Do you want to pay a half-million bucks more for your next yacht, or do you not want to have the option of buying the yacht at all? Those are the only two choices that boatbuilders say consumers will have because of Tier III emissions regulations that the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has scheduled to take effect January 1, 2021. The regulations will hit boats with a load-line length of at least 78 feet, which generally means yachts starting around 90 feet in length overall, and will apply to any boat that cruises outside U.S. or international waters, including in the Mediterranean and Caribbean.

“What’s happening is that we can say, ‘Here, Mr. Customer, thanks for buying the boat, but it costs more, you have less space and you’re really restricted in where you can go,” says Darren Dubois, compliance officer at Washington-based Westport Yachts.

The IMO Tier III regulations are intended to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by approximately 70 percent compared with current Tier II standards. Builders have known for a few years that the deadline was coming, but received an extension because the technology to achieve the goals didn’t yet exist beyond commercial-grade ships and superyachts. The request for another exemption has been
denied, and builders are trying one more appeal, meaning the regulations will likely go into effect even though builders say the required technology still isn’t ready for yachts of midrange sizes.

The Viking 92 is one boat that may go out of production if the builder is forced to comply with regulations that require the implementation of selective catalytic reduction technology for engines.

The Viking 92 is one boat that may go out of production if the builder is forced to comply with regulations that require the implementation of selective catalytic reduction technology for engines.

And many builders are caught in the crosshairs, from Westport, Florida-based Hargrave Yachts and New Jersey-based Viking Yachts in the United States to U.K.-based Sunseeker and Princess Yachts, Italy’s Sanlorenzo, Azimut and Ferretti Yachts, and more.

“There’s a laundry list of negative impacts,” says Chris Landry, director of communications at Viking Yachts, which says it will have to cease production on its 92 Convertible and 93 Motoryacht. “The cost of a yacht is going to go up by more than $500,000. The operation and maintenance costs go up. The weight goes up 6,600 pounds. A great amount of heat is produced by these systems, and that means systems have to be put in to reduce the heat. All of this means that speed and range go down. It reduces accessibility for service, and it affects the interior volume of the yacht.

“It” is a technology called selective catalytic reduction, or SCR. Sometimes, it’s referred to as a scrubber. It’s the only technology that exists to achieve what the IMO Tier III regulations require. The technology breaks down nitrous oxide emissions into components that aren’t harmful, so they can be discharged.

Builders say two primary problems with current SCR technology are its size and a material called urea that it needs to work. The SCR systems can’t fit in engine rooms as they’re currently designed, and designers would have to find even more room on existing models for tanks to hold the urea. “We’re trying to find space for the scrubbers—which can be huge, if they’re even available at all for the engine type—and to store the urea, which runs at about 5 percent of your fuel capacity,” Dubois says. “We’re talking about finding room for a 500-gallon tank somewhere on a 164-footer.”

And even if they can figure out where to put the urea tanks, builders say most yacht owners won’t be able to find places to refill them. It’s a lot harder to find the stuff than it is to find a diesel pump at a fuel dock. “Urea is not widely available anywhere, and when it is available, it will only be in major ports,” Landry says. “Not only is the technology not available, but the infrastructure is not there yet either for recreational boaters. These systems are made for commercial vessels.”

Westport builds composite boats, which adds yet another layer of problems with the SCR technology, according to the company’s CEO, Daryl Wakefield. “The scrubbers can’t be insulated, so in a fiberglass or composite boat, that’s a problem because of heat,” Wakefield says. “The engine exhaust is running at roughly 1,000 degrees, and you can’t insulate it. In a metal boat, that’s less of a problem, but it’s still a problem.”

The Dutch exhaust manufacturer Marquip has developed an SCR system that could work on boats of the size in question, but builders are resisting a third-party option. Because today’s engines are packed with sensors that talk to other systems on board, builders say, it’s important that the SCR systems come from engine manufacturers themselves, to ensure compatibility and responsibility in case of a problem.

“You have outside companies making SCR components and saying they will work with any engine that’s manufactured,” says Pat Healey, president and CEO of Viking Yachts. “Can you imagine putting in a system that’s manufactured by somebody other than the engine manufacturer? You’ll have the boatbuilder, that’s one party, and then the engine manufacturer, that’s the second party, and now there’s going to be a third party. If there’s a problem, it’s going to be everybody’s fault—that’s why we’re insisting we will not use an SCR system unless it’s manufactured by the engine manufacturer.”

And given that the engine manufacturers haven’t yet figured out how to downsize the SCR systems to work with their engines for yachts of this size, designers at the shipyards don’t even know how to start reworking the yacht layouts to fit whatever the engine-makers eventually come up with. “From a design standpoint, it’s not easy to design the elements when you don’t know what they are yet,” Dubois says. “The engine manufacturers are still testing what these things are going to be. At the end of the day, we’re not sure what we’re going to get, what we’ll need to place in the vessel to become compliant.”

The new  regulations, according to Viking, could also cost jobs if the builder has to pull models from its production line.

The new regulations, according to Viking, could also cost jobs if the builder has to pull models from its production line.

Healey says the engine-makers who work with Viking are still trying to work out the size and shape of the SCR systems that would fit in his 92s and 93s. “They’re having trouble getting it to marry up to their engines,” Healey says. “All the companies have big engines that they use in ferry boats and commercial boats. What they’re doing is taking the 4000 series components and just utilizing half of what you normally would for a 2,600-horsepower engine. They don’t have time to design it from a clean piece of paper, for our size boats. They have to try to make it work with what they have, and it’s big. It’s just big.”

That the regulations are going into effect before the technology is ready has left yachtbuilders like Healey exasperated. “We’ve never fought any other regulatory issue. It all made sense,” he says. “There were smoky engines. There were things that could make a better planet. The panacea that they’re proposing, this just makes zero, zero, sense at this time in the world for recreational boating.”

The right way to introduce a new technology into boats of this size, Healey adds, would be to wait for the engine manufacturers to get it right and then test it for a year, to make sure it actually works before regulations force it onto all kinds of boats. “They should be literally putting a system in a boat within the next 12 months and then let it get 1,000 or 1,500 hours to prove the installation in all the different climates where boats operate,” Healey says. “In cold water and cold air, an engine can last forever. Put the engine in the Bahamas in July, that’s the worst scenario. Put it there and see how it does.”

Yacht builders like Pat Healey are exasperated by regulations going into effect before the tech is ready.

Yacht builders like Pat Healey are exasperated by regulations going into effect before the tech is ready.

Viking says that stopping production on its largest sportfishing boat will put a lot of people out of work. Introduced in 2014, the model has so far found nearly two dozen owners, with Hulls No. 20 and 21 in production now. Viking builds three or four of the large sportfish boats a year. Other builders have not yet gone as far as Viking has, stating publicly that specific models will no longer be built, but they’re expressing similar concerns as they try to resolve the technological problem.

“My guess is that it might just not be cost effective to go forward on some of the models,” says Dubois, at Westport. “We haven’t solved it yet, but we’re working on it.”

An even bigger concern, Dubois adds, is that the IMO will add the same regulations to existing yachts that don’t have the space to be retrofitted without major redesigns. “The biggest fear I’m hearing is, what happens after 2021?” he says. “We’re being told the older boats are grandfathered, but if that changes, we’re all in trouble.” 

This article originally appeared in the February 2020 issue.