Test­ing the Bound­less No Limit Ships Dag Pike

Passage Maker - - Contents - BY DAG PIKE

No Limit Ships. The name tells us that these boats are built to deal with any­thing the sea throws their way. Many builders make claims about the sea­wor­thi­ness of their boats, but No Limit has made its rep­u­ta­tion among those who are most se­ri­ous about wa­ter­craft—the com­mer­cial sec­tor—in which the com­pany’s built-strong DNA has proved its met­tle time af­ter time on Europe’s chal­leng­ing North and Baltic Seas.

It is quite a chal­lenge to de­sign and build a yacht that can cope with ex­treme con­di­tions, so No Limit went to the Dutch Lifeboat Ser­vice for in­spi­ra­tion. Founder, Evert Stel, wanted a yacht that had no re­stric­tions and could ven­ture to sea at vir­tu­ally any time. When Stel laid eyes on a new, large, rigid in­flat­able lifeboat at the Ter­schelling sta­tion, he was in­spired. Com­ing away im­pressed af­ter a few sea tri­als, Stel took sketches to a friend and plans were drawn up for the first No Limit Ship build. Ini­tially Stel saw the mar­ket for their de­sign re­stricted to the com­mer­cial sec­tor, and de­sign­ers were brought in to fine-tune the con­cept be­fore pro­duc­tion started in earnest.

Af­ter a slow start, the com­pany made sev­eral mod­i­fi­ca­tions un­til they ended up with a de­sign that ex­ceeded their ex­pec­ta­tions. The No Limit Ships brand was born in 1996, and to­day these ves­sels are built in lim­ited num­bers for both com­mer­cial and pri­vate clients, as the lat­ter have come to ac­knowl­edge the in­trin­sic cruis­ing and safety ben­e­fits of the boats.


No Limit is full of sur­prises. First, this yacht is a rigid in­flat­able, pos­si­bly the only all-weather rigid in­flat­able yacht of its size on the mar­ket. Sec­ond, the hull is built from steel which is an un­usual ma­te­rial for a plan­ing hull. Then the hull de­sign also is dif­fer­ent. It is ba­si­cally a very deep vee with a dead­rise of close to 30¡, which is more than you’d find on most rac­ing boats. At the stern, the vee of the hull merges into a fin keel with spa­ces cut out of the vee on each side to cre­ate a pair of wide semi­tun­nels that ac­com­mo­date the pro­pel­lers, keep­ing them within the pro­tec­tion of the hull.

It is not the most ef­fi­cient hull shape in terms of per­for­mance, but it adds to sea­wor­thi­ness, of­fer­ing a smooth ride in nor­mal cruis­ing con­di­tions and a well-cush­ioned ride when the con­di­tions get wilder: the best of both worlds for the cruis­ing yachts­man. It is quite eerie the way this hull rides through the waves as though they did not ex­ist. I am sure that in larger waves than we had for our test you would get some pitch­ing—show me a hull that doesn’t—but it all seems to be so tamed and man­age­able that you build up enor­mous con­fi­dence in the boat.

Un­for­tu­nately on the test day we only had waves up to about

4 feet high, which amount to rip­ples for a hull of this cal­iber. And in these con­di­tions, the ride was level and true. At lower speeds there is quite a lot of spray, mainly em­a­nat­ing from the low chine line that runs the length of the hull. But once the hull rises onto plane, the spray van­ishes astern and we en­joy the full speed ap­proach­ing 24 knots. I can’t re­mem­ber when I have been on a boat that has given me such con­fi­dence.


Let’s look at more de­tails about the con­struc­tion of a No Limit boat. The hull is built from a spe­cial high-ten­sile steel mar­keted un­der the trade­mark Cor-Ten, most of­ten spelled with­out the hy­phen. It is a weath­er­ing steel that rusts on the sur­face when it is ex­posed to the el­e­ments, and the rust pro­tects the metal from fur­ther de­te­ri­o­ra­tion in the same way that a layer of ox­i­da­tion pro­tects bare alu­minum. Un­like painted mild-steel plat­ing, Corten re­sists pin­holes and bub­bles in the paint so it re­duces the fre­quency of re­paints. The ten­sile strength of Corten al­lows No Limit to use hull plat­ing which comes in at a shade over ¼-inch thick. This is sup­ported by lon­gi­tu­di­nal stringers, which are in turn sup­ported by larger trans­verse frames. It makes for a com­plex struc­ture on the whole, but the build has the ben­e­fit of re­duc­ing the size of any un­sup­ported hull pan­els. With ev­ery square foot re­in­forced, there is no panel de­for­ma­tion from the in­evitable pound­ing in waves.

The in­flat­able tube around the hull is D-shaped and fas­tened to the struc­ture with re­in­forced Kevlar bands. A unique fea­ture is the auto-in­fla­tion sys­tem wherein each of the ves­sel’s eight air com­part­ments is con­nected by a small tube to a man­i­fold that runs around the in­side of the craft. This is con­nected to an air pump that can pump in air or ex­pel it to main­tain the tube at the op­ti­mum pres­sure. No Limit nor­mally sets this at 1.5 psi, a pres­sure that al­lows the tube to de­form slightly un­der wave im­pact to help smooth the ride.

This is one of the main char­ac­ter­is­tics of rigid in­flat­able boats, but most RIB builders these days in­flate their tubes to 3 or 4 psi, which means the tube will bounce like a ten­nis ball in rough seas, but it also af­fects ma­neu­vers, such as pulling along­side an­other ves­sel or a jetty for tie-up. No Limit’s in­flat­able tube not only im­proves the ride by ab­sorb­ing wave im­pact, it also pro­vides re­serve buoy­ancy and helps to im­prove the sta­bil­ity, both de­sir­able fea­tures for cruis­ing.

To re­duce weight, No Limit builds the su­per­struc­ture from alu­minum. It is a very con­ven­tional shape, slop­ing at the front and squared off at the rear—boxy, if you will. The test boat is model 1640 (16.4 me­ters or about 54 feet) and is equipped with just a small stand­ing plat­form built into the rear of the house. When spec­i­fied by the owner, this small fly­bridge con­trol sta­tion can be ex­tended rear­ward from the af­ter por­tion of the cabin. Be­low it, the cock­pit is large, com­fort­able, and on our test boat, was fit­ted out for deep-sea fish­ing.


Be­cause of the small num­ber of boats No Limit builds per year, each one can be fit­ted out ac­cord­ing to an owner’s re­quire­ments. The stan­dard lay­out has a dou­ble cabin in the bow and a sin­gle cabin set aft in front of the en­gine room. These are fairly com­pact, util­i­tar­ian cab­ins, but still look com­fort­able and each has a pri­vate head. The fo­cus of the de­sign on sea­wor­thi­ness re­stricts the amount of space and lux­ury we take for granted on mod­ern

yachts, but the ac­com­mo­da­tions are still com­fort­able.

Be­tween the two cab­ins is the sa­loon, with L-shape set­tees on both sides suit­able for so­cial­iz­ing and din­ing. The well-equipped gal­ley is aft on the port side and the four-ring elec­tric cook­top comes with fid­dles to keep the pots and pans in place on a cruise.

The wheel­house can also be cus­tom­ized for each owner, but the cen­tral helm sta­tion is fixed. On the test boat, this was pro­vided with a cap­tain’s chair and a small guest set­tee along­side. At the rear lies a cor­ner ta­ble that could con­vert to a great re­lax­ing area when you get to har­bor, but it is ver­sa­tile enough for din­ing. There is a great all-round view from the wheel­house.

Two large Ray­ma­rine dis­plays pro­vide all the nav­i­ga­tion in­for­ma­tion to the helms­man, with sup­ple­men­tary dis­plays for the Volvo diesels. En­gine con­trols are stan­dard Volvo units, though it is pos­si­ble to spec­ify a joy­stick for low-speed ma­neu­ver­ing. Our test boat had in­di­vid­ual con­trols for the bow and stern thrusters and a tiller steer­ing op­tion. In har­bor this was suf­fi­cient for pre­cise con­trol, and the No Limit is a joy to han­dle in close quar­ters.

There is an exit door to star­board along­side the helm and one aft to ac­cess the cock­pit. These are fully wa­ter­tight, es­sen­tial to make No Limit boats self-right­ing in the event of a cap­size, but this self-right­ing is not a fully im­ple­mented fea­ture as the engines are not duly equipped and there are no seat belts for the crew to en­sure their sur­vival through a 360° ro­ta­tion.

A wa­ter­tight door in the cock­pit gives easy ac­cess to a spa­cious en­gine room and the two 670-horse­power Volvo Penta diesels. These are cou­pled to a con­ven­tional drive­shaft-and-pro­pel­ler sys­tem, and a small gen­er­a­tor is tucked un­der the ac­cess lad­der. The gen­er­a­tor is pri­mar­ily used to sup­ply power to the gal­ley equip­ment and a larger unit might be re­quired to power the op­tional air con­di­tion­ing. For year-round op­er­a­tion in Dutch wa­ters, a diesel-fuel heater is a more use­ful fea­ture.

Hold­ing 1,300 gal­lons of fuel and 260 gal­lons of wa­ter, the No Limit 1640 has an ex­ten­sive range at lower speeds. At 8 knots, she burns 4.4 gph and, at the time of writ­ing, the 50-footer, Four Sea­sons, was cross­ing the At­lantic, fol­low­ing the north­ern route via Ice­land and Green­land. With a draft of four feet and an air draft that can be re­duced to 12 feet by low­er­ing the radar arch, this No Limit is equally adept at cruis­ing in­land water­ways.


Each No Limit model is built to meet a spe­cific owner’s re­quire­ments within the lim­its of the de­sign. One ver­sion was built with an alu­minum hull be­cause the owner wanted a faster top speed—in this case, ex­ceed­ing 30 knots. On the com­mer­cial work­boat side, No Limit of­fers de­signs up to 64 feet.

No Limit ships are fine ex­am­ples of what can be achieved by think­ing out­side the box. I was in­volved in the de­vel­op­ment of the first-ever RIB, some 52 years ago. Dur­ing the de­sign process, we found out quickly that we had an ex­cep­tion­ally sea­wor­thy con­cept on our hands. To­day, the RIB has been widely adopted and is used world­wide in a va­ri­ety of chal­leng­ing oper­a­tions, from Spe­cial Forces in­ter­cep­tion craft to Coast Guard pa­trol ves­sels. No Limit Ships has taken the con­cept one level far­ther with this se­ri­ous, all-weather cruis­ing yacht. A No Limit yacht la­bels you a se­ri­ous cruis­ing sea­man, and this yacht will get ad­mir­ing—and cu­ri­ous—glances wher­ever it goes. I fell in love with the No Limit as soon as I stepped on­board. Af­ter 65 my years at sea, this is the kind of yacht for me.

LOA: 54’ BEAM: 17’ 6” DRAFT: 3’ 10” DISPL: 54,000 lbs. FUEL: 1,300 gal­lons WA­TER: 260 gal­lons SLOW CRUISE: 8 knots RANGE: 2,700 nm POWER: 670-hp Volvo Penta (x2) CON­TACT:­lim­it­

This photo: Steam­ing through the night, the No Limit 1640 seems to tow the full moon in her wake. Op­po­site: ( clock­wise) Pe­ter, Edzard, and Jur­gen Braam aboard Four Sea­sons. Bot­tom: Four Sea­sons sev­ers the wa­ter in fine style.

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