On the Job

Get Refit Ready: How Captains and Engineers Prepare

3 August 2021By Laura Shaughnessy
iStock/princigalli

Written by

Laura Shaughnessy

Laura Shaughnessy has been the managing editor at Dockwalk since February 2018. Having grown up among the cornfields, she is ecstatic to be among the boats in the yachting capital of the world. Armed with a bachelor’s degree in communications and a master’s in journalism, 15 years of experience with newspapers, magazines, and the online world, Laura has joined a great crew. When not writing about superyacht crew, she’s hanging out with her husband and their German Shepherd, working on house projects, or binging on Netflix.

Sure, the refit period probably isn’t on the top five list of things people think about when they picture a glam life on board a superyacht. But the refit period is often what makes that glam reputation possible.

The last thing you need going into a refit period is bad communication, failure to plan, and scheduling conflicts. That’s why we reached out to several crew in various departments who discussed what it’s like for them during the refit period. Dockwalk spoke with captains and an engineer for insight. Here is their advice on how to make magic during the refit period.

iStock/secablue

Pre-Planning the Refit Period

Capt. John Crupi, who has been aboard M/Y Dorothea III for 22 years and is also the founder of Rubicon Maritime, certainly knows how to run a smooth refit period. He says the refit period is what you make of it.

“I start planning a refit six months ahead of time and it’s all pretty methodical and I provide all of the contractors I book with descriptions and specs and the shipyards get the same book and everybody has every contractor, whether they’re working on mechanical stuff or painting the boat or whatever it is, everybody has the same refit spec,” Crupi says. “So it’s typically a 200- to 300-page book with descriptions of what the project is.”

From a production and logistics timeline, everybody knows what everyone else is doing. The beginning and end are already played out before starting. “The paint guy isn’t surprised that that the teak guy shows up to chip away the teak deck on the forward part of the boat or the aft part of the boat because he already saw the spec for it. And we’ve already talked about it,” says Capt. Crupi. “Everybody knows more or less how long it’s going to take, when we’re going to do it, and who’s involved. Therefore, it’s really not that big of a deal.”

Capt. John Crupi
Courtesy of John Crupi

“Yard periods are something I feel quite passionate about,” says Capt. Daryn Dalton of M/Y UNICA. First and foremost, he advises planning and scheduling every day well before your arrival to the yard. “Have goals and deadlines in place with contingency to both time and cost. Get your estimates and proposals secured in advance, if practical. A properly planned, realistic, and detailed schedule helps to ensure that projects, departments, and contractors are not overlapping each other or backtracking. Snags and obstacles will come up, but an organized schedule will make it easier to move things without creating a snowball effect. Department head meetings prior to the start of each workday also help finetune the process.”

A properly planned, realistic, and detailed schedule helps to ensure that projects, departments, and contractors are not overlapping each other or backtracking. 

For Capt. Dalton, the biggest challenge with preparations is getting contractors to give somewhat of an accurate estimate before the vessel gets into the yard. “This is especially difficult if you are just returning from a season away. Understandably, it is tough for contractors to give an accurate estimate until they have put in the time on board; however, if you have a good, long-standing relationship and can arm them with enough accurate information, then you can get a ballpark number.” From there, it’s the budget and approvals before slotting them into the schedule. “Getting out of the yard on time and on budget is the ultimate satisfaction but it doesn’t come without frustrations,” he says. “Working as a team helps to share the satisfaction and shed the frustrations.”

“My advice on how to get through a refit period — I wouldn’t say with ease, but to make life a bit easier — is good planning,” says Chief Engineer Tashawna Tasha-Gaye Allen aboard a private yacht. “Ahead of time, confirm the jobs to be done, the materials needed, the contractors who you are going to work with. Get quotations on the job to be done and finalize decisions ahead of time.”

iStock/olgart

Keeping on Schedule

Despite the challenges a refit period can pose, Capt. Crupi says that a refit project can be completed on time and that he’s been able to get his yachts on the water on the dates he’s designated.

“...If you don’t know how this movie is going to end, then there’s probably a lot of bits and pieces that you overlooked and you should probably take a step back and really get yourself organized because they do get out of hand quickly...”

“If you can’t see the end before you start, then don’t begin. If you don’t know how this movie is going to end, then there’s probably a lot of bits and pieces that you overlooked and you should probably take a step back and really get yourself organized because they do get out of hand quickly,” he says, adding the caveat that if you don’t know all of the tasks at hand, you should at least know enough about all aspects —  whether it’s hydraulics, air conditioning, refrigeration, or mechanicals.

Otherwise, he says, “You're likely going to be sold stuff that you might not need because you’re not explaining it well enough to the people that are working on it. And they’re just making assumptions. There might be systems that you’re overlooking that you shouldn’t overlook.”

Capt. Daryn Dalton
Capt. Daryn Dalton

For Capt. Crupi, if you’re not the first one on board and the last one to leave, then something’s wrong. “I’m in my office at 5:30 every morning. And I’m the last person to walk off the boat, usually between 4:30 and 5,” he says. Because of all these factors, he’s been able to stick to his desired schedule.

It helps that the yachting veteran grew up in boatyards. “I guess I always sort of had an idea as to what it was that I was doing. I built my first boat when I was nine years old, and I’ve had three jobs in my life. So, I guess maybe I was born to do this, but I’ve never been overwhelmed with the tasks.”

“The engine department is fully involved with refits most (if not all) of the time. I would say we have it [more] unfavorably than other departments because the majority of the time depends on the type of refit,” says Allen.

  • Dealing with several contractors at a time
  • Keeping up to date with everything going on
  • Making sure people are complying and adhering to the maritime rules and laws
  • Running back and forth from the engine room, deck, and interior
  • Managing time periods in which each job is done to avoid interference with other jobs or with another contractors
iStock/Ceri Breeze

The Pros and Cons of the Refit Period

Capt. Dalton cautions against calling any aspect of the yard period “bad.” “Yard periods should not be seen as a negative time of the boat’s program but rather a necessary time to be able to get acquainted with the vessel and lay the foundation for the next season.”

He adds that, while in the yard, it can be a great time for all crew to step up into more managerial roles where they are helping to manage their areas within their departments or taking a step up while their superordinate takes leave.

“Keeping the days structured so crew can plan their off time, classes, and weekends away is something we cannot always do during the season, so that’s another bonus. I usually come straight out the yard and into a trip, so it is important to have those productive days in the yard with enough time for rest and enjoying the city you are in. Entering into that first trip with a crew that is burned out can negate a successful yard period. This is all perfect-world stuff but usually if you have the standards in place, then you can get close.”

Chief Engineer Tashawna Allen

For Chief Engineer Allen,the good part about doing a refit would be addressing the areas that aren’t so easy to address while the vessel is in normal operation (especially aboard charter boats). “This gives so much relief and one can relax knowing that the upcoming season or even the upcoming years will be so much easier. I believe with proper maintenance comes better results in all aspects of the everyday operation,” she says.

On the other hand, the chief engineer says it can be difficult to deal with contractors who have little or no respect for deadlines and property. “Meaning, little or [no] effort is shown in getting the job done in the agreed time previously discussed and agreed by all parties,” she says. She’s had the unfortunate experience of interacting with individuals who worked without protection in their working areas, making a mess, which result in spending more time cleaning up.

To ensure greater success, Allen recommends the following (beyond proper planning and organizing):

  • Build two extra weeks into the schedule to deal with corrections and errors
  • Get a dayworker or two to stay on top of the boat’s maintenance schedule
  • Be flexible
iStock/gaspr13

Typical Refit Duties

“Most contractors are packing up at 4 p.m., which gives enough time for the interior crew to do a once-over vac and wipe to keep most of the yard out of the non-workspaces. Deck crew do an exterior clean up and make sure that all protection is still in place,” Capt. Dalton says. 

“The crew need to play an active role in ensuring that safety protocols are being followed and that the vessel is being sufficiently protected,” Dalton says. “I have my crew very much involved in the initial schedule so that they can plan their yard to-do list around the yard projects. For our program, our annual yard period is when my crew take vacation and all of our annual check lists are completed. This takes up a substantial part of the crew’s time in the yard. Deck crew also rotate out to complete washdowns on the weekend and take off time during the week.”

Like the other department heads, Chief Engineer Allen says preparation for a refit period might vary depending on the refit. For example, haul-out prep would be different from a case where the boat is staying afloat. However, generally speaking, prior to a refit, here’s how she tackles a refit:

Step 1:

  • Prior to the refit period, sit down with the captain and any other person involved to discuss and decide the jobs to be done.

Step 2:

  • Afterwards, analyze each task
  • Collect all spares needed
  • Make contact with contractors
  • Get quotations
  • Discuss and finalize dates and time periods

Step 3:

  • Make a schedule
  • Work with the schedule to get the jobs done while staying on top of your normal routine and operations

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