Yacht Research Unit

The design and construction of yachts is an important industry in Auckland, and sailing and racing are popular pastimes.

The primary function of the Yacht Research Unit (YRU) is to coordinate and promote research and engineering activities within The University of Auckland that are related to yachts. It has the following specific aims:

  • To promote communication and scholarly research among those working on yacht related topics
  • To facilitate contact between those outside the University wishing to promote specific research and those within having the particular expertise
  • To collect together a library of information on yacht construction, design and performance

The YRU is hosted by the Department of Mechanical Engineering, but has drawn together staff and students from many other areas including the Departments of Engineering Science and Biomedical Engineering, Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Physics. Its graduates have been very successful in contributing to the marine industry and are prominent in the areas of mast, sail and hull design; three were involved in the Team New Zealand design which won the America's Cup in 1995 and 2000.The unit has also been involved with several syndicates testing sails commercially for the Volvo Round the World Race and with Open 60s for the Vendee Globe.

Expertise and facilities

Computational Fluid Dynamics

Our CFD work is carried out on a wide range of PCs and workstations, with access to the SGI Power-Challenge mini super-computer. We develop software in-house and also use commercial CFD packages.

Wind Tunnels

Our Newmarket Campus is home to two purpose-built wind tunnels that support our research activity alongside being made available for commercial use. Find out more.


The Yacht Research Unit (YRU) was established by Professor Peter Jackson in 1987, in response to the keen interest in yacht research generated by the University's involvement in New Zealand's first Americas Cup challenge in Fremantle, Australia.

The Unit was initially sponsored by Fay, Richwhite Ltd to carry out R&D relevant to Americas Cup designs and to increase the pool of professional engineers working on yachts. Research topics have subsequently covered a wide range of areas including the analysis of mast and rigs, predicting the aerodynamics of sails, wind-tunnel measurements of sail forces, hull/keel interactions, performance prediction of yachts and race simulation. Its early work on composite hull structures also led to a rapid expansion of activity in research of composites in many other fields of engineering, and eventually to our Centre for Advanced Composite Materials (CACM). Some milestones have been:

  • Obtaining the first successful computational solutions for the coupled structural/aerodynamic behaviour of sails
  • The application of computational fluid dynamics to the flow around spinnakers
  • The construction of the world's first wind tunnel with twisted flow for testing sails, and the inclusion of advanced optimisation methods into a velocity prediction program

Commercial projects

America’s Cup

New Zealand Challenge (1987, 1988, 1992)
Team New Zealand (1995, 2000, 2003)
Emirates Team New Zealand (2007)
BMW Oracle Racing (2007)
Alinghi (2007)
Shosholoza (2007)

Volvo Ocean Race 2005-2006

ABN Amro
Brazil 1
Ericsson Racing Team

Volvo Ocean Race 2001-2002

Illbruck Challenge
Assa Abloy
Team Tyco
News Corp
Team SEB
Djuice Dragons

Whitbread Round the World Race

EF Language (1997-1998)
Fisher & Paykel (1989-1990)

Open 60


Other projects

BOLS maxi
Ocean Leopard 2
Leopard 3
Mari Cha III
Mari Cha IV
McMullen & Wing Ltd - flybridge design

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