Industry » Features » Yacht Design: Shining a Light on Southampton with Giles Barkley

Yacht Design: Shining a Light on Southampton with Giles Barkley

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When it comes to choosing the right degree course for a career in superyacht design or production, there aren’t many institutions worldwide that can compete with the two Yacht Design and Production degrees taught at Southampton Solent University’s School of Maritime Science and Engineering, which includes Warsash Maritime Academy

Former alumni include Richard Watson, CEO of Pascoe International, Bill Dixon of Dixon Yacht Design, leading French designer Guillaume Verdier, whose Open 60 designs cleaned up at the recent 2016 Vendée Globe single handed round the world race, Admirals Cup yacht designer Jason Ker, and leading race yacht designer Shaun Carkeek, to name just a few. 

Leading alumni return to Solent University to guest lecture the rising talents of tomorrow, giving tips on design and how to carve out a successful career in yacht design and production technology, according to Giles Barkley, senior lecturer and course leader for the two degree courses Solent University offers. 

Giles, who last year celebrated 25 years at the university, has seen many dramatic changes since the inception of the flagship Yacht and Powercraft Design degree in 1991. 

‘In my quarter century at Solent University, the design tools used, the  boat building materials employed and systems technology used on board has changed dramatically,’ Giles tells OnboardOnline. ‘Also the designer’s role has changed. The biggest change is that the boats have got a lot bigger. 

Giles Barkley 600

‘I used to work for Lloyds Register and one of the largest superyachts that I completed the structural plan approval for was a Foil Assisted Motor Catamaran which was about 36 metres long. 

‘At that time, a few large yachts of between 28m and 36m were being launched in La Spezia and Viareggio, and that was considered to be big. Having visited the Monaco Yacht Show last autumn, I see the yachts are now 60, 70 or even 80m long, which is massive by comparison’. 

‘Technology on board has gone digital and is far more complex than before, with systems such as air conditioning and clever sail/furling arrangements being the norm nowadays. Yachting technology was cutting edge back in the 1980s but obviously on a smaller and simpler scale and not as evolved as it is today.’ 

Giles is course leader of Solent’s two three-year yacht engineering degree courses – the aforementioned BEng (Hons) Yacht and Powercraft Design degree and the BEng (Hons) Yacht Design and Production degree. 

‘There’s not a huge difference between the two courses, with design professionals wanting design graduates with production skills and vice versa,’ Giles adds. ‘Both courses are approved to ensure that they meet degree level standards.  Also when updating the courses, we seek approval from practicing yacht design and production professionals, to ensure graduates are equipped with appropriate, up to date design and production skills’. 

Giles 3 Monaco3

The course is also accredited by the Royal Institution of Naval Architects, which is responsible for overseeing and maintaining standards across Naval Architecture degree courses running worldwide. 

‘The Yacht and Powercraft Design degree is predominantly design based, covering topics including naval architecture, yacht design, structural design, system design, materials and production methods. The courses also teach students how to use cutting edge design programmes and state of the art 2D and 3D modelling computer software, many of which are used in industry.

‘The Yacht Design and Production degree concentrates in equal measures on both the design and production sides, but specialising in composite design, as many of today’s yachts are complex carbon, Kevlar or fibreglass structures.’ 

With space for 40 students a year, the courses typically attract that number evenly split between them.  After 25 years, Solent now has between 800 – 1000 graduates working across the industry globally. 

‘Many alumni have now reached senior positions and I’m often approached by people I taught years ago, asking if I have anyone in mind for their companies,’ he says. ‘I will suggest two or three candidates who I consider to be rising stars of the future and often, they will pick the best person for them.’ 

Giles 2 Monaco

Keeping in touch with industry leaders is vital and to maintain strong links. Giles attends boat shows and sits down with many of the movers and shakers from companies including Pendennis, Dixon Yacht Design and Bernard Olesinski Limited to stay abreast of innovation and trends. Many of these companies also employ Solent University’s yacht engineering alumni. 

With the industry starting to focus on being green in terms of emissions and some clients trying to motor at lower speeds, Giles says there is a lot of interest in what he calls ‘silent glide’ boats like the trimaran designed by John Shuttleworth and marine hybrid power boats. 

‘The other trend is explorer yachts,’ adds Giles. ‘People want to go and see the Antarctic and Arctic Circle or travel up the Amazon rather than sitting in the Med. Many owners are beginning to go to unusual places in their boats with all their creature comforts on board, so we have to think about boats with specific aims.’ 

Giles reels off an impressive statistic; with an intake that is made up of 50% overseas and international students, more than 70% of yacht design and production companies worldwide have employed someone who has been to Solent University.

In addition, 60% of superyacht captains and 70% of superyacht engineers have trained through Solent University’s Warsash Maritime Academy at some stage during their career, which leads the way in maritime education and training globally. 

‘Solent University has run similar courses for over 40 years, so we have the benefit of experience and reputation and are considered world class in providing a technical education in yacht design,’ says Giles proudly. 

advanced composites

Students are encouraged to gain practical experience and take on short internships during the summer break and Giles says that government surveys have indicated that 90 – 100% of Solent graduates go on to secure graduate level jobs in the industry within six months of finishing. Of that percentage, around 90% stay within the small craft industry for the next five years. 

Some students have gone on to become big names in other industries too. ‘There are quite a few transferrable skills which lend themselves to the aeronautics industry and Formula One racing,’ explains Giles. ‘Sometimes our graduates who are trained in composites will go elsewhere. For example, one is now chief structural engineer for Red Bull Formula One racing whilst another went to McLaren. 

‘We are in the fortunate position of being able to call on some of our ‘rock star’ alumni and also ‘well known’ sailors to come and give talks to current students through the year.  Vendée Globe legend Mike Golding gave a talk about the race and the Open 60 design a few weeks ago.   

‘We also have a good network of industry practitioners who are happy to come and give guest lectures to inspire the next generation of students. We like to get people in who are recent graduates working for designers such as Rob Humphries or X-Yachts, so that current students can relate to them and think: ‘That could be me in five years’ time.’ 

‘At Monaco last year, I was stopped by so many former graduates who pointed out a boat they had designed or worked on. That is the icing on the cake for me.’ 

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Originally from Broadstairs in Kent, Giles was a passionate dinghy sailor from the age of 12. He studied Ship Science at Southampton University, intending to work as a ship designer but fell instead into working for Lloyds Register for five years until a colleague asked him to have a go at lecturing. 

‘I never realised I would still be here after 25 years,’ he says with a laugh. ‘My mother’s side of the family were all seafarers and my father’s side were teachers so I have combined the two!’ 

His favourite yacht design is ‘classic modern with a twist. ‘I think boats should have clean classic lines, great design above and below decks, but with a modern twist.’ 

A new ‘Master’s degree’ MSc Superyacht Design’ course will be launched at SSU in September 2017 to attract both in-house graduates as well as Naval Architects from across Europe who wish to specialise in this growing sector of design. The course will focus on complex design and production issues associated with these craft and will also draw on contributions from alumni working in this field.  

‘Our courses are very achievable,’ says Giles, ‘and many of our students end up networking together through their various companies around the world.’ 

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Entry requirements are as follows:

  • Two grade Cs in mathematical subjects plus another A level at grade C for Yacht and Powercraft Design.

  • A minimum of one grade C in a mathematical subject for Yacht Design and Production and two grade Cs in other subjects.

  • The French technical Baccalaureate, Italian Liceo Scientifico and German Arbiter also count for entry requirements.

  • International students also need an IELTS or TEFL score of 5.5 as the courses are run in English. 

For further information, please contact International Officer or course leader


Richard Watson: CEO Pascoe International

Manufacturers of bespoke luxury tenders for the superyacht sector.

'I graduated from Southampton Solent University in 2002 with a BSc in Yacht Manufacturing. Solent University was a great place to study, they provided a good balance between practical and technical subjects that kept me engaged. The FRP workshop allowed me to get hands-on experience with the materials and processes of boat building that really prepared us to work in the industry.

The campus is fabulous as it is right in the middle of Southampton. The facilities are good and we had great preparation of learning material which made it very easy to work on the course. Warsash Maritime Academy was also a great extension of the facilities to help us with our learning. The lecturing staff were always approachable and that helped when we were working on final year projects to be able to bounce ideas off them, or get help on the work we were doing generally. Their industry knowledge and contacts also helped us prepare ourselves for when we graduated.'

Bill Dixon: Dixon Yacht Design

International renowned yacht designer and design office that works for some of the world’s leading production boat manufacturers. A graduate in 1978, Bill was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Technology in July 2016 by Solent University.

bill dixon

'Since my early teenage years my ambition was always to be a yacht designer and for me the perfect course to start this journey to fulfil this ambition was the yacht and boat building course at what was then Southampton College of Technology (now Southampton Solent University).

It's a course that was, and still is today, offering a unique degree suited to the demands of our industry. The list of alumni produced by this course is unrivalled in our industry and long may it continue.'  

Guillaume Verdier: Guillaume Verdier Naval Architecture

Guillaume Verdier studied Naval Architecture at Southampton 25 years ago. He set up his own design consultancy in 2001 and designed 12 of the 29 boats competing in the 2016 Vendée Globe, including the eight frontrunners. Guillaume is currently heading up the design team for the next generation Volvo Ocean Race One Design.

Remembering his time at the university, he says: ‘When I came here 25 years ago, I arrived into an environment that was warm and welcoming. The teachers were enthusiastic and you had a tutor who you could freely ask questions of. There were 17 nationalities in a class of around 30 and a lot of what was given to us at the university, as well as knowledge, was an understanding of different cultures.’ 

Jason Ker: Ker Design

Jason Ker graduated from SSU with a B.Eng (hons) Yacht and Powercraft degree and went on to establish Ker Design in the late 1990s. He built the Ker 55 Aera (Bribon) for the 2003 Admirals Cup, which won all seven inshore races. 

Shaun Carkeek: Carkeek Design Partners

Shaun Carkeek graduated from Southampton with a BSc in Naval Architecture in 1993. Following his involvement with Botin Carkeek, where he developed successful racing and cruising yachts, he set up Carkeek Design Partners, which is dedicated to race and performance cruise yacht design.

Warsash and Solent  

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