As the economy changes, it seems that the yachting industry had shifted over the past few months. That may be because of the time of year, and we don’t discard that.
So we asked the captains gathered at our monthly roundtable From the Bridge luncheon what they experienced this summer and fall, wherever their travels took them, in terms of vendors. Were they as eager for business as they were a year ago? Did they offer discounts without even being asked?
The first thing that came to mind for these captains was shipyards (it being boat show season in Ft. Lauderdale and all).
“It takes more time to get things done and it costs the owner more money,” one captain said.
“Personnel are strapped all over the yard, that’s for sure,” said another.
As always, individual comments are not attributed to any one captain in particular so as to encourage frank and open discussion. The attending captains are identified in a photograph on page A18.
They compared notes on the different yards in town, how busy some had become, and how others seem to have lost their traditional foothold. They had different preferences based on whether they could bring in their own contractors.
But they all agreed that Derecktor-Florida, with is new 820-ton lift, has changed the dynamic among shipyards in South Florida.
“Some yards have grown, some have shrunk,” one captain said. “And Derecktor’s put that big lift in so now everyone wants to go there.”
“We were hauled at Derecktor the first of the year and they couldn’t get us out of there fast enough,” another captain said. “They’re busier now, that was very apparent to me. We were there in 2001 and they kept us there forever.”
They also discussed the impact that the Rybovich shipyard near West Palm Beach has had on the industry in South Florida. The size of vessel it attracts — and the vendors who follow them — has has put it on the map.
“One of the things you’re missing in all of that is Rybovich,” one captain said. “I’m not a huge fan, but for the past two years, they’ve been the place to be.”
“Rybovich has forced people’s hands,” another said. “No one else can do it here. But now Derecktors is chasing Rybovich to keep that work in Ft. Lauderdale.”
Not too long ago, it seemed, space was available and gave captains and owners pretty much whatever they asked for, just happy for the work. Those days may be gone.
“The things you’re negotiating for now is service,” one captain said. “You’re not coming to the yard and saying, ‘I’m spending X amount and I demand this.’ You’re lucky to get in there.”
“Every yard up north is busier than before,” another said. “Of course, there are more yards here so it’s harder to see.”
Despite the uptick in yachts getting work done, these captains said that for the most part, they don’t have much trouble getting their chosen vendor to take their call.
“It’s still a lot of who you know in Ft. Lauderdale, and in Palma and Antibes,” one captain said. “I’m a customer; I have a relationship with my guy at the yard. I can go in and talk to anyone and get the job done.”
“My engine guy is backed up right now, but I called him for a sea trial and he said, yup, he’s coming,” said another.
“That’s where an experienced captain gives the owner value,” said a third.
This veered the conversation into one about the importance of relationships captains have not only with shipyards but with vendors in general.
“If you develop a proper relationship and pay on time, then when you get in a bind, they help you out,” one captain said. “Like when I was in the Caribbean and the exhaust broke, they came. I had developed the proper relationship, paid my bills on time.”
At the recent Ft. Lauderdale Yacht Symposium, one panel discussion brought up the practice of captains getting three bids, and how it was counterproductive to relationship building. So I asked the captains if they always get three bids.
“I do,” one captain said. “Price is always an issue, especially for the guy I work for.”
But he was in the minority.
“There was a time when I got 2-3 estimates but these days, no,” another said.
“I might get three quotes once, but the next time, there’s no need,” said a third. “Now, I go back to my guy every time.”
“If your guy gives you a good price over and over again, it’s a waste of everybody’s time to get quotes,” another captain said. “You know that your guy will give you the best price, so you don’t bother.”
“I’ve been very fortunate to have owners who aren’t particularly interested in accounts,” said the first captain. “They put their trust in you. It takes a little time, but it makes our job so much easier. There’s a responsibility, though, to be safe with their money.”
The captains agreed that it all depends on the boss.
“There are some you’ll go the extra mile for, and some you won’t because it’s not reciprocated,” one captain said. The three-quote policy often comes from the yacht’s manager, which may or may not trust the captain the way the owner does.
“A bit of influence can be a positive or a negative from a management company,” one captain said. “Management companies insist I use a provider I’m dead set against, and suggest something I wouldn’t even consider.”
“You steer people and the owner toward the vendors you’ve dealt with before and who did a good job,” another said.
The original captain who needs three quotes said he was concerned his relationships might suffer.
“With this owner, I need estimates for everything,” that captain said. “It’s so much of a battle. I have vendors I’ve known for a long time who don’t want to do it. They don’t need the business and they tell me, we don’t need the hassle.”
“When you have good relationships, three quotes pushes them to the breaking point,” another said. “And it gets around that you only want three quotes.”
“Some companies have started charging for an estimate,” said a third. “They’re so busy now, and they know you aren’t going to use them because you never have.”
One captains noted that all his favorite service providers are busy now, but he still refers them to his colleagues.
“The good guys that we use and like, you want to keep them in business,” this captain said. “It all comes down to two things: having people you know, and paying them when they’re done. Then, the next time you call, they tell you ‘no problem, when do you need me?’”
Lucy Chabot Reed is editor of The Triton. Comments on this story are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you make your living working as a yacht captain, e-mail us for an invitation to our monthly Bridge luncheon.