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Refit Matters: Understanding world of refit can help crew avoid frustration

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Refit Matters: by Jon Wilson

Refit shipyards are veritable industries in and of themselves, teeming with technicians involved at different stages of the refit process. From the first survey to the final sea trial, they bring to refit projects various training, experience, and understanding. 

In their own way, they’re not so different from trained and experienced professional yacht crew who pursue their vessel’s mission(s) through their own daily responsibilities. Every one of these professionals began somewhere, and they made their way by dint of committed hard work.

One of the big differences between those who go to sea and those who refit yachts is that the vessels and their crew move from one destination to another. Refit professionals rarely move from one place to another with the same kind of predictability. On the contrary, the refit business is fraught with unpredictability. 

Refits unfold on a constant continuum between objective, planning and reality, especially if the refit yards encounter (as they invariably do) complications that were, for example, previously hidden during the time of the condition surveys. Even the best and most experienced surveyors often find themselves unable to predict what will be found when, for instance, a particularly complicated tank compartment is revealed.

And that’s just for starters.

The refit industry comprises individuals and organizations that make challenge, imagination and innovation the central elements of their jobs. They conceive solutions to challenges unlike anything the building yard may have had to contend with during construction, which makes refit professionals a breed unto themselves. As much as every single one of them would love to have every project predictable, many of the processes in the refit realm cannot be. The factors are myriad and maddening, which means that refit work, as exciting as it can be, is not for everyone. It’s almost impossible to conceive of a major refit going “according to plan” because planning itself can be challenged by inescapably unforeseen – and virtually unforeseeable – conditions.

I state the obvious here because yacht crew often find themselves frustrated by the unceasing complications that arise within what they expect to be a straightforward process. And it’s understandable. Depending on the nature of the refit itself, yard techs are typically swarming over both the workplace and the home of a vessel’s crew. It’s intrusive and frustrating, and it can all seem to be preventable when the surprises keep coming and completion dates keep receding below the horizon.

Obviously, no one dislikes this more than the owner, and yet the new discoveries often keep popping up. What went wrong? Was it the survey? The designer? The yard? It might not be so obvious that refit yards don’t like this kind of situation, either. What they much prefer is to provide a reliable estimate for the work that needs to be done, to agree on a contracted price for that work, and a proper mechanism for addressing what can’t be predicted. What they want is to deliver the completed refit on schedule and up to their standard. Although refits will always imply unpredictability, they want to deliver refit projects on time and on budget. That is what their business model is built on, the model that is most sustainable. Open-ended refit projects are not what they want. And they’re not what owners want either. 

A number of refit yards in South Florida are examining the challenges the industry faces, especially in terms of measurable standards of work, and there is no doubt that this initiative will yield positive results.

Coincidentally, Repair & Refit Report, our new online initiative (from the company that produces WoodenBoat and Professional BoatBuilder magazines), is committed to highlighting some of the less visible aspects of the refit industry in a way that will help showcase the innovation being carried out by largely unsung technicians in these yards. If we can showcase some of the triumphs while bringing some of the challenges into a larger conversation, we can inspire all industry professionals, including yacht captains and crew, to advance our industry’s commitment to bringing greater predictability to this extraordinary and exciting field.

Jon Wilson is editor of Repair & Refit Report (www.refitreport.com), a new online journal aimed at the repair and refit industry and other allied professionals. Comments are welcome below.

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