Climate activist Greta Thunberg

As the sun rose over the chilly British port of Plymouth on a late summer’s morning in August, teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg stepped aboard the 60-foot carbon-fiber sailboat Malizia II and strapped herself in for a challenging ride. Set to be her compact home for the next two weeks, fully fledged racing yacht Malizia II is not designed for luxury travel. Stripped out to be as light as possible, the boat uses buckets in place of toilets and lacks cooking facilities, showers, or proper beds. Thunberg’s steely resolve is truly astounding. For the symbolic leader of the world’s youth climate activists, however, the gain far outweighed the pain. Invited to attend the UN climate summits in New York and Chile, Thunberg chose to make the two-week 3,000-mile journey via sailboat to avoid the dreaded carbon emissions from air travel.

Malizia II

The aim was to demonstrate to the world that it is possible to switch to climate-neutral mobility, and high-tech foiling sailboat Malizia II was the obvious choice. Equipped with solar panels and underwater turbines to generate electricity during the journey, even the boat’s emergency combustion engine was sealed before setting off for the crossing. In addition, Torqeedo RIBs powered by electric engines were used to assist the vessel during docking maneuvers, as well as to tow Malizia II out of, and back into, port.


The supporting argument is a convincing one. The hottest 20 years on Earth since climate records began in 1850 have all occurred in the last 23 years. Moreover, the hottest five years on record have been the last five years, and 2019 is on schedule to maintain this alarming trend. Change clearly needs to happen, but we don’t all have to endure torturous transatlantic trips to achieve it. Advances in the world of hybrid propulsion, solar-electric power, and sustainable materials have led to a raft of state-of-the-art vessels that can deliver the best of both worlds: a significantly reduced carbon footprint in the lap of luxury. And while green superyachts like these won’t make you as dedicated to the climate cause as Thunberg, they’ll certainly minimize your carbon footprint compared to most luxury vessels.

Scooping the top spot for largest DynaRig sailing yacht in the world, Black Pearl built by Dutch yard Oceanco in 2016 is a tri-deck sailing yacht with a world-leading hybrid propulsion system. The yacht offers true zero-emissions cruising, which is unheard of for a boat of this magnitude. Most sailboats require a combustion engine to maneuver when not under wind power, but not Black Pearl. When building the 350-foot superyacht, Russian owner Oleg Burlakov—who sold his natural gas company Burneftegaz for $1 billion in 2014—requested a “zero impact” yacht, and that is most certainly what he got.

Controllable pitch propellers feed power back into the boat via a pair of shaft generators, providing enough power to support the yacht’s hotel load (that means no combustion engine required for air conditioning, lighting, cooking facilities, etc.). The yacht’s environmental onboard systems include a waste heat recovery system and solar flexi-panels on the sails—and we’re not talking any old sails here. Black Pearl boasts three revolutionary 230-foot DynaRig carbon masts and more than 30,000 square feet of highly distinctive black sails that can be set in a rapid seven minutes—all at the push of a button.

Of course, it’s not just sailing superyachts that are setting the records straight. Renowned for a truly striking exterior before the yacht had even hit water, German shipyard Nobiskrug’s motoryacht Artefact launched in 2019 and is already turning heads. Designed by Gregory C. Marshall, the yacht boasts an extensive use of both structural and decorative glass—an increasingly popular sustainable material within yacht design today—and sports a number of new technological features to minimize environmental impact, such as a large battery storage system that allows the boat to operate without internal combustion engines for a limited time. The largest-volume 262-foot superyacht in the world, Artefact is also among the first superyachts to meet IMO Tier III emissions regulations and features an innovative diesel-electric propulsion system.

Aside from the environmental benefits of hybrid propulsion, a huge plus for both owners and charter guests is the ability to experience a “silent cruise.” The 164-foot motoryacht Home, built by Heesen Yachts, was the world’s first fast-displacement superyacht equipped with hybrid propulsion when it launched in 2017. Quieter, cleaner, and more fuel efficient than previous models, the yacht combines a Fast Displacement Hull Form (which offers fuel efficiency due to the use of lightweight aluminum) with silent cruising.

One of the few yachts of its kind available for charter, Home offers a soundless experience that guests find otherworldly, according to Captain Mike French: “When cruising at 9 knots in flat shallow waters, it’s an experience second to none. The boat soundlessly glides above the surface, and there’s minimal wake, too. Guests are always astounded at how quiet it is.”

The yacht’s hybrid diesel-mechanical and diesel-electrical motors can be used simultaneously or independently. When in electric cruise mode, Home reduces fuel consumption to an impressive 12 gallons per hour while cruising at speeds of up to 9 knots, with a noise level of around 46 decibels; that’s the sound equivalent of softly falling rain. Chartering at a rate of $240,000 per week in the winter and $295,000 per week in the summer, Home is well suited to areas such as the Bahamas and the Tobago Cays, where the waters are flat and clear, and Mediterranean hot spots, such as the Amalfi Coast.

The sister ship to Home, Project Electra is currently under construction at Heesen and is scheduled for delivery in April 2020. But if circa $55 million is slightly out of budget, perhaps Silent-Yachts’ solar-electric-powered oceangoing catamaran Silent 55 for a cool $1.5 million is more the ticket. With both propulsion and household powered by the sun (30 high-efficiency solar panels rated for approximately 10 kilowatt-peak) and with electric propulsion available when required, the 56-foot catamaran has unlimited range, no noise or fumes, and minimal vibration and is virtually maintenance-free. Its solar charge regulators and lithium batteries enable it to cruise all night nonstop, and (gaining where Thunberg lost out) the interior is the height of luxury.

The need for water vessels to be lower carbon or carbon neutral is at its highest point in history, but what the most pioneering eco yachts today offer is smooth and serene cruising where both the environment and owner’s enjoyment come first.