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Engineer’s Angle: Rapport in repair relies on client-tech respect

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Engineer’s Angle: By JD Anson

Hiring and dealing with contractors can be a nightmare, or a dream. After spending significant time on both sides of the rub rail, this axiom has proven true for myself as both the client and the contractor. Finding the right company to help keep the ship running smoothly can be like a great marriage, and the same rules apply: honesty, communication and respect are key to both sides.

Honesty goes a long way in keeping the relationship healthy. Is the boat really sailing tomorrow? Is your issue really an emergency? To get a company on board immediately to do work at the last minute is quite difficult, especially in the current climate of yachts literally everywhere you look.

Contractors are frequently booked weeks out, and to get a technician on board right away can be a huge task for a company. It requires calling the other yachts on the schedule and asking them to allow a postponement. Rescheduling  those yachts could then require other yachts to reschedule. Thus, the juggling of clients is tough. If a company jumps through all these hoops to accommodate a supposed tight schedule, then sees the yacht sit alongside for another three weeks, a feeling of animosity builds and strains the relationship.

When the tech does arrive, saying “it worked great yesterday” when it’s actually been years since anyone has seen it run is misleading and can lead to hours of wasted time trying to troubleshoot. As engineers, we all want to be effective and repair what we can. But having a go at a repair and not being successful – or worse, damaging equipment and not owning up to it – can waste so much time and money. Being forthright and giving all the information possible keeps costs down and happiness high.

If it did actually work fine yesterday, remember: Everything works fine until it doesn’t. Realistic expectations are key. Things break. In the age of disposable everything and constant leaps in technology, how long should one expect equipment to last? A 20-year-old gizmo made in Outer Who-Knows-Where by a long defunct company already has several strikes against it. Adding years of service in the harsh ocean environment can make repair a challenge.

Many times, I have scoured the web looking for long-obsolete parts. These hours can make repairs very costly, even if the part turns out to be reasonably priced. Used obsolete parts have a serious caveat emptor attached to them, and no guarantee of success. Knowing when to go for replacement over repair is a sign of good crew.

While the boss may shirk at the bill, the pain might be eased by reminding them that new, reliable equipment with all the upgrades can make for a more better time on board than tied to the dock the entire vacation because the failed ancient widget has prevented sailing. Depending on the owner’s pockets, a fair rule is that anything requiring a repair bill of 50 percent of the price of new should be seriously considered as a candidate for replacement.

While some contractors cherish the opportunity to pay for their kid’s orthodontics by stretching out repair attempts on a hopeless cause, a good company will know when it’s time to offer replacement. They work with the equipment every day and can recognize when the cause is beyond reasonable expectation of success. Even if they do succeed, remember that other parts are just as old and subject to failure. The machinery may work for years. Or an hour. There is just no way to know.

As a customer, the vessel expects a level of respect. And this is fair. After all, they are paying the money. But technicians are due a similar level of respect. We have clients with courteous, friendly  crews who learn the techs’ names and greet them cheerfully. Unsurprisingly, there is never a problem finding a tech willing to rush over to those boats and lend a helping hand. Arrogant or plain rude crew will not get the same level of service. It is just human nature to not relish being in a toxic environment.

The boat also expects prompt service – and the contractors expect prompt payment for this prompt service. Some boats have avoided payment until a new issue requires service. Then, magically, the cash becomes available. These boats should not be surprised to find themselves at the end of the line when scheduling is done. A small company should not have to sponsor a wealthy person’s yachting experience.  

JD Anson has more than 20 years of experience as a chief engineer on megayachts. He is currently project manager at Fine Line Marine Electric (finelinemarineelectric.com) in Fort Lauderdale. Comments are welcome below.

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