Department of Mechanical Engineering

Yacht Research Unit (YRU)

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

Yacht Research Unit

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.

See more on the Aerodynamics Laboratory – Wind Tunnel Hall.

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, 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.

Engineering Yacht Research Unit
Download a copy of our brochure. (316.5 kB, PDF)


Undergraduate study

There is no undergraduate degree-level qualification in yacht design or marine engineering available in New Zealand. The nearest overseas institution is the University of New South Wales in Sydney, which offers a BE in Marine Engineering. It is possible to transfer into this course after completing the first two years of a BE in Mechanical Engineering at The University of Auckland. However if you are interested in marine design you do not necessarily need a formal qualification in this area; there are a number of very successful local designers of hulls, masts and sails who are graduates of our Mechanical Engineering programme.

Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) in Mechanical Engineering


Postgraduate study

If you are interested in a career in this area, the unit provides opportunities for graduate students to study particular problems of interest to themselves and to the local marine industry. Suitable topics are available for both Master of Engineering and PhD, and most students have already completed a BE or BSc. Regular informal seminars of work in progress are given both by staff and students, and there are usually a few field trips organised each year.

Please note that Master of Engineering Studies in Yacht Engineering has been suspended, and will not be offered as a specialisation for new students from 2016 until further notice. Prospective students may wish to consider applying for the Master of Engineering Studies in Mechanical Engineering.


Undergraduate courses

The YRU does not offer any courses specifically on yacht design. However in the final year of the BE(Hons) in Mechanical Engineering, the paper Aerohydrodynamics (MECHENG 412) covers the fluid mechanics relevant to external flows e.g. wind turbines, yachts, aircraft or wind loadings on buildings and composite materials whilst MECHENG 441 teaches the fundamentals of composite structures.

Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) in Mechanical Engineering

Postgraduate courses

Computational Fluid Dynamics (MECHENG 711)
The objective of this course is to equip engineers with the skills necessary to apply computational fluid dynamics methods to the solution of problems or the design of equipment involving fluid motion and/or energy transfer.

Wind Engineering (MECHENG 714
This course covers the planetary boundary-layer flow, extreme winds, wind structure, wind loads, dynamic response, bluff-body aerodynamics, vortex shedding, aero-elasticity, wind-tunnel testing, and pedestrian level winds.

Computer Graphics and Visualisation (MECHENG 732
This course covers the fundamentals of computer graphics and visualisation as related to applications in engineering, such as solid and surface modelling and computational fluid dynamics. Also covered are the principles of graphics programming, user interface design and implementation. Students should be familiar with C, C++ or Java.

Advanced Mechanics of Materials (MECHENG 741)
This course covers analytical methods of stress analysis, many of which can be applied to the design of yacht structures.

Advanced Numerical Methods (ENGSCI 721
This is an advanced course on finite elements, boundary elements, and finite differences.

Studies in Continuum Mechanics 1 and 2 (ENGSCI 741 and 742)
These are graduate courses in continuum mechanics covering topics in the mechanics of solids and fluids and other continua.


Commercial services

The services of the YRU are available for research and development by several pathways. Most of the research is carried out by students studying for their ME and PhD degrees, usually supported by a scholarship. Suitable projects are eligible for support from Technology New Zealand.

Wind tunnel testing can be carried out utilising the services of our dedicated wind tunnel engineer. Staff members also carry out confidential consulting and software development at commercial rates. All commercial work is carried out through the auspices of Auckland Uniservices Ltd.


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
  • Movistar
  • 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

  • Hexagon
  • Ecover

Other projects

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



Industrial partners

Our industrial partners and collaborators include leading manufacturers and designers in the yachting industry both in New Zealand and overseas such as:


Wind tunnels

Our primary facility for sail testing is the Twisted Flow Wind Tunnel, which is available for hire to industry. This wind tunnel was constructed specifically to test yacht sails, and includes an adjustable twisted onset flow for proper simulation of the apparent wind, but is also suited to other types of low-speed testing. The test section is 3.5 m x 7 m and models are typically 2 m high. This wind tunnel is the largest of its type in New Zealand.

Further details describing this innovative wind tunnel may be found in the paper "A twisted flow wind tunnel for testing yacht sails" by Richard Flay (J Wind Eng. & Ind. Aerodyn, 63 (1996), pp 171-182.

A new closed circuit Boundary Layer Wind Tunnel has been constructed at the Newmarket Campus in 2015. Its test section is 20 m long, 3.6 m wide and 2.5 m high, and it has a top speed of 20 m/s. It is designed as a general purpose wind tunnel and has facilities for testing model buildings in wind engineering studies, the drag and power of cyclists on a special balance/dynamometer, and model vehicles on a moving belt ground plane. It may also be used for measuring the drag of bodies like traffic signs, and the loads and performance of wind turbines. This wind tunnel is the largest of its type in New Zealand.

The access to two excellent wind tunnels gives the Yacht Research Unit unique capabilities, which enable it to carry out a wide range of innovative research.

Twisted Flow Wind Tunnel website


Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD)

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.

For more information on these facilities contact:

Professor Richard Flay
Director of the YRU
Phone: +64 9 373 7599 ex 87451

Dr Yin Fai Li
Wind Tunnel Manager
Phone: +64 9 923 8798



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, the inclusion of advanced optimisation methods into a velocity prediction program.


Academic staff

Technical staff

Nick Velychko


Yacht Research Unit, Wind Engineering Group

314-390 Khyber Pass Road, Newmarket

Phone: +64 9 923 2942

For general or commercial enquires please email