery. Hoses & cables should each run true and not become intertwined in a run.

  4. Any through-hull penetration will need a vacuum break. Water generally flows downhill on this planet; water under hydrodynamic pressure flows any way it fancies. Seal the inner end of your rudder stocks.

  5. Hot water pipes can be small in diameter but ensure a permanent slow circulation to limit water use.

  6. Monitor weight during construction (preferably with load sensors). Maintain stability calculations as weights or added or removed. (This is often bottom of the yard's priority list.)

  7. Early on, plan for additional permanent ballast to preserve stability under "lightship" trim. Lead & epoxy is ballast, cement is for fishing boats.

  8. Anticipate penetrations by showing more than necessary in initial structural drawings. Cut them using CNC before construction, preventing the need for later additions. Use CNC to cut all limber holes per structural files to avoid oversight. Including them in the initial drawings saves time and prevents complications during construction.

  9. Order equipment as early as possible; late arrivals are costlier than expiring warranties. Suppliers often offer extended warranties for yet-to-be-installed equipment. Alternatively, order early, pay a deposit, and secure a fixed supply date and price.

  10. Read installation manuals for all equipment. Ensure Yard staff read them before installation (I could be tempted to swear at this point).

  11. As a matter of self-defense, prioritize installation by a qualified subcontractor, preferably one who supplied the equipment and is positioned to understand it best.

  12. Delay the insulation process until all welding, penetrations, and installations are complete. This prevents danger to onboard personnel and ensures a secure foundation for insulation.

  13. Avoid launching prematurely to satisfy a contractual date. It will only slow the completion process and frustrate everyone along the way.


  1. Use third-party inspection services to maintain quality when owner visits are limited. Avoid paper-based CE Certification services who do not visit during the build. It is often difficult to see your own mistakes.

  2. Consider a permanent owner representative on-site for a large build once the hull has been turned and outfitting begins.

  3. Consider access to installed equipment, pipework, and cables throughout construction. Facilitate easy removal and replacement with minimal labor by installing isolation valves and accessible features.

  4. Regularly update drawings and prevent old versions from circulating. Even without significant changes, update the issue to avoid confusion. Apply the KISS principle (Keep It Simple Stupid) to designs. Draw simple schematics for easy understanding and maintenance. Update all drawings to "as built" status before build completion.


  1. Contracts should be clear, simple, and on point. Create a personal flow chart to ensure you understand how your contract works and respect its application.

  2. Penalty clauses for late delivery should be discussed early, and the effects of delays should be monitored. Their application should not be a matter of dispute. They will apply or will not and under what conditions should be clear in the contract. They should be used by an Owner to encourage on-time delivery and not as a means of cost saving.

  3. Mistakes happen; to err is human; blame is a mistake, and consequences are optional. In dealing with the Yard, remember that the goal is not to score minor contractural points. The plan is to go sailing, so make your decisions and allowances on that basis alone.


In summary, attention to detail in every aspect of yacht construction is a smart move. A yard and owner will be motivated by different information. The owner, however, will live with the end result, so allocate sufficient and timely attention.

Lastly, consider attending Church occasionally; good luck has to be worked at and no good deed goes unpunished!

Chris Leigh-Jones

As a heads up, to help others de-risk the process, we are working on a Yacht Delivery, Voyage Crewing (Ice Pilot) and Build Superintendant offering for our readers who are building their own XPM or similar. That would include handholding during contract negotiations and training after the handover. More in a later blog early next year.

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