The captain of M/Y Snowball was at his wit’s end. He’d been in the yard now for seven months, and the so-planned five-month refit was nowhere near completion. Not only was the extra yard time putting the summer season in jeopardy, but they were also way over the initial budget, and the owner was not happy. Although, the captain thought, the owner was partly to blame. He just had to add an underwater camera to the mix late in the game, and his wife hated the dining salon’s wall coverings and skylounge’s carpet after they came in; her latest choices naturally were on backorder and now she was talking about all new deck furniture. The owner didn’t seem to grasp the impact of these decisions, like they should have been magically absorbed into the existing time frame and budget.
“Daily meetings must be scheduled to hold everyone accountable for their responsibilities and track progress. Regardless of how much planning goes in prior to a refit, unexpected surprises unavoidably arise and must be discussed and remedied expediently.”
It wasn’t just about change orders though. Several critical projects had grown in scope after they’d begun and the project manager had readjusted the quotes significantly. It was out of his control, he had explained. The captain wasn’t so sure, but all he could do was monitor hours worked. The latest bit of bad news was that his chief stew had just quit; she was sick of being in the yard, so interior outfitting had come to a standstill and the captain certainly didn’t have time to add that to his plate. He could hardly blame her though — he also missed the sea. This is not why he got into yachting ...
Yachts can linger in the yard for many reasons, or, typically, a combination of them: work order changes, uncovering deeper issues once work begins, losing the captain or senior crew mid-refit…. But even yachts with tight specs going in can have major cost overruns if projects aren’t quoted properly. That’s what happens when unqualified people manage refits — something Ian Gardner of Yacht Refit Management in Fort Lauderdale sees a lot. Unlike, say, the airline industry, he points out, when it comes to a multimillion-dollar yacht refit there is no regulatory authority ensuring that the project manager is qualified. And many aren’t, he says.
As a SAMS-accredited marine surveyor, MCA Master Class 4 captain with a quarter-million sea miles, and a graduate of a Ship & Yacht Construction & Design apprenticeship in New Zealand, he has the mix of boatbuilding and operational experience he sees lacking in many project managers. “Unqualified people doing multimillion-dollar projects equals problems,” he says. “They don’t know about materials, techniques, methods, and time to do things; perhaps they have to quote exorbitant prices to cover that, or they quote a low price and once they realize what’s going on, they realize that their price is way out of whack.”
And some things can only be learned over time, for instance, recognizing which products last and which don’t. “If you’re looking at a system, you’ve got to be able to tell if it has life left in it or if it’s expired and has got to be replaced. You have to justify that cost, and you only know that through experience,” Gardner says. His advice for captains is to do their homework and find out who the actual project manager is at a yard, and what their experience and qualifications are in order to feel comfortable with them.
Or, of course, the owner’s team could hire a qualified third party that the owner and captain trust as the project manager. For the one-year refit of ex-Rasselas, transforming it into the new Broadwater, the owner’s team brought in Peter Wilson of MCM as project manager. The yacht went into the shed at Huisfit near Amsterdam as a 52-meter last summer and will soon emerge as a 56-meter. You could say the captain, Mark Jones, has become an old hand at this, since it’s the owner’s third Feadship refit in six years.
Keeping within budget falls under the owner’s team’s remit, Jones says. Five yards competed for their business for this latest refit, which resulted in very competitive prices. “Sometimes it’s challenging to source multiple quotes, but it can make a world of difference when making decisions in the owner’s best interest,” he says. During the refit, he advises to stay on top of expenses before they become an issue. “Set budgets for departments and yard[s] to adhere to and keep them accountable.”
As for keeping on schedule, the yard needs to produce an accurate schedule that is constantly updated, he says. “Daily meetings must be scheduled to hold everyone accountable for their responsibilities and track progress. Regardless of how much planning goes in prior to a refit, unexpected surprises unavoidably arise and must be discussed and remedied expediently.”
Crew are also crucial to the process. “Trusted crew must be on site to quality control every step of the way and keep the yard honest and on track,” says Jones, who has also learned that losing anyone senior mid-refit can be detrimental as their replacement will not be able to absorb all their knowledge and experience relating to the project. Recognizing that the workload is extreme, he doubled up on all crew positions so they could, as he says, “divide and conquer. While half of the team concentrated on the refit itself, the other half focused on operational purchases, procedures, and manuals.” This will allow them to hit the ground running as soon as they leave the yard, ready to take on an owner’s party or charter guests immediately.
This column originally ran in the August 2020 issue of Dockwalk.