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Tender-Handling and Equipment on Superyachts

Rick Thomas 2

Tender-handling on board a luxury yacht is one of the most dangerous activities owner and crew alike will undertake while yachting. Conditions are always dynamic, teak decks are wet, and a vessel's trim and list will change during launching sequence. Unfortunately most people do not recognize the inherent risks in launch and retrieval until something goes wrong. 

Most of us remember as kids reading about Lieutenant Bligh's harrowing ordeal in a 7m open launch for 43 days on the Pacific Ocean with eighteen of his fellow crew. 

After enduring the infamous mutiny on board the HMS Bounty, imagine what that must have been like to travel those 3,600 nautical miles in such a craft. Or reading of the grim reality that faced so many people on a bitterly cold night in the North Atlantic on the 14th of April, 1912, when it became apparent that the RMS Titanic carried too few lifeboats for the crew and passengers aboard. 

We can fast forward to modern times when we can actually watch on YouTube the recent sinking of the M/Y Yogi and the replica sailing ship HMS Bounty!  And all of a sudden, a mariner quickly realizes how critical it is to carry a proper life raft or lifeboat or support tender on board our yachts.  Beyond the obvious need for some type of rescue craft to be carried aboard an ocean-going yacht, there are day-to-day practical concerns in carrying and launching a tender that need to be considered, but are often taken for granted.

Dynamic Conditions

Consider the dynamic conditions that exist at sea. While we may have launched the shore boat in the early morning with clear skies and flat seas, what are our options later that afternoon when the owner and his wife are returning to the yacht, running ahead of a thunderstorm and in building seas?  Tender-handling on board a luxury yacht is one of the most dangerous activities owner and crew alike will participate in while yachting. 

Conditions are always dynamic, teak decks are wet, a vessel's trim and list will change during launching sequence, equipment maintenance may go by the wayside.  Unfortunately most people do not recognize the inherent risks in launching and retrieving the dinghy until an unfortunate occurrence happens to them directly.


Early yacht designs incorporated basic cumbersome davits; booms with mechanical falls, usually built at the shipyard, with little specific technology change compared to the davits found on earlier eighteenth and nineteenth century vessels.

Today there are many niche equipment manufacturers that have made a small industry of tender-handling equipment manufacture specific for the luxury yacht industry.  It is rare to find a shipyard willing to commit the engineering and accept the liability to build their own equipment when such a good selection of "off the shelf" solutions are available from quality suppliers.  

Safety and Ease of Use

The net benefit to the industry, builders and owners alike, is a quantum leap in equipment safety and enhanced ease of use for the equipment operator.  The use of hydraulic power was one of the initial enhancements to davit design. This has lead to improvements in the operating characteristics of this type of deck equipment.

In 1989, Nautical Structures introduced the concept of Non-Fouling Linear Winch technology in their crane designs, eliminating the conventional drum-type winch system and vastly enhancing the operational safety of tender-handling equipment.  Today it is rare to find tender-handling deck equipment still incorporating antiquated drum-winch designs. 

Virtually all manufacturers have adopted some version of the Linear Winch in their products. Hydraulics have also allowed manufacturers to incorporate features such as wireless proportional controls, offering the ability to operate more than one crane function simultaneously, gravity-assisted free-fall for enhanced launching speeds, and unique crane designs which permit the davits and cranes of today's yacht to integrate into the naval architecture of the vessel. Gone are the days where the ship's davits were a prominent design feature of the vessel.

Many of us often find government regulation intrusive, but the fact remains that until the IMO (International Maritime Organization) created the LSA (Life Saving Appliance) Rules in response to the Titanic tragedy, the MCA developed the LY2 and LY3 Rules for luxury yachts, and Classification Societies began to adopt these Rules as the basis of their standards from which to measure the integrity of such deck equipment, there were no standards to apply to the manufacture of tender-handling equipment! 

BlackPearl 03 600While it is true that vessels not built under survey of a classification society or Flag State Authority may be able to cut corners in their equipment selection, most yachts today enjoy the benefit of an established standard for the tender-handling equipment installed on board. These standards include general Cargo-Handling, Manned Submersible Launching, Rescue Boat Launching and Life Boat Launching standards. 

Compliance & Safety

Compliance to these standards requires reviewed and approved engineering, construction of the equipment to specific factors of safety, load-testing certification prior to delivery of the equipment to the shipyard, and final testing and certification under survey during sea trials.  All of this ensures that once in-use, the operator of this equipment may have the confidence the crane will provide safe and reliable sea-duty in adverse conditions.

Of course all of the built-in safety and integrity is only as good as the crew trained to use the equipment.  While not all of today's yachts are professionally crewed, virtually all of the larger classed vessels are.  These are also the same vessels that are launching three to six-ton tenders from three decks above the waterline, or from a below-deck tender garage.  Each of these launching environments require careful consideration, and proper crew training to ensure a safe launching and retrieval sequence.  

When launching from an open deck to one side of the vessel, a variety of safety considerations apply.  Notification to the boat's crew and passengers that a launching operation is about to commence is always a good idea.  As the tender is being rotated off the side of the vessel, the crew need to be aware that this action will cause most yachts to list towards the side the tender is being launched.  

Several years ago there was an incident on Long Island Sound where a small yacht overloaded with too many guests aboard attempted to launch a personal watercraft.  It was early early evening prior to the July Fourth fireworks display, and most on board were in party-mode. As the watercraft was going over the side of the yacht, many of the guests moved to that side of the yacht to observe the launching. This caused the vessel to list significantly, the davit rotated outboard with the weight of the Jet ski, and everyone on board fell to the low-side of the vessel. This action caused the yacht to capsize and everyone went for a swim!  

 BlackPearl 02 600
Fortunately there was no loss of life in this incident, but it certainly demonstrates the potential risks when launching a tender. It is rare that there is more than one crane used to launch even very large tenders, so the crew needs to be aware that the tender will want to rotate on its hoisting line while being handled.  Once the tender is over the side and the yacht is stable, two crew need to maintain position of the tender with painters attached to the bow and stern of the tender. 

More than once a tender has spun out of control during the launching sequence because a crew member let go his line, allowing the tender to collide into the side of the yacht and causing damage, even destroying large windows.  In these applications it is crucial that the crane operator has adequate control of the crane and the crew maintain control of the tender all the way to the water. 

Fortunately today's better quality cranes will provide enhanced speed performance to reduce the time the tender can act as a wrecking-ball pendulating on the end of the hoisting-line.

When launching from a tender garage, other elements of the yacht's design conspire to challenge the crew while deploying the shore boat. The enclosed environment often means the crew will have to place themselves in small spaces, frequently between the side of the tender and adjacent bulkheads.

Reduced visibility in the tender garage can mean that an approaching vessel and its resultant wake may go unnoticed, until the yacht is rolling in the offending vessel's wake.  Should this occur while the tender is hoisted out of its storage chocks, there is a significant opportunity for crushing injury to the crew. A properly crewed yacht will have an observer on watch for this type of event during the launching and retrieval of the ship's tender.  

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The Importance of Maintenance

All tender-handling equipment must be routinely inspected and serviced, no matter the size of the yacht or the size of the equipment.  Most of today's tender-handling equipment is manufactured from non-ferrous materials suitable for sea-duty, and the day-to-day maintenance rarely requires more than a good fresh-water rinse and a visual inspection of the cable and hydraulic fittings.

While this may seem to be obvious to most yachtsmen, most failures of this type equipment can be traced back to poor or inadequate maintenance procedures.  Wear-replacement components such as the hoisting cable, hydraulic lines, sheaves and bushings should be renewed periodically and in doing so treated as an inexpensive insurance policy against future catastrophic failure.  

On 28 April 1789, as Lieutenant Bligh observed his little launch being lowered into the sea, he likely wasn't concerned with the safety of the launching procedures, or considered the technology on board that allowed the mutineers to part company with their captain and his supporters so eloquently. 

Today's captains have a much different perspective of tender-launching, and fortunately the luxury of state-of-the -art equipment to outfit the modern luxury yacht.  The designs and technology of tender launching equipment has evolved significantly over the past two centuries, and it's exciting to think of where it may develop in the decades to come.  

About Nautical Structures
Nautical Structures Industries is an industry leader in the design and manufacture of exceptional quality deck equipment. Specializing in boarding systems and tender-handling equipment for large power and sailing yachts. Nautical Structures has an extensive portfolio of fully developed equipment designs generated from over twenty five years in business, supplying shipyards worldwide. 
Nautical Structures provides in-house design and engineering services, manufacturing, testing and after-sales service world-wide. Nautical Structures’ passerelles, gangways, deck cranes, davits, transom lifts and tender garage launching systems are found on many of the finest yachts built today.

Rick Thomas is one of the original founders of the company, and is directly involved with new and specialty projects, bringing Nautical Structures’ design and in-the-field experience to the client.Rick is an avid Technical Diver and has also written for Tech Diving Magazine. You can find his work at

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