By Dorie Cox
A yacht refit often begins as the owner’s dream and then grows to a plan that is defined by many factors, including what the yacht needs, what the shipyard can accomplish and the allotted time for the project. Balancing this delicate and complex equation falls to the yacht owner’s representative.
To learn more about the owner and rep relationship, The Triton hosted a panel discussion with a yacht owner and three owner’s representatives as the opening event for the Refit International Exhibition and Conference in Fort Lauderdale in January. More than 100 attendees filled the room.
Moderator Triton publisher Lucy Chabot Reed asked what yacht owners expect from their representatives. Kristine Williams, owner of M/Y Berilda, said she looks for trust.
“They’re like your pilot and you put your trust in them,” she said. “I wanted the yacht to be pretty, to work and to be safe.”
She compared her relationship with an owner’s rep to the one she builds with her yacht crew. Before a refit that included crew quarters on her 126-foot Feadship, Williams said she “worked with the crew to have rapport and trust.”
The effects were substantial.
“That has paid back for us 10 times,” she said. “Talk with them and develop a relationship; you end up with like-minded crew.”
Williams compared refit projects to the winery that she and her husband own.
“I find this very similar – it’s very intensive and the goal is a quality product we are proud of,” she said. “We want to see the crew proud to be on board.”
Besides trust and shared standards, communication is key in the refit relationship. And that is not always easy.
“Owners don’t understand our world and I don’t understand your corporation,” said Capt. Glen Allen, fleet captain for Fleet Miami. “I would like him to understand.”
The goal is for the two to meet in the middle to complete the job.
Although fairly new to yachting, Williams said she wants “the nitty gritty” so she can keep up with progress. Reps are on the job to get it done to the owner’s wishes, but that communication needs to be realistic, said Leah Conway, director of fleet accounting with Wright Maritime Group.
“They want conversations and to be made aware of the risks,” Conway said. “Don’t ever say, ‘It is what it is.’”
Unfortunately, there is not one blanket formula to do that, said Capt. Parker Stockdale, project manager and owner’s rep for M/Y Anodyne. Not all owners want the same level of information.
“They vary from want-to-know-nothing to need-an-explanation,” Capt. Stockdale said. “My job is to manage expectations. Owners are either level-headed or reactionary or disengaged.”
He shares regular reviews of refit progress, no matter the owner’s interest level.
“This is typically a lot of money and the owners are nervous if not kept on board,” Capt. Stockdale said. “Just inform or get a buy-in on important things. My owner is very hands-on; that makes it easier.”
No matter the challenges between dream and reality, he said, it is the owner’s money funding the refit.
“At the end of the day, they want what they want,” he said. “I have to strike a balance.”
What do owner’s reps bring to the job?
Yacht owners are typically not experts in how a yacht refit works, so that is where representatives can shine.
“People have been thoughtful and understanding, but we don’t know what we’re getting into,” Williams said. “We rely on the captain or manager. It’s a super steep learning curve.”
Yacht owner’s representatives bring their specific knowledge of the owner’s yacht, as well as yachts in general, to the refit equation. And they use that knowledge to organize – and troubleshoot – the job.
“You have an initial list and then you have the unknowns,” Capt. Stockdale said. “It is constant triage between the ‘I want’ list and the ‘can’t wait’ list.”
But there are some aspects that usually rise up and over even the owner’s requests.
“The high priorities have to work, such as class and flag state things,” he said.
And quite often, once into a refit, an unforeseen issue arises.
“You have the yacht open, so it makes sense to take care of it now,” Capt. Stockdale said. “It’s frustrating because it snowballs.”
Although some captains say they are in the business of saying yes to yacht owners, that is not always the case. Especially when owners may not realize the ramifications of their requests. That’s when the captain’s job is to bring a dose of reality. But that discussion is delicate.
“There needs to be tremendous care of owner relationships because time is so precious, it is absolutely everything,” Capt. Stockdale said. “There’s a consequence for every decision. That’s something I do with every spending decision, does this negatively or positively affect the timeline? Then we throw everything on the scales – what is the financial consequence, how does it affect the timeline? They can be hard conversations to have.”
What can be done better with refits?
The overall relationship between owner and rep is a work in progress, and Capt. Allen said there are things that can be done better both before and throughout the project. His experience has shown him that many owners are at a disadvantage without real knowledge of a yacht refit.
“Lots of owners want the captain to ask questions,” Capt. Allen said. “They get upset if you assume. Speak to the owner.”
“I get on the plane, fly to the office, and sit with the owner and the attorney to understand what’s what,” Capt. Allen said.
A big part of expectations center around the schedule.
“Captains don’t go far enough to satisfy the timeline,” Capt. Allen said. “We need to do a better job protecting that.”
But it is a challenging balance to maintain, said Capt. Stockdale.
“We should empower the owner to enjoy the boat and accomplish what they want to accomplish with the boat, not what the crew or captain wants to do,” Capt. Stockdale said. “This is a voluntary business. They could put their money in a lot of other places.”
As a yacht owner, Williams is but one type. She is curious and interested in her yacht’s refit, and she has figured out a few refit realities on her own.
“You need to pad the timeline because stuff comes out of the woodwork, and then we have to do that now,” she said, noting a scenario that often causes frustration. “We planned to use the yacht in the summer and now it’s fall. All the kids get time off work, my husband reschedules everything, everyone readjusts their schedule – and the yacht is not ready.”
Williams learned that it is not just the schedule on a refit that needs to be padded.
“It’s the owner’s responsibility to make himself informed,” she said. “If you know it’s going to cost $10, put $15 aside.”
Dorie Cox is editor of The Triton. Comments below