As boat size increases, it is common to fit an upper helm station above the cabin and pilothouse, if there is one. This upper station is often designed with additional seating for passengers and crew to enjoy the ride along with the person driving the boat. It also adds a distinctive look to any yacht.
There are many wonderful reasons to have a flybridge on a yacht, located high above the water and away from the sound of the engines and water rushing by, almost as if one is flying...hence the name. Visibility is outstanding from this vantage point, and unless there are structures, cranes, dinghies, and other gear blocking the view, sightlines are outstanding in all directions. It is also possible to spot changes in the color of the water or floating logs and other debris, including porpoises swimming around the boat.
The additional space of a well-designed flybridge adds a delightful social center, rather than just a helm console and one or two chairs as was common on older trawlers and motoryachts. On modern yachts, this is absolutely the best place to relax and enjoy the boating experience, at anchor or under way. Comfortable settees and tables, lockers, stainless steel grill with refrigerator, ice machine, and entertainment systems incorporated in the design adds a great deal to the pleasures of the cruising experience. On some yachts this area can be fully enclosed in isinglass.
A minimalist flybridge, found on many older boats and trawlers, with just a stubby windscreen venturi to protect crew from wind passing over the boat, can be tiring. At the eight-knot speed of a traditional trawler, however, this is not as tiring as it is on a large yacht running along at 15 knots or more. This makes for a long day from the hours of sun and wind. The slower boat can be run all day long from the upper helm station, but some form of protection is beneficial to those on the flybridge.
So, most flybridges are fitted with a bimini or hard tops for sun protection. And as the flybridge continues to evolve, some designers and boat builders take it a step further and remove the lower helm entirely. The Mikelson series of sportfisher yachts is a great example of turning the modern flybridge into a permanent, all-weather helm, complete with dual Stidd chairs and full enclosure.
Take a closer look at the large variety of flybridges out there, and you will see that some flybridges come with their own set of issues. The supremely popular Grand Banks 42 Classic, in its day, was at the center of the trawler world in terms of popularity and numbers. Every builder competed to make a similar cruising boat.
Then as now, most couples share responsibilities while running the boat for the day, one person driving the boat while the other reads the cruising guides and plans the next stop. Unfortunately, when it is time for lunch or other meal or snack, the flybridge becomes a challenging obstacle course. Plating lunches with drinks and chips would normally be done in the galley, but getting meals up to the flybridge is difficult on some boats, and impossible on others.
On the Grand Banks, for example, or the Monk 36, or any number of other trawlers and cruising boats, one must walk out of the saloon and make it over to the midship steps up to the flybridge, all the while holding onto a railing as the boat moves through the water at trawler speeds. Imagine carrying a paper plate with a fat tuna salad sandwich with potato chips and pickles. Good luck with that! Even on a more modern design, such as the Selene 40, one must get from the saloon door to the aft cockpit where the steps up to the flybridge begin. Couples quickly learn that it is not as simple to get meals intact up to the flybridge, and this is at eight knots. At twice that speed it is even more challenging.
Owners also quickly learn to stow everything they may need for the day: water bottles, binoculars, guides, pads, pencils, handheld radio, books, hats, sun protection...all of this needs to be up on the flybridge before putting the engines in gear.
One fabulous solution to this flybridge access issue is found on pilothouse yachts, which offer safe passage up to the flybridge from the security of the pilothouse. This is a much better and civilized way to move meals and people to the flybridge. The exceptionally executed Fleming line of cruising motoryachts takes it even further. The builder incorporates a dumbwaiter basket in a galley cabinet that is accessed from the flybridge. Brilliant.
Obviously, if the flybridge will be a frequent location from which to drive the boat, all navigation and communications electronics, radios, thruster and engine controls must be duplicated to match those in the pilothouse or lower helm. This adds to the cost of a flybridge yacht, although most will agree it is worth it. The excellent visibility, the open and relaxed social center has great viewing, and the luxurious evening dining experience it offers in fine weather is as good as it gets.
Not every cruising boat can have a flybridge. Somewhat narrow, fast boats that tend to lean into sharp turns would not be particularly well suited for a flybridge. But for most other motoryachts and trawlers, a flybridge provides an exceptional cruising experience.
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