READY, SET, GO! Refits are Like Marathons

Mar 24, 2022 by Dorie Cox
Credit: Photo by Capt. Grant Maughan

Think of a yacht refit like running a marathon: To ease the pain, start with a warmup, make a plan, and maintain flexibility along the way — it’s the same advice boatyard and project managers offer yacht captains before a yard period. Whether preparing for a race or a refit, there are supplies to buy, logistics to schedule, and sections to organize.

“Pre-planning is the biggest part, especially with shipping delays in today’s world,” said Sean Hodgson, of DFD Drawings Fabrications and Details. “We’ve had vessels show up here with a spreadsheet of projects, but the parts are eight weeks out, no contractors have been booked, and the project gets a delayed start.”

The goal is to begin work when the yacht hits the dock, like with his company’s current refit on M/Y Amaral, a 190-foot (58m) Abeking & Rasmussen formerly known as Lady Sheridan.

“Say they only have eight weeks to do the job, and now they have spent two weeks calling for parts and contractor appointments and waiting for shipments. Now they have burned through half their refit schedule,” he said.

George Whitehouse, of Savannah Yacht Center in Savannah, Georgia, sees the same situation.

“You have bigger and better planning, then you have a bigger and better job,” Whitehouse said. “Going into the shipyard is not something everyone enjoys. Owners get into yachting to use the yacht, to travel. But yard periods are necessary — outrageously important.”

Flexibility comes into play with unforeseen situations along the course. “If you hit something or hit bottom and bend the shaft, a new shaft might take seven months to get,” Whitehouse said. He has seen new valves have a six- or seven-month lead time. Most yacht captains understand because they have similar challenges procuring regular operational supplies on board. The supply chain is bad and getting worse, but it’s a worldwide situation — everyone is running into it, Whitehouse said.

Although a marathon is often a personal challenge, there are many others in the race, too. In the refit marathon there are loads of yachts undergoing work and shipyards are busy, said Dan Bornarth
, assistant vice president of operations at Bradford Marine in Fort Lauderdale.

Calendars are booked and if a yacht is scheduled for refit or basic services, like a bottom job, but other necessary repairs are found, then the project scope changes, he said.

“This could turn into an issue because yard space is at a premium and the yard may have difficulty accommodating the expanded time or work, as there are times of the year when yards are overbooked,” Bornarth
 said.

“We have more work than we can even handle,” said David Hole, general manager of Marina Mile Yachting Center in Fort Lauderdale. “We have a guy returning calls for about 30 to 50 boat inquiries a week. It’s more than a month out to get a boat hauled.”

To keep things on schedule, captains can be more realistic on work service quotes for systems like heads, air-conditioning, hydraulics, electrical, and electronics, Hole said. Although many yacht owners request three quotes, most systems require technical troubleshooting to identify what the fundamental scope of work is.

“Owners, captains would be better served scheduling a limited-service call rather than asking for an estimate to do troubleshooting on the head,” he said, although for bigger jobs like a teak deck or a paint job, it may be worth getting quotes.

There will always be delays, but every aspect that helps keep the yacht on schedule works for the budget, the owner, the captain and crew, as well as the entire yard, Hole said. “If you’re late, there is a domino effect that affects the whole yard.”

To better assess the yacht’s status and uncover issues, Hodgson’s team mandates a sea trial before the boat is hauled. Also, the yacht undergoes a vibration study, a shaft and propeller check, and a back pressure reading on engines and generators. Deck target measurements are taken to ensure the boat sits on the keel blocks the same as in the water.

Most yards won’t let yachts transfer liquids when it’s on blocks, so captains need to do that ahead of time, Hodgson said. “We drop the anchor and chains to get the weight off, and usually it’s a time to take the life raft and tender to have serviced.”

Perishable, valuable or delicate items are removed, then flooring, walls and equipment are covered for protection. Hodgson’s team replaces engine room floor plates with plywood floors. And this is a time to schedule yacht class or flag inspections, check fire systems, replace running and steering gear, etc., he said. It is important to work closely with the crew to see what storage they need, what engineering might be necessary — all the details. And to give the yacht owners a reality check on the amount of work involved.

“This is the part the owners don’t see and is where all of the money goes,” Hodgson said. “The weekly report goes to the owner with updates, and unless it’s a big, flat-screen TV, they typically have no idea what’s going on. I remind them the yacht is a self-contained city, making its own electric, water, and processing sewage.”

The bottom line is that a good refit strategy follows the playbook of long-haul runners at the start line: Break the work into manageable segments, enlist the best support group available, stay on course, and reassess often.

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About Dorie Cox

Dorie Cox is a writer with Triton News.

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