Superyachts and polar tourism

The past decade has seen an increase in demand for “explorer” superyachts, with a new generation of owners seeking adventures and challenges outside the traditional cruising areas of the Mediterranean and the Caribbean. The number of owners seeking out ice and remote wilderness in the Arctic and in Antarctica is increasing, writes Marie Sundell of lawyers Clyde & Co in the June edition of IUMI Eye.

Sundell noted that there was no universal standard for what constituted an explorer yacht. The label “explorer” or “expedition” yacht did not necessarily mean that the yacht in question was capable of safely navigating the polar regions.

The extent to which the new Polar Code applied to yachts depended on the yacht’s intended use and size. Yachts that only visit the polar regions on an occasional basis and during the summer months might only need Polar Code Category C. But owners seeking greater navigational freedom might need a Category B ship classification necessitating tougher rules relating to design, safety measures and manning, said Sundell.

She observed that for insurers many of the risks associated with polar navigation raised in the context of commercial shipping, for example treacherous weather conditions, lack of reliable charts, reduced GPS coverage and limited SAR and salvage availability, were equally applicable in the context of explorer yachts, although “the presence of crew and guests more accustomed to tropical waters may increase the human risk element.” As such, Sundell said, consideration needed to be given to the adequacy of crew training and the need for (for example) an accompanying ice pilot. “In the absence of historic data, pricing the risk with any degree of confidence may be difficult”, observed Sundell.