Engines, generators, but mostly people, make the noise onboard yachts
When outsiders think of yachting, they imagine tranquil beaches and silent sunsets. But those who work on yachts know they can be noisy places.
Lots of things create noise on a yacht: the machinery, the people, even the environment. And everyone’s tolerance for noise is different. Some guests may complain when they hear the squeegee during their morning coffee, and others may sleep through a repositioning.
One captain who recently downsized from a well-built vessel to a not-so-well-built one told us his crew were walking around in socks to minimize the noise early in the morning.
That captain wondered if other crew struggle with noise onboard yachts. So we asked.
More than 80 yacht captains and crew took our survey this month, and for the most part, noise is not a major issue. But there appears to be two reasons for that. First is that a yacht is a machine and the noise it does create is expected and acceptable. The other is that if there is abundant noise onboard, it’s the people that create it.
“I wouldn’t call it a noisy boat; she runs very quietly,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet. “It’s the people inside her that create most of the racket.”
We began by asking specifically about each source of noise, beginning with the machinery. How would you rate the level of noise from the engines on your yacht? We asked our respondents to assume they were not standing in the engine room when they are running.
Most — 84 percent — said the noise was moderate or low.
Just 12 percent classified it as louder than is comfortable to work efficiently.
“I usually lose my voice after a passage with guests or crew on the bridge,” said the captain of a yacht less than 80 feet rated as loud.
Just 4 percent labeled it deafening.
How about the generators?
Here, 95 percent rated the noise low or moderate.
When we asked What other systems or equipment create noticeable noise on your vessel?, we weren’t surprised that learn of the most common cause on onboard noise.
“Air conditioning,” said the captain of a yacht less than 80 feet. “But the sound helps to deaden other noises, voices, gale sounds, heads flushing, etc. Kill the air, and a working boat gets real loud in a hurry.”
A variety of pumps add to the din, as do fans in both the engine room and galley.
“Water pumps used to be very noisy but we changed them out for quieter ones,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet.
Stabilizers, watermakers, bow thrusters and laundry machines also were noted.
“Stabilizers under my bunk,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet.
“Bow thruster, and letting the lines out of the winches,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet. “That line-release noise is impressive. I was on a boat once that OSHA came through and made the galley staff wear hearing protection while on duty. That was loud.”
We got quite a few replies that had nothing to do with systems or equipment.
“Not necessarily systems but components of the overall design,” noted the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet, noting that doors and cabinets make a lot of noise. “I do not believe naval architects spend enough time minimizing their impact on overall noise pollution.”
“Foot traffic is the No. 1; doors and lockers are No. 2,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet.
The most common reply in this non-equipment category, however, surprised us: music.
“The owner’s hi-fi on the sundeck,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet.
“Yacht guests cranking up music super loud to hear it over loud engines running, sometimes for 18 hours a day,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet.
“Damn Jimmy Buffett music blasting out the owner/guest stereo,” said the captain of a yacht 80-100 feet.
Crew were also tapped as being a source of noise.
“Crew’s heavy feet stomping on deck,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet.
“Stews and vacuum cleaners, captains with no Internet,” said the engineer of a yacht 140-160 feet.
“There is often a loud whining noise that comes from the second stew,” said the first officer of a yacht 140-160 feet.
When we did ask about people —Can you hear the regular noises of people in another part of the yacht? — 68 percent of our respondents said they could not really hear others onboard.
“Most vessel noises are steady and therefore much less annoying,” said the captain of a yacht 200-220 feet. “It’s crew that are generally the source of problematic noises; strangely enough, most often in their own spaces.”
But a third of respondents said they could hear people talking or the television playing through the walls.
Just 3 percent said they couldn’t hear people because the equipment noises drowned out everything else.
Next, we asked about the people. Do crew have to tiptoe around early and late to keep from disturbing guests or each other? This question was sparked by the captain who recommended this survey. And it appears as though he is not alone. Nearly three-quarters of our respondents try to tread lightly.
“Crew can be bad about keeping quiet in crew mess and quarter areas at night,” said a captain in yachting more than 30 years. “This can be disruptive at times, and makes for hardships when sleep is lost. It’s tough … when you’re on charter and working shifts around the clock. I remember not knowing what time of the day it was when trying to catch a sleep on my break. Sometimes, waking up to the noise tells me if it’s day or night in my bunk, which was dark with no port lights. Hearing the table being set, anchors aweigh, footsteps on deck, and then quiet. Yeah, even quiet wakes me. It’s like ‘why is it so quiet?’ “
“I believe that opening and closing doors is the biggest noise problem on a daily basis,” said a captain of more than 30 years.
“We all have a story about the one crew member who consistently failed to close a door quietly, despite being told many times, often by a barely clothed ‘late guy’ trying to rest,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet in yachting more than 10 years. “In my experience, it’s always the crew that make more noise than the boat.”
The level of noise tolerable by a person (particularly an owner or guest) can vary. So assuming the owner/guest is rational in this regard, we asked Would you say your vessel handles noise well?
Again, nearly three-quarters said yes, which is interesting considering the previous question’s responses. If the yacht handled noise well, why would crew need to tiptoe around?
Our respondents were also complimentary about their vessels when we asked about some of the noises the environment creates, such as water against the hull, wind, rain, even other boats docked nearby. How does your vessel manage environmental noises?
More than three-quarters said their boat was good in this regard.
“Feadship, enough said,” said the purser of a yacht 160-180 feet. “But coming from smaller boats, we realize how fortunate we are.”
“The hull and shell are well insulated, and the underwater profile is extremely well suited to reducing both drag and the associated noise,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet.
“Our boat keeps out the noise,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet. “This is done by means of a foam-core hull, meaning more skins to break up the noise. And the doors have sound beads on the jambs, and the doors themselves have sound shields built into them. We sometimes dock in Baltimore where they have concerts right next door, and from inside the boat we can’t even hear the music outside.”
While their vessels might handle noises well in general, about a third of our respondents pointed out specific cases where it wasn’t so good
“Water against aluminum hull bad; wind and rain OK,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet.
“You can hear all these things on my boat, but it’s not loud,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet. “I like knowing all of these things when they are happening. Rain? I wonder if things need to be brought in to avoid getting wet. Wind? I like to go check to see we are secure. Waves against the hull? What’s changing outside to cause this? Boat next door is leaving? Get on deck with fenders! These are important signs for me. I like to hear them.”
And, of course, whether a noise becomes bothersome is still a matter of perception.
“I say good, others might say bad,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet. “One gets use to it.”
About 22 percent thought their boat did not handle environmental noises well,
“Any chop toward the bow is very noisy due to the yacht being fiberglass with low chimes,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet.
“Forward crew cabins are unlivable under way,” said the engineer of a yacht 140-160 feet. “Crew sleep in the salon unless guests are onboard, in which case they don’t sleep. Aft engineer cabin is brutally noisy under way, so there’s limited sleep with mains and gens running.”
“Full GRP vessel,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet referring to his fiberglass boat. “Sound deadening properties in all areas can only be so good, even on a 40m yacht.”
“The boat is older, circa 1982; noises from outside are the norm,” said the captain of a yacht less than 80 feet. “She was built before this was considered an issue and/or before suitable materials became available or were used.
We wondered Does the level noise of impact when you can do certain tasks?
About two-thirds said yes, that they likely don’t do much cleaning before guests arise, and no repositioning while guests are sleep.
So in general, would you say noise is a problem on your boat?
Despite the divided answers so far, two-thirds said no, that noise was not a problem onboard. While they might hear various noises, they don’t seem to create a “problem”.
“We just avoid making noise until the guests are up,” said the captain of a yacht less than 80 feet.
“You don’t run the bow thrusters unless you have to in the a.m. or late at night, say for a squall or if you are resetting the anchors,” said the chef on a yacht 160-180 feet. “The crew are generally quiet late at night. You don’t vacuum while the guests sleep, etc. Just common sense.”
“The only time it’s bad is when the owner is having a party and the stereo system and guests are on high volume,” said the captain of a yacht 80-100 feet.
“Guest areas are well insulated, crew areas not so much,” said the captain of a yacht 180-200 feet. “We have rules in place to limit noise in crew areas when on charter.”
“The boat is designed very well,” said the first officer of a yacht 180-200 feet.
That left about a third of our respondents who said that noise onboard was a problem.
“To the owners it’s not; they stay in the master,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet. “But the rest of the vessel is loud and all guests notice.”
“A little at times,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet. “The bow thruster is loudest. I don’t know too many boats where it’s not. Guests don’t want to be awakened by this. I try not to use it if they are sleeping. Galley has to make an effort to keep quiet.”
“There are always ways to make the yacht less noisy, but they often need to be addressed during the design and build,” said the captain of a yacht more than 220 feet.
“The open-plan design of the vessel, aluminum hull and minimal soft goods in the interior combine to create an environment where sound carries very well,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet.
“The galley is over the master stateroom,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet. “The chef wants to get into the galley and get the crew’s breakfast started but the owner does not want anyone in the galley before 8 a.m.”
“On all boats, it’s a problem; some worse than others,” said a captain in yachting more than 30 years.
Now that we have an idea about the noise onboard, we wondered If you have a noisy boat, what do you do about it?
“Before the season starts, we walk around and duplicate voices, footsteps, doors, TVs, galley noise, etc., so that the crew can understand what it actually sounds like,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet who rated the noise onboard as moderate.
“Crew are taught to open and close everything carefully, and walk/talk softly,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet.
“I try to pick a slip that is as far away from known noisy boats,” said the captain of a yacht less than 80 feet.
“We insulated all the cabins with soundproofing as well as the galley walls,” said the chef of a yacht 160-180 feet.
“Posted signs to remind crew of quiet areas,” said the purser of a yacht 160-180 feet who indicated the noise level aboard is low.
“Have a routine meeting to address this issue,” said the captain of a yacht 160-180 feet that has a moderate noise problem.
“Don’t let owners remove carpeting to put in hard floors,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet who classified the noise on his yacht as loud. “Sometimes, leave the boat when owners are sleeping until noon, as you can’t do work on deck with them sleeping below.”
Several respondents noted that they have standing orders related to noise.
“At 2100 hours, the galley and laundry room are closed for the evening,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet.
“Certain access throughout the yacht is restricted to a minimum until we know guests are up,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet. “Only a few areas though.”
And if it’s not in the standing orders, crew still know about it.
“Though we are not a noise-affected boat, all crew are expected to respect each other and keep noise levels at a minimum at all times,” said the captain of a yacht 160-180 feet. “When guests are on board, walk quietly on deck, hold doors all the way until they are shut quietly. In general, crew should not be noticed.”
“Not in the standing orders but I tell the crew they must be quiet in the corridor,” said the captain of a yacht more than 220 feet. “However, I do not sleep down there so each crew member must also police the situation as they are the ones with the repercussions of noise if shipmates are not careful.”
While different people might label the level of noise differently, we wondered from a personal perspective Does the level of noise on your boat bother you?
About two-thirds said no.
“Except crew yacking outside my cabin door when I am trying to catch some ZZZs, or sharing a cabin with someone with sleep apnea,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet. “I always bring earplugs.”
“The only level of noise that bothers me (and I’m not alone on this) is the careless closing of doors and cabinets that even experienced crew members sometimes achieve,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet.
“I need noise to sleep,” quipped a chef in yachting more than 25 years.
Does the level of noise get in the way of you doing your job?
More than 80 percent said no, but for the rest, it does.
“Not so much as unsafe (depending on noise and when) but distracting on the bridge, under way, with APIS alarms, two radios, maybe a stereo and 1-3 people talking,” said the captain of a yacht less than 80 feet in yachting more than 30 years. “And lack of sleep on occasion.”
“The noise from the chimes keeps me awake at night and causes fatigue,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet.
“No sleep or poor sleep results in poor performance,” said the captain of a yacht less than 80 feet.
Do you think the level of noise impacts your health?
About two-thirds said it doesn’t.
“I work with a considerate crew who appreciate the same level of care in closing doors and cabinets that I do,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet.
“No, but younger crew need to be made aware of the consequences of hearing loss,” said a captain in yachting more than 35 years.
For about a third of our respondents, noise does impact their health.
“After 35 years of sleeping with my head next to the engine room bulkhead, the damage to my hearing is starting to surface,” said the captain of a loud yacht 100-120 feet. “I now need hearing aids, even though in the last number of years I have been a nearly constant wearer of ear plugs and, at the same time, ear muffs while on any boat under way, in the pilothouse, around owners/guests and, of course, in the engine room.”
“Increased levels of high frequency noise can be stressful if you are trying to quickly diagnose a specific problem in the engine room,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet in yachting more than 35 years. “Unnecessary chatter can also be a problem on the main bridge when maneuvering in tight quarters, heavy weather or night operations.”
“It can,” said the captain of a yacht 80-100 feet in yachting more than 25 years. “Engine rooms are noisy places, and ear protection is a must.”
“There is enough space to find your own little private area that you won’t be bothered,” said the stew of a yacht 120-140 feet. “For me, it’s either the swim platform or fly bridge (without owners on) or the bow (with owners on). If no guests are onboard, get off as much as possible because you never know when you might be stuck on for a while. I always volunteer to take the garbage to the Dumpster or bosun locker to give me the opportunity to sneak off, if even for a few minutes.”
Does the age of a yacht indicate how good or bad the noise will be?
About 62 percent said it does not.
“Some old boats can be really quiet due to thoughtful design and use of materials,” said a captain in yachting more than 20 years. “Some of the newer boats are built for speed — at the cost of noise.”
Does the cost of a yacht indicate how good or bad the noise will be?
Nearly two-thirds said it does, that more expensive boats typically handle noise better.
Does the hull material make a difference in the level of noise onboard?
About 86 percent said it certainly does, but their comments didn’t make it clear which hull material was better.
“Metal boats transfer structure-borne noise much more easily,” said a captain in yachting more than 25 years.
“I think fiberglass tends to be noisier,” said a captain in yachting more than 30 years. “Maybe it’s just me, but that seems to be the case.”
“GRP boats are usually a lot noisier,” said a captain in yachting more than 15 years.
“Composite material is the worst,” said a captain in yachting more than 30 years.
“Fiberglass is noisier,” said a captain in yachting more than 15 years.
“A fiberglass foam-core boat reduces the noise level greatly compared to a steel- or aluminum-hull boat,” said a captain in yachting more than 20 years.
“Aluminum and steel have a different frequency than wood or fiberglass,” said a captain in yachting more than 30 years.
“I have been on aluminum yachts, fiberglass yachts, and other kinds, and I find that the metal boats have more noise,” said a chef in yachting more than 25 years.
“Steel-hull boats are more quiet,” said a captain in yachting more than 25 years.
“Aluminum boats are horrendous, steel is good, fiberglass is better, foam core is really good,” said a captain in yachting more than 25 years.
“Fiberglass boats are loud; composite structures typically flex more, creating creaking noises in the joiner work; metal boats are usually fairly well insulated,” said a captain in yachting more than 25 years. “Mechanical noise (vibration) transmits more easily through metal boats.”
These professionals noted that it’s not the hull material that matters, perhaps explaining the variance in responses here.
“An alloy or steel hull can transmit noise where a glass/cored boat might not,” said a captain in yachting more than 20 years. “It all depends on design and material specs.”
“Material is one thing, but I think you should have asked if the hull design makes a difference,” said a captain in yachting more than 10 years. “It’s difficult to say steel is a quieter hull material and GRP isn’t, when you’re on a hard-chined steel boat that slaps in a small wake and a deep draught heavy GRP hull is dead quiet.”
So while we tried to address this topic from the mechanical and structural perspective, yacht captains and crew seemed to come out in defense of the yachts they manage and operate. And they let us know that noise on boats can be managed if the people involved are diligent.
“Noise should always be at a minimum,” said the captain of a yacht 160-180 feet in yachting more than 30 years. “We work for wealthy people and most of them do not want to attract attention to themselves. Additionally, we are suppose to be professionals working in an elite workplace. Loud music, shouting and general mayhem is not acceptable.”
“With the right attitude and following simple courtesy to others, the issue should not be that big a deal,” said a captain in yachting more than 20 years.
Lucy Chabot Reed is editor of The Triton. Comments on this survey are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org. We conduct monthly surveys online. All captains and crew members are welcome to participate. If you haven’t received an e-mail to take our surveys, e-mail email@example.com to be included.