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Longtime surveyor Don Patton of Patton Marine remembered

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Update: Feb. 19, 2018

By Dorie Cox

Donald M. Patton, founder of one of the most established survey companies in yachting, died Feb. 15 at home in the Miami neighborhood of Coconut Grove, Florida. He had been undergoing chemotherapy treatments for cancer for the past several years. He was 88.

Mr. Patton started his company as Patton Marine in 1973 in Coconut Grove for boat salvage work. Tom Jones is chief operating officer at the company, now called Patton Marine Surveyors and Consultants. But for more than 50 years, his relationship to Mr. Patton was much more.

“He was the boss and my stepfather; he married my mother when I was about 2,” Jones said. “But I always called him Mr. Patton.”

In an interview in The Triton for a networking event in January 2012, Mr. Patton said this describing his background: “I went to work at 16 years old. At one point I was in the marine salvage and research business. This was helpful for insurance claim work, damage and construction. Earlier on I was an apprentice to a wooden boat builder in New England. In 1948, I worked at Miami Ship. It is no longer there, what a shame. I worked in Sarasota in Regal’s Boat Yard and had three years in the Coast Guard running patrol boats involved in port security.”

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Mr. Patton was a yacht broker with Richard Bertram and Company and did salvage work after hours. Jones spent his teen years salvaging with his stepfather and eventually traveled with the company.

A photo of Mr. Patton “in his other element, being Don,” said Kent Chamberlain of Chamberlain Yachts. Taken at the 2012 Superyacht Industry Rendezvous in Newport on Rose Island during a clambake. He’s surrounded by some of his favorite women.

“At some point I think he got tired of being a broker,” Jones said. And he started doing survey work in 1981.

Surveying is the path that left a legacy, said Kevin Merrigan, CEO of Northrop & Johnson. For the past 30 years Merrigan has hired Mr. Patton and his team.

“Don changed the industry by becoming an advocate for the buyer, and the seller if the yacht was in good condition,” Merrigan said. “He and his team reported on the condition of the boat as honestly and fairly as possible, allowing buyers and sellers to make informed decisions. This was game changing when he started. To this day, and hopefully for years to come, a Patton Marine survey carries an enormous amount of weight and credibility.”
“Most would agree he was in a class all his own,” wrote Michael Moore, maritime attorney with Moore & Company in Miami. “He was soon recognized as the best marine surveyor in Florida, if not anywhere. He could write and following one survey after another, he cranked out detailed narrative surveys that, before he acquired a copier, he would photocopy and send to clients from a nearby post office.”
Mr. Patton was known for his sense of humor.

“His ribald and edgy sense of humor sometimes got him into hot water,” Moore wrote. “But it also insured his status as the life of every party.”

But it was his work ethic that earned him acclaim and recognition, including the International Superyacht Society’s lifetime achievement award in 2007.

“He was driven,” Jones said. “There was no stopping him, he was go, go, go. He always wanted to build a better, safer boat that was easier to maintain and service. Builders didn’t think of it that way, but he did. He was dedicated to his work.”

And since his death, many in yachting are pulling a memory of Mr. Patton from their wallets.

“He handed out thousands of two-dollar bills,” Jones said. “He signed them and said, ‘Don’t spend this, it’s for good luck.’ Lots of people have said, “I lost your business card, but still have your $2.”

A memorial service is scheduled for Mar. 5 at Coral Reef Yacht Club, 2484 South Bayshore Drive, Miami, 33133 at 1:00 p.m. The family suggests donations be made to the disabled sailing program, Team Paradise, www.teamparadise.org in Donald M. Patton’s name, in lieu of flowers.

POSTED Feb. 16,2018

Donald M. Patton, founder of one of the most established survey companies in yachting, died yesterday afternoon. The Triton is working on a proper obituary but wanted to share this news with the industry as soon as we knew about it.

Many industry veterans have worked with Patton Marine, an independent survey company in Fort Lauderdale. Many veteran captains also relied on the company through years of purchases and sales.

Donald M. Patton, 1929-2018

Mr. Patton started Patton Marine in 1973 doing other work and got into surveying in 1981. In preparation of a Triton networking event in January 2012, Mr. Patton said this describing his background: “I went to work at 16 years old. I am now 82 heading towards 83, if I make it. At one point I was in the marine salvage and research business. This was helpful for insurance claim work, damage and construction. Earlier on I was an apprentice to a wooden boat builder in New England. In 1948, I worked at Miami Ship. It is no longer there, what a shame. I worked in Sarasota in Regal’s Boat Yard and had three years in the Coast Guard running patrol boats involved in port security.”

In that question-and-answer feature six years ago, we also asked Mr. Patton what trends he had seen in his years in the yachting industry. Here’s what he told us:

“Wow, that’s a good one. After the war, the boats were smaller and the new boats, even for the wealthiest, were afraid of being too ostentatious. They didn’t build very big yachts for a long time after the war.

“I was mostly in the sail boat game and raced in ocean races and transatlantic races, when the limit was 73 feet. Anything over that wouldn’t qualify. Power boats were usually 40 to 60 feet, and eventually to 80 feet.  In the 1980s they started to get bigger and today there doesn’t seem to be a limit.

“When I was sailing, you had to know celestial navigation and there were few electronics. Today, it is all electronics and we’ll go on a yacht where the captain doesn’t have a sextant or the tables to work out a sight. That is a little disturbing, but on the other hand, these crew are more intelligent and better educated than we were.

“The computers, electronics and systems onboard are amazing, however I think that they should still be able to navigate by non-electronic ways.

“A lot of other things changed over the years. Today, with water makers, the heads are fresh water. In the old days, they were saltwater, which caused interior rust , damage and occasional smell problems.

“There have been improvements, with many developed, by surveyors, captains, engineers, seamen, interior personnel, for the betterment of today’s yachts. Paints and finishes are far superior.

“Another area of tremendous change is with bigger and better engines and hull forms. Especially in sailboats, which we have always been very heavily involved with since several of us are ex-sailboat guys. The changes in rigging, hardware, winches, hull forms, and speeds have been tremendous changes. A lot is due to design but also the materials.

“Is it for the better? Some of it, yes. Some of it is a little on the unsafe side but it exists because people are always trying to make new and better methods and procedures and always trying to break records. That will never be controlled but, I think a lot could be safer.”

A memorial service was held March 5 at Coral Reef Yacht Club, 2484 S. Bayshore Drive, in Miami (33133) at 1 p.m. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to Teamparadise.org in Donald M. Patton’s name.

  • Click to read more about Mr. Patton from Bob Rich, son of the founder of Rich Marine in Miami.
  • Click to read more about Mr. Patton from Michael T. Moore, a maritime and aviation lawyer in Miami.
  • Click to read more from Diane M. Byrne, editor of Megayacht  News.
  • Click for a memorial video compiled by Suki Finnerty.
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About Dorie Cox

Dorie Cox is editor of The Triton.

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4 thoughts on “Longtime surveyor Don Patton of Patton Marine remembered

  1. Guy Clifford

    What a great man with great knowledge and even greater sense of humor. Larger than life Character. In the last 50 years, there isn’t a single person in the entire Yachting industry, from Designers, through Builders, Owners, Brokers, Captains, Crew and even “Bar Maids”, who haven’t learned something from “The Great Donald M Patton”.
    Rest in Peace Old Mate

  2. Jim Stoll

    I knew Don over the last 50 years.
    We shared a bunk on Ondine in those race days he refers to. Ondine owner, Huey Long, was a close personal friend of my mentor, Dick Bertram; so they always sailed together. And as Don was a broker with Bertram in the late 60s and early 70s, he made a lot of races with us as well.
    I was just a kid in my 20s at the time, as I am now 72. Like Don said, we did navigate with sextants in those days and I still teach it on our schooners, so it doesn’t become a lost art, haha.
    Don brokered my purchase of the 156-foot schooner Te Vega in 1970 when I didn’t have much of an idea what I was doing 🙂 He even showed me how to dock it up in Miami the first time. Still it all worked out and two years later he helped find another 175-foot schooner anchored off Turks and Caicos, that we bought for $20,000 and built her into a second school ship.
    We sailed with Don’s kids aboard – Tommy and Jimmy – on occasion, and ten years on from that, rebuilt that schooner into the three mast yacht S/Y Aquarius W – which was owned by Hans Schreiber for 25 or so years.
    Don cut a big swath wherever he went, as he was open and fun loving – unafraid to speak out about anything, as well as tell it like it is!
    Jim Stoll, Co-founder of Seamester

  3. Robert Kimball

    Don showed up at Derecktor-Gunnell to survey a 75-foot Burger motorsailer I was caring for in the early 1980s. I spent the next three days carrying his clipboard, trailing behind him as we inspected the vessel, of course crawling through on our hands and knees. All the while he was telling me sea stories of bygone eras, including some S/Y Escapade racing stories that can still be heard. I learned much from him in those three days.
    Our paths crossed many times since and he will be missed.
    God speed, Don Patton.
    Robert Kimball

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