With wait times of up to eight years for a new construction vessel, and a full global orderbook, the yacht industry has looked for creative and innovative solutions to reduce delivery time. Conversion projects, taking offshore supply vessels (OSVs) or platform supply vessels (PSVs), offer a creative solution to wait times for new construction. Conversions can take as few as two years depending on the coordination and experience of the design, shipyard, and flag State, are a hot new sector of the industry and offer a creative solution to long waits. These laid up OSVs/PSVs are relatively inexpensive to purchase given current offshore market conditions, and can be converted in many cases at a reduced cost and time compared to a brand-new yacht built to spec.
“OSV conversions are the newest trend in yachting,” said Patrick Bachofner, Director, Geneva Office and Worldwide Director, Yachts for International Registries, Inc. and its affiliates (IRI) which provides administrative and technical support to the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) Maritime Administrator. “We started working with owners on conversion projects in 2013, but the downturn in the offshore segment has left many OSVs in layup, making these projects especially attractive for owners excited to get on the water.”
These conversions typically reduce the vessel down to the hull, rebuilding and refitting the vessel from the inside to meet the needs of the new owner. Often, these conversions need to be regarded as a major conversion, meaning that the dimensions, carrying capacity or the original intent of the vessel has changed. Major conversions can impact the applicable rules and regulations the vessel was originally built under, requiring the owner, flag State, and Classification Society (Class) to carefully review, assess, and determine the applicable rules. In certain cases, the only option is to make significant changes to the vessel to meet applicable regulations, and work alongside Class and flag to accept alternative proposals.
“Stakeholders in the yachting industry can be so creative,” said Alex von Stein, IRI’s Yachting Advisor. “Several RMI-flagged converted OSVs are being used as support yachts, to carry toys and support equipment without crowding the deck or storage compartments of the owner’s yacht,” noted Alex. “The modern yacht owner is looking for a vessel that is luxurious, fun, and offers the ability to explore the world in authentic ways. Transforming an OSV/PSV opens a world of new possibilities for design, innovation, and exploration, while reducing wait times.”
OSVs are traditionally built for more challenging sea conditions than a typical yacht and are an inventive option for owners looking to cover long distances, endure challenging sea conditions, as well as those looking for a support vessel to hold tenders, submersibles, and a wide variety of gadgets and toys.
“When clients came to us a few years ago looking for creative solutions to wait times at shipyards, the RMI Registry was happy to collaborate to find a solution,” said Marc Verburg, IRI’s Director, Yacht Operations. “We pioneered conversion projects – finding solutions that worked for our owners,” he continued.
These conversions are not straight forward, cautions Marc. “Technical considerations can vary significantly on conversion projects and each one is unique. Typically, the flag State works with Class to determine what is on board, what needs to be brought up to standard, and how special requests and features, such as a crane to lift submarines, can be feasibly incorporated,” he noted.
OSVs/PSVs, whether converted to yacht support vessels or luxury yachts themselves, must adhere to a different set of standards than offshore vessels. The RMI Yacht Code, updated most recently in 2021, provides a flexible and comprehensive set of guidelines to ensure safe yacht operations.
“Because these vessels were originally built to commercial vessel standards, they often do not meet the RMI’s Yacht Code requirements for things like fire safety systems, or we need to look closely at stability criteria with heavy cranes and other equipment. Careful consideration also needs to be made when lengthening the existing hull or expanding accommodation and service spaces,” Marc noted.
The Registry’s Yacht Team, with 17 dedicated team members, operates from key yacht hubs such as Fort Lauderdale, Geneva, Istanbul, London, New York, and Roosendaal, to keep close cooperation and strong working relationships with shipbuilding, finance, and other stakeholders in the yachting community. Internal cooperation and coordination across all departments allows the Registry to work on individual solutions for the most unique conversion projects.
“Very few flag States have the resources and experience to look at conversion projects and see the possibilities like we do,” said Patrick. “We are able to pick up the phone and call experienced fleet and technical teams on the commercial side of the Registry to really understand the technical support needed for these conversion projects,” he continued.
The RMI has flagged several support/research yachts in the last few years, and the Registry’s Yacht Team sees this trend strengthening.
“We’ve been involved with a wide range of conversion projects; it’s a really exciting time in yachting. Conversions cause us to really stretch our legs as an industry and see what is possible,” concluded Patrick.