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How Virtual Reality is Transforming Boatbuilding

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A virtual Hatters Motoryacht

Seeing into the Future

Virtual Reality is poised to transform the yacht building—and buying—process.

Gazing over a South African ­savanna from an open Land ­Rover, I see big-game animals grazing in every direction. Noisy bird calls and an elephant’s trumpeting peal rise above the light rustle of the veldt grasses. It’s stunning. The scene softens and suddenly I’m sitting in a yurt with a family during supper. I look around the circular dwelling, down at my plate of food, then through the open canvas door at the Mongolian steppe. As I study a wall hanging, I feel a tap on my shoulder—time’s up. I remove the Samsung virtual reality (VR) headset, and I’m back in New York City. The experience was surreal. Or was it so real?

VR has gone from a video gamer’s plaything to an extremely valuable tool for myriad modalities. Boatbuilders, too, are realizing the powerful ways in which VR can be implemented, from a vessel’s initial design to dockside deal-making. 

Perennially at the forefront in yacht design and technology, Dutch builders and designers have been enthusiastic about VR for quite some time. “The topic is really alive,” said Jeroen Droogsma, Vripack’s design studio manager. Calling from the design company’s Amsterdam office, Droogsma related how VR is reshaping Vripack, putting the terabytes of data produced in yacht design, refits, and consultations to more efficient use. “It’s allowed us to use data in a different way, in a better way,” he said. “There’s much more intelligence in those files than can be [seen] from printing on paper. We’re extracting much more out of it.”

Another Dutchman, entrepreneur Ingmar Vroege, founded Ships & Goggles as an offshoot of his VR design house Bricks & Goggles about two years ago. Vroege saw the potential of VR in megayacht design, so he took his Oculus Rift VR headset to last year’s Monaco Yacht Show and immediately impressed superyacht behemoth Yachting Partners International. “YPI was enthusiastic from the beginning,” Vroege said. He’s currently working with company on an immersive VR experience for a 344-foot yacht.

Virtual Hatters Motoryacht interior

Virtual reality let show-goers at Yachts Miami Beach 2017 explore the Hatteras 90 Motor Yacht before it was built.

Both Droogsma and Vroege mentioned the dual role VR plays for builders and clients. “There’s a lot of money involved in superyachts, and a high amount of bespoke objects and interiors. Builders want happy clients [and] to deliver on time, so the more uncertainty you can get rid of, the better,” Droogsma explained. 

Vroege echoed these remarks. “Customers will begin to ask for it,” he said, adding that VR is helping builders obviate the need to put together scale models. “By building up the model [in VR], how it needs to be done by the shipyard, we’re teaching employees to build a boat before the build. It’s good for us, good for the clients, and good for the shipyard,” Vroege said. 

Across the pond, at around the same time Vroege was wooing YPI, Hatteras Yachts COO Wade Watson was talking with High Rock Studios, a full-service marketing firm. Watson had previously worked on VR projects with High Rock and saw its potential for Hatteras. The builder wanted something innovative to help advertise its in-build 90-foot mo-toryacht at the Ft. Lauderdale boat show. “We needed something more immersive, where the customer could get a real sense of space,” Hatteras Marketing Director Joe Cacopardo told me. 

Hatteras promoted the VR for the 90 via its dealer network and had potential customers lined up and ready at FLIBS. As with the Dutch VR systems, these clients wore a headset (HTC Vine and Oculus Rift are the leaders in the field) and used a video-game-type controller to tour the vessel. If desired, they could ask questions, pull up a floor plan, select items, change colors of settees, update countertop materials—even move bulkheads. 

For Hatteras, VR “went really, really well,” Cacopardo said, as the company sold Hull No. 1 at the show. Cacopardo now sees VR as a more permanent part of the boat-selling process, a tool that can be used to get clients emotionally involved. And like Vroege, he thinks VR will play a major role in product development and the spatial-relationship process. “Soon, we will be designing behind the glasses, not on the computer screen,” Vroege told me. “All of the foundations [of boat design] will be done this way.” Seems like VR is on board to shake up the boatbuilding process for the better.

Read about Capt. Bill Pike’s virtual tour of the Hatteras 90 Motoryacht here. ▶

This article originally appeared in the June 2017 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.