Is it true that flying at 100’s of mile an hour is less demanding on an aircraft than sailing across the ocean at 10 knots. Probably not, but it does seem that we have come to expect planes to fly and yet are never surprised when yachts breakdown, even spectacularly, losing keels, rigs or filling up with water and sinking.
Here are some observations of a sailor who works as an engineer with aircraft.
“Product liability and law requires aircraft and public transport vehicles to be designed to very high minimum standards whereas yachts are not providers of major public transport and don’t attract the same degree of attention.”
“Speaking of the role of proper structural analysis for sailing vessels, the industry is rather antiquated. An awful lot depends on the good experience of the builders and there is not much attention given to industrial standard engineering.”
He went on to say that “the ’static loads’ (max gust, wave, deck loads, hull torsion, etc) are probably the limit of any design investigation, even for high performance racers.”
“On the other hand, aircraft are investigated extensively for fatigue (landing loads, gusts, maneuver loads), fast fracture, corrosion damage tolerance and they have fleet maintenance monitoring programs which build up characteristic incipient failure knowledge enabling preventative action.”
Having been around a lot longer, sailboat design has a different design strategy. The design strategy of ‘practical experience’; try it and see what happens. This historically was the only design strategy available and of course it leads to failures and that is how we learn.
Times are changing and with it there is the chance to learn from the aircraft industry, who as carriers of the public don’t have the same luxury to “try it and see…”
Looking into the future, as aircraft and automotive thinking infiltrates the world of yacht construction we can look forward to reliable vessels that we can count on to not give us unexpected problems.
I can’t wait for the day when yachts become as reliable as cars.