Traditional vs. Explorer Yacht

The differences between a traditional yacht and an explorer yacht

Photo credit: @sheltondupreez @legendexplorer


Nowadays there is a growing interest in explorers, everyone is talking about them, and many yacht owners claim they want an explorer yacht, but what does “explorer” really mean?

After discussing this in detail with Patrick Coote, co-founder of the Explorer Yachts Summit and also  Head of Northrop and Johnson, Europe, I’m happy to share with you the top features of explorer yachts and to summarize what differentiates them from traditional superyachts.

Captain Jim Aladin from Cloudbreak 75m yacht and Sandra from @theyachtpurser agreed to share with us their experiences from an operational point of view.

What is an “explorer”?

On a technical level, there is no standard definition of an explorer yacht, however for the purposes of this discussion it is defined as any private or commercial vessel built or converted specifically for expedition or adventure for long distance cruising to remote areas of the world .

The main differentiating factor is the fact that an explorer needs to be autonomous. It needs to be able to spend long periods at sea without having facilities nearby to re-fuel, provision, or even to discharge waste. It must be highly seaworthy and safe in the roughest of sea conditions.

Charter clients are getting younger and there is an increase demand to charter the unknown.

The mission profile

The purpose (mission profile) or how the yacht will be used can vary.

Explorer yachts can be used for family exploration vacations, or for worldwide exotic fishing and remote diving expeditions, heli-skiing, nature-watching or adventure sports.

In some cases, explorer yachts are even used for scientific research, we have seen some yachts who have studied and found new species of whales for example, or other more philanthropic cases like deep sea ocean research and historic diving.

Photo credit: @sheltondupreez @legendexplorer

Weather factors

Traditional yachts tend to be built exclusively for warmer climates, usually to cruise around the Mediterranean or the Caribbean sea.

Conversely, explorer yachts are built for extreme weather conditions (both hot and cold) therefore they not only need AC onboard, but also needs heaters and systems for defrosting sea ice to prevent build up and to avoid malfunction of systems.

A selection of notable explorer yachts:

  • Ragnar, 68m ice breaker explorer, converted by ICON Yachts in The Netherlands.
  • Olivia O, 88m built by Ulstein in Norway
  • Legend, converted by ICON Yachts in the The Netherlands
  • Octopus 127m yacht built by Lurssen in Germany
  • Cloudbreak, 73m (now extended to 75m) by Abeking & Rasmussen in Germany
  • Sherakhan, 69m yacht, last refitted at ICON Yachts.
  • Seawolf, 58m built in 1957 by JK SMIT,  refit in 2020 at ICON Yachts.
  • Galileo G, 55m built by Perini Navi in Italy
  • Planet Nine, 73m ice class explorer built by Admiral yachts.
  • Latitude, 53m explorer built in Germany.
  • Polar Star, 65m Luerssen
  • Savannah, 84m Feadship
  • S/Y Aquijo, 84m Oceanco
  • Plan B, 50m HMA Naval Dockyard
  • M/V Alucia, 56m built in France
  • M/Y REV, 183m VARD (in build expected 2021)
  • Dragonfly, Firefly fleet
  • La Datcha (in build expected 2020)
  • M/Y Senses
  • M/Y SuRi

Yacht charter rates typically range from €200,000- 500,000 per week on board one of these yachts. However on bigger boats like Cloudbreak charter rates are around  €750,000.

For further details about yacht charter, please contact

To build or to convert?

If you want to know whether it’s better to build from scratch or undertake a yacht conversion, check this blog post here.

The ‘real’ explorer

There are some yachts that call themselves explorers but in reality they are not. It is like the Evoque Range rover claiming to be an ‘all terrain’ off-road vehicle. It is aimed for the city people who want that outdoor styling but do not really need to have 4-wheel drive on an everyday basis.

Explorer Yachts are regular yacht looking like explorers with a few extra features, like and ‘ice band’ which is just a little bit thicker steel around the water line.

Some people want to have the yacht explorer look but don’t really need to have all the features as mentioned below. Explorer yacht styling and explorer yacht capability are two very distinct things.


Design & Engineering

The design of ice capable ships includes reaching an adequate performance, adequate hull and machinery strength and proper functioning of the ship in ice and in cold weather.

Range is crucial – fuel capacity and economy are essential

Since explorer yachts are intended to cruise for long periods of time in remote destinations, it is important that they have enough fuel to cruise, without having the need to re-fuel regularly.

A typical yacht has about 3,000 miles range, an explorer yachts has minimum of 5,000 miles range. Usually on explorer yachts, speed is not essential hence the cruising speed is usually is around 10-12 knots.

 ‘We take fuel designed specifically for cold water and there is also an additive we put into the fuel’- Jim Aladin

To cross from Europe to America you need aprox 3,000 nautical miles.

For example the Damen SeaXplorer,  will keep everyone on board luxuriously comfortable for 40 days without the need to refuel or take on stores.

The Hull

The hull needs to be a displacement hull made out of steel, ideally an efficient design that is able to consume less fuel.  Ideally a high efficiency hull should be paired with a good fuel volume in order to obtain at least 5000nm range at 10 knots.

The hull of an explorer needs to have more watertight bulkheads, and heating arrangements for fuel tanks, ballast tanks, and other systems vital to the yachts operation may also be required depending on the class. You certainly don’t want your pipes to freeze in Antarctica!

Heaters in sea water inlets can be an advantage. Explorers tend to go to arctic and Antarctic waters when it is summer and not winter, therefore there is no need of serious preparations as other ships. – Jim Aladin

ICE class vs Ice breaker

Building a ship to an ice class means that the hull must be thicker, and more scantlings must be in place. Sea chests may need to be arranged differently depending on the class.

Ice class can simply mean that the yacht can cruise in sea that has small fragments of floating ice.

In the mission profile of the yacht, it can be stated that the yacht needs to be ice-class certified, or it must have ice-breaking capabilities.

Let’s break that down. Not all ice-classed vessels are ice-breakers (!)

Canadian Arctic Class

The Canadian Arctic class ranges from 1-10 (1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest) for example an Arctic Class 3 means that it can maintain a speed of 3 knots and break up to 3 feet of thick ice.

Photo credit: @sheltondupreez @legendexplorer

Ice-breaking capabilities

In order to break ice, a yacht needs a strengthened hull, and ice-clearing shape, and the power to push hard through sea ice.

Ice-breakers clear paths by pushing straight into frozen-over water or pack ice. The bending strength of sea ice is low enough that the ice breaks usually without noticeable change in the vessel’s trim. In cases of very thick ice, an icebreaker can drive its bow onto the ice to break it under the weight of the ship. A build-up of broken ice in front of a ship can slow it down much more than the breaking of the ice itself, so ice-breakers have a specially designed hull to direct the broken ice around or under the vessel.

Good ice performance requires a hull shape that has a low ice resistance as well as allows different maneuvers required (you need a very good captain with ice cruising experience!)

Good ice performance includes also a good propulsion thrust which can be achieved with propeller design and also designing the hull lines so that propeller-ice interaction is minimized.

Polar class

Polar Classes (PC) ranging from PC 1 for year-round operation in all polar waters to PC 7 for summer and autumn operation in thin first-year ice.

Finnish- Swedish Ice class

In the Finnish-Swedish ice class rules, merchant ships operating in first-year ice in the Baltic Sea are divided into six ice classes based on requirements for hull structural design,

The ships of the highest ice class are coded as 1A Super (like Motor Yacht Ragnar has) they are designed to operate in difficult ice conditions

Ships of lower ice classes 1A, 1B and 1C are assumed to rely on icebreaker assistance.

The engine Room

Like on any yacht accessibility is key. We have heard cases of many stunning ‘white yachts’ which have amazing features but which are a labyrinth and a nightmare for the chief engineer to have access to certain areas which need repair or service.

If designed for world cruising, the choice of equipment and availability of service centers is a factor.

The Mud Room

Onboard Ragnar there is a ski room that can store up to 16 pairs of skis and snowboards. There are also designated cabins where guests can go there and change upon arrival from a ski day, where they can remove their snowy boots and take off their ski gears and jackets and get changed into their swimsuits to hit the heated jacuzzi and spa! Penguin poo can quickly ruin a white carpet!

Onboard Cloudbreak for example, there is a ski locker close to the Helipad, and the beach club gets converted into a mud room.


Most explorer yachts will have facilities to carry a helicopter on board. Because of their nature of traveling to remote areas, some areas cannot be reached by normal plane or cars, therefore helicopter is the only mean of transportation.

It is also very fashionable amongst skiing fanatics to go heli-skiing to virgin slopes with fresh powder which has never been tracked before.

In areas such as Antarctica, in order to use the helicopter for heli-skiing you need to have a minimum of two helicopters on board, which is why the new La Datcha has space for two helicopters. This is to ensure that if the first helicopter is inoperable or has a malfunction, that there is another way to get crew and guests back to the vessel safely.

If there is a helicopter on board, it will need to be commercially registered as well to be able to carry charter guests, however. Helicopter permits also need to be arranged which can involve a blanket approval for a destination, or approval for specific trips in certain countries.

Most platforms needs to be commercially rated with lights for night landing.

Explorers need to also have the re-fueling ability hence the need for a fuel tank onboard which also implies extra security and trainings for the crew.

MY Cloudbreak


Safety is a big subject and on top of the required SOLAS items and area specific (tracker in Antarctica) explorer yachts normally carry Iridium handheld Satellite phones, Satellite trackers like Find me spot Hand held VHF radios seems like it would be common on yachts, but lately most yachts carry UHF for onboard communications. VHF radios have better range when away from the ship, and many times helicopters can communicate on the VHF frequencies but not UHF.

A fridge for your garbage

Since the yacht will be cruising for long periods of time without being in port, it is important to think about the rubbish system. Most yachts over 50 meters will have specialized cold rooms to store the garbage for long periods of time without any smells.  Some crew who have worked on explorer yachts tells us that waste-disposal is one of the most challenging things to do ‘You have new guest charters coming but the old waste from the previous charter is still on board, the only way to dispose it is by helicopter which is very expensive but needed’

Garbage compactors – some vessels have a garbage compactor in addition to a fridge to compact the non-food waste for storage. Most yachts have a garbage separation system so that only the food waste is kept in the fridge, as it can get full very quickly.

The majority of yachts (explorer or not, do not utilize negative space adequately. A good designer will allow access to behind bulkheads so that the space behind the walls or in bilges can be used to store dry stores that the boat can stock up on.

‘Garbage is a big deal. You need to plan it on departure and separate the food from paper and other items that can be stored all over the ship, then using up valuable space in the garbage cold-room. Glass crushers, garbage compactors and incinerators (larger yachts) are very useful. When delivery of supplies are organized, you need to make sure they can take some garbage with them back.”- Captain Cloudbreak, 75m explorer.


Explorer yachts must be able to hold an adequate stock of required provisions, be capable of generating fresh water, provide appropriate waste management, hold all necessary spare parts as well as tools and provide repair and workshop capabilities.

Sandra the yacht purses suggests ‘yachts storage be able to access all the void spaces and bilges between the hull and the bulkheads’

Winter garden

Exterior spaces need to be heated, pools and jacuzzis need to have integrated heaters or use the heat from the engine room to be recycled.


On board Legend there are 2 snow-scooters on board used to go explore remote towns and a 3-person submarine

On board Ragnar there is even a RIPSAW supertank that can go on ice!

The 107.4 metre Ulysses excels in this regard, with six motorbikes, two ATVs, a landing craft, and an amphibious tender in its garage, not to mention a 21-metre, 50-knot catamaran support boat that can be hoisted off the foredeck by a pair of custom-designed cranes ‘ – Boat International

Photo credit: @sheltondupreez @legendexplorer

The crew

The crew onboard an explorer yacht is very different from a traditional yacht that only cruises the Med for example. Even if it is useful to have crew with a secondary skills, not all crew are ok with being away from civilization and it can be hard to “stuck” on a yacht for a very long time. Other crew love it, being in remote areas.

Secondary skills are very useful, like paramedic deckhand”- Jim Aladin

In order to use the submarine you need a qualified submarine pilot to be able to safely operate it.

You also need specialist crew members such as local guides, helicopter pilots, ski instructors, etc.. which are often not employed full-time, but will need a place to stay on board during the trip. Depending on the cruising area, crew might also need to undertake additional polar code training as per the STCW Manila Convention.

Don’t forget to film your experience! Hence you may need also a photographer and a video-man to capture all of the most unforgettable moments! Including drone pilot.

Crew may have a certain amount of capacity to do this onboard, but it does put the crew under pressure. Remember that the crew’s main responsibility is to ensure your safety, which is not something you want to sacrifice in remote areas. There are many highly experienced yacht expedition photographers (such as Shelton Du Preez from Luxury Yacht Films) who are able to accompany the savvy owner or guests on their trip and make sure all your special moments are recorded.

Explorer yachts may need extra cabins for guides, marine pilots, helicopter pilots (and engineer) security guards, photographers, doctors, nurses, scuba diver instructors, physiotherapists..

Captain and Purser needs also to be very proactive to plan itineraries and getting permissions (to Antarctica it can takes months to plan), coordinate fuel, provisions, spare part deliveries, flying in guides, Ice-pilots etc.

Weather forecasting

‘Weather forecasting is very important. It is important to have all the correct sources of local weather, perhaps pay for professional weather routing. Being in remote areas you need to be more aware of weather as you are far from help and a port of refuge can be quite far.’- Jim Aladin

Un- chartered waters

Much of the ocean has been scanned and therefore there are charts that can be used by captains to know the safe cruising areas. However not all of the ocean, or at least not all passages have proper data. Therefore, this makes it very challenging for the captain to safely plan itineraries and cruising plans.

Everyone talks about ‘cruising on un-chartered waters ‘as if it was a cool thing, but actually It can be extremely dangerous!

‘Yacht crew are some of the most resourceful people in the world. Captain’s and crew rely on their own networks to canvas information about cruising grounds and share information that would be pertinent to a location.” – Sandra @theyachtpurser

Some areas require you to make use of experienced marine pilots to navigate through these treacherous waters, which are an additional consideration when planning your voyage as they will need to be berthed somewhere. The regulations surrounding pilots is often very stringent and they are only able to navigate for a certain number of hours per day, thus if you require continuous cruising, it might be necessary to employ the services of two pilots, each who may need to have their own cabin and not share. This can take up a considerable amount of guest space if there are no dedicated cabins for guides and pilots.

“There are unofficial chart systems that uses previous ships soundings which is transferred to charts and the more ships that go an area, the more sounding you receive. There are not official charts, but any additional navigational aids that stops you from running aground is of course useful.’ – Jim Aladin

Photo credit: @theyachtpurser


Planning holidays to extreme locations sometimes requires the use of specialist expedition travel companies who will arrange everything from special permits for the vessel to cruise to certain locations (required in places like Antarctica), to the equipment that is needed on board as well as arranging the shore side excursions. Whilst the captain and crew can research an enormous amount of information, there is no substitute for actual on-the-ground knowledge and experience. The internet might say an activity or restaurant is excellent, but there is a vast difference between the average tourist and a luxury yacht guest.

Sandra from @theyachtpurser shares with us her tips:

Expedition companies

Cookson adventures, EYOS Expeditions,, Pangea Adventure (founded by ex-yacht crew) are all expert travel companies that can help plan your trips and ensure your safety at the same time.

That is why companies like Cookson adventures are the ideal partner to arrange expeditions and trips. They would send someone ahead of time to those locations to see what is there, what are the conditions, what places are open

The purser together with captain uses various tools like Google earth pro to do the pre-research on the best anchorage places, but it is up to mother nature to decide on the weather, tides and currents.

Sandra from @theyachtpurser tells us that ‘Security is a very big concern, there are some islands where are very poor and have never seen a yacht for example. In some cases we even had to hire bodyguards and extra security armed guards or have navy seals accompany us’

Pirate areas

There are some areas known  (or spontaneous) for piracy attacks.

Some yachts may even charter a support vessel to carry all of the security guards, navy seals, doctors, and support staff.

Low maintenance

Explorer yachts do thousands of miles a year, and in order to keep up the quality of materials and systems it is essential to simplify upkeep.

Unlike the ‘big white yachts’ which can have very fancy materials which require high maintenance; an explorer yacht must be very easy to maintain and operate.

Every feature, system and coating on the exterior and interior of the yacht should be analyzed, not only on how it looks but what is it required to maintain it.

For example on board Ragnar, there is green-teak instead of real teak, which makes it easier to maintain and it is also suitable for extreme weather conditions.

Regardless of how low maintenance the vessel is (or isn’t), there will still be logistics involved in getting parts to the vessel, which requires a lot of forward planning as items may get held up in customs and not arrive in time. Planned maintenance needs to happen at certain periods to ensure all equipment on board is functioning correctly and safely. Mechanical breakdowns can occur too, and both might require flying specialist contractors in to conduct the repairs, which could impact the cruising schedule.


Whilst a lot of new vessels boast 40 days of autonomous cruising, there is no fridge in the world that can keep fresh food for that long. Yacht owners and guests have very specific tastes and preferences, which often require the vessel to ship food from the US or Europe to the vessel. Vessels do try and provision as much as they can locally (both to keep food and shipping costs down, it is fresher and it is good to support the local economy), however, for most trips food is flown to the vessel additionally. This requires a lot of planning and preparation as the cold-chain needs to be maintained at all times. Phytosanitation certificates need to be produced and, in some cases, a veterinary certificates for meat.

Environmental considerations

Certain cruising areas are MARPOL special areas, and thus garbage is a consideration. In some areas, you are required to have a local guide on board to ensure that crew and guests respect the local environmental restrictions. This is often a pro too, as they are well-versed in the local fauna, flora and history too!

In Antarctica you are required to carry special products on board for decontamination of your shoes when going ashore to protect local fauna and flora.

Charter licenses

You can’t charter in certain locations (US and Galapagos and until recently Australia) without flying the flag of that country.


Always check that you have the correct visa for the destinations that you intend to visit.


In some remote areas, crew and guests might need to show evidence of having a yellow fever vaccination.


‘When cruising in remote locations, security could be a concern due to the disparity of wealth between the local population and guests. More often than not, people are very friendly and welcoming to visiting yachts, but that doesn’t mean that proper precautions are not taken. It is recommended that a security assessment is conducted to ensure that crew and guests understand the risks and mitigation strategies- – – Sandra @theyachtpurser

Real life exploring experience

Here is an amazing story from the owner of Ocean Dreamwalker III, San Lorenzo Explorer on his Alaskan Adventures

Boat International 

Photo credit: @sheltondupreez @legendexplorer


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