Köhler Power: Silent-Yachts founder shares his expertise
Founder and CEO of Silent-Yachts, Austrian Michael Köhler has been pioneering the use of solar power in yachting for over a decade and is now looking to share his company’s expertise and technology with other builders. Interview: John Higginson.
Michael, following a busy couple of years promoting, selling and building your new line-up of models, can you provide an overview of your current production?
Across our own facilities in Italy and with our partners in Turkey and Thailand, we’re currently building 19 yachts comprising 10 units of the 60/62 series, six 80 series, the flagship 120 and two Silent VisionF 82 hybrid catamarans.
Since late last year, we’ve already delivered the first three units of the Silent 60. This year, we hope to deliver about 10 units of the Silent 60, three of the Silent 80 and two or three of the Silent VisionF 82. We’re convinced we can achieve this.
In total, we’ve already put 15 boats in the water when you count the first three 60s, our Solarwave 46 from 2009 and the Silent 64 and 55, our first production models.
The Silent-Yachts facility in Fano, Italy, covers over four hectares
Can you give an overview of the Silent-Yachts facilities in Fano and which models you produce there?
The site has about 22,000sqm (2.2 hectares) of covered facilities in four big sheds and about the same area outside the sheds. It has a double set of moulds for the Silent 60 and a single set for the Silent 80. The number of workers is hard to determine because the Italian system uses a lot of sub-contractors, so it’s difficult to know how many people are working on our furniture, for example. I’d estimate there are maybe 200 people in Italy working on or for our boats.
Silent 60 models have also been built at the PMG Shipyard in Thailand for the last couple of years, but what led to your recent partnership with Turkish yard VisionF?
We met them at the Cannes Yachting Festival last September as they had a booth next to us and showed their VisionF 80 catamaran. It looks very sleek and we were pleasantly surprised about the high quality of construction and the clever layout, especially when you realise the dimensions of the interior. The only drawback is that it’s fully diesel powered, which really hurt us.
The Silent VisionF 82 is being built in Turkey
As we talked to them, they were enthusiastic about our solar-electric knowledge and ability to help them power all onboard appliances without using a generator. We quickly became friends and decided to pursue a partnership.
Several visits followed and in October we signed a contract to start the production of some of our boats, so we brought over moulds and even some finished hulls just to speed up production. They’re producing the Silent 60 and Silent 80, and are incredibly fast. They’ve also started on the production of two Silent VisionF 82s, which is the hybrid version of their VisionF 80.
Saloon of the Silent VisionF 82
Can you tell us more about the Silent VisionF 82?
It’s longer than the VisionF 80, the underwater part of the hull is new and the roof has been enlarged to fit more solar panels. It has a slightly different interior, with more European taste, and we’ve made big changes in the energy system. It’s the same system we use on Silent-Yachts models. For propulsion, the client can choose between diesel, diesel-hybrid or pure electric.
Is Silent-Yachts open to sharing its solar-electric technology with other builders?
Definitely. It’s hard to compare us to Elon Musk because he’s a few times bigger than us, to say the least, but he did the same. He opened all his Tesla patents and I think it was a smart move because we should share the knowledge for a better future. I think the market now demands less fuel-consuming boats and every day you read that there’s a gas and petrol problem in Europe.
Built at PMG Shipyard in Thailand, the first Silent 60 was launched in 2021
It was already obvious to me in 2009, when we produced the first fully solar-powered yacht, that it’s an advantage to have a boat that doesn’t require fuel. As a back-up, our first boat had an 88-litre fuel tank and at the end of the boating season, I emptied the entire contents into my car.
We challenged ourselves to not use the generator at all and we didn’t use it for three years, which proved that diesel isn’t required. However, in my opinion, it’s mandatory to have a generator on board because you could need it to get out of bad weather, for example, or if there’s almost no sun for days on end.
The Silent 60 Front Exit version was launched this year
The main message that we sent was that solar-electric technology works on yachts if you design the boat in a specific way. You can’t just attach solar panels on any boat. It must be designed so you can fit as many solar panels on the roof as possible. I’m not a fan of having solar panels on the hull sides because they’re in the shade or not in the right position. As such, if we were to work with builders, we’d also need to work on the design of the boat.
What led to you creating the Silent Group of businesses, which was announced earlier this year and includes tenders, charter, brokerage, management, Silent-Resorts and an online shop?
All the boats we’ve produced and are building are connected to the business divisions we announced. The tender division, for example, is because all our clients want electric tenders that they can charge on their boat, so they go hand in hand. We’re currently in the prototype stage and the tenders will be available for everybody, not only with Silent catamarans.
The Silent 62 3-Deck has a much larger flybridge than the Silent 60
The brokerage department simply allows us to help our clients sell their boats if they wish to upgrade, for example. We’ve been operating charters for several years and it’s a natural offering for our clients, so we offer the possibility for them to put their boat into charter with proper management. Same for yacht management.
So, while it seems like a big announcement, it’s just a logical development based on our orders and our relationships with our clients. We’ve been offering these services for a while, so it’s more a formalisation of our existing offerings. Furthermore, Silent-Yachts models are different to most other boats on the market, so other companies wouldn’t be able to handle a lot of these aspects.
Silent-Resorts is starting with a property in the Bahamas
We had already announced Silent-Resorts, which uses our solar-electric technology for low-footprint luxury resorts on pristine islands with moorings for solar-electric yachts, sharing an electricity grid. The first one is in the Bahamas.
If you see how resorts have been developed in the Maldives, for example, the centre of each island has huge generators and hundreds of jerry cans and barrels. Our developments will have a generator for emergency situations only, such as in the case of three straight days of really bad weather. But over a year, maybe 95, 99, even 100 per cent of the power needed for all the villas and facilities will come from solar power.
Silent-Yachts has an office in Port Adriano in Mallorca, where it also runs charter and management services
Right now, my electric car is being charged by the solar panels on the roof of our office building. Over a year, the building’s solar-electric system powers all the offices and systems in the building. Sometimes we produce enough to give to the grid, and sometimes we must take from the grid when there are days of gloomy weather.
Do you think the world’s leading production yacht builders should be doing more in terms of using solar energy and other sustainable technologies?
Firstly, I don’t like greenwashing. I don’t like brands who pretend to be as green as we are or say their boats are green or self-sufficient when they’re not. However, I do agree more builders should be focusing on at least reducing the fuel consumption, such as if they’re solar-assisted.
Even the likes of a Mangusta motor yacht could have some solar panels on the roof that could charge the batteries to operate the aircon and kitchen appliances, for example. Almost every brand could rethink their designs, although I don’t think all of them will.
The Silent 80 is available in standard, 3-Deck Open (above) and 3-Deck Closed versions
It’s happening in the car industry. A few years ago, a Mazda dealer told me the company would never build an electric car, but they’d obviously already been developing it because their first one then came out in 2019.
I think all the big yacht brands are discussing or developing it or at least planning to do so. It’s only a matter of time and to what extent they commit to this transition, such as at least covering power for the appliances. It just needs the design to adapt a little bit, so it depends on how flexible their designers and engineers are. However, I expected more to have happened by now.
Michael and his wife Heike are the founders of Silent-Yachts. In 2009, after years of testing solar-powered propulsion, they launched the Solarwave 46, a fully self-sufficient blue-water catamaran. Silent-Yachts started producing the Silent 64 in Turkey and Silent 55 in China before developing its current range including multiple versions of the Silent 60/62 and Silent 80, plus the flagship 120. Today, the company has its own production facility in Fano, Italy, and cooperates with shipyards in Turkey (VisionF) and Thailand (PMG) to keep up with production. Michael and Heike have received awards for their research on alternative energy production and consumption on boats, lectured on energy consumption on superyachts and published a book, Energy Supply on Yachts. The couple have spent over 5,000 days on board yachts and sailed more than 75,000nm around the world.