Like most things, there are mundane, boring tasks on board that aren’t necessarily fit for reality TV but are essential to achieving that superyacht-worthy perfection. While yachting may seem to be all about the extravagant charters and flowing Champagne — for the guests, anyway — it also requires a lot of planning, preparation, and teamwork to achieve A-list status.
That’s where the refit period comes in: there’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes for the interior department, whether you’re a stew, purser, or chef. Dockwalk reached out to several crew in various departments who discussed what it’s like for them during the refit period. Here is their advice and why it takes teamwork to make the dream work.
Top Prep Tips for the Interior
“A refit period can be stressful for all departments simply because there are so many moving pieces that can stop and start a project,” says former superyacht purser Bec McKeever, co-founder of Virtual Pursers LLP.
“There is no blueprint to the purser role, so the duties a purser oversees varies massively. All in all, though, the most successful refits I have ever participated in have largely been pre-planned as much as possible with contingency plans, along with a very cool, calm, and collected captain in command! A refit never runs on time, so it’s super important to be flexible, adaptable, and positive when it comes to change, because change is one element of a refit that is guaranteed.”
For former superyacht purser Khara Pierre, being in constant communication with updates, delays, etc. is significant. Planning, communication, and adapting to change are the main points to ensure a refit runs as smoothly as possible, she advises. “From the interior perspective, it really depends on what is being done,” says Pierre, director of Shore Side Pursers and partner of One Ocean Marine Crew Recruitment. “Planning way before is the best way to manage it. For example, having meetings with the other heads of departments and [creating] a schedule of what needs to be completed can ensure the smoothness of the refit.”
Before recently leaving the industry to start her own brand, former Chief Stewardess Randi Barry says there’s only one thing that sums up the key to a smooth refit period: prior organization and clear communication, which are paramount to a successful yard period.
“Scheduling is always a tough aspect of the job, which can be particularly true during the refit period,” says Barry. “As we are usually down on crew during these times due to planned vacation, it can be a crunch to get our weekly and monthly planned maintenance accomplished alongside other large projects. We tackle this by prioritizing the most important projects, especially the ones that affect the owner and guests directly or that they have requested.”
The Interior Department’s Tasks
“Everyone is involved in the refit tasks in one way or another,” Pierre says. “The yacht is one whole unit, and when certain tasks are being worked on, which affects another department, you work together to achieve the end result. I don’t think anyone has it worse than others,” she says, pointing out that there have been refit periods where things were heavier on the deck and the engineering side. “However, in other refit periods, the interior has been slammed with marble work, carpentry, electrical configuration. So it really does depend on what is trying to be achieved.”
“All in all, though, the most successful refits I have ever participated in have largely been pre-planned as much as possible with contingency plans, along with a very cool, calm, and collected captain in command!"
McKeever says that the involvement of the purser department in the refit project is really varied. “Yacht owners often like input from the crew for working design elements, and as such I’ve been heavily involved in this aspect previously, from the design stage all the way through to managing the contractors and signing off completed work in the yard. However, I’ve also participated in refits where my role was solely to carry on with the day-to-day operations of the vessel, which is a huge amount of work on its own.”
“On the interior, I find we are usually busy with organizing and preparing for the season ahead as well as ensuring the vessel stays clean amidst any big projects,” says Barry. “We are cleaning daily in the spaces people are working, this helps us keep an eye out for any damage caused so that we can get it fixed right away. Depending on the work being done on the interior, it can cause us to have to work around others’ projects or reschedule tasks, but I always have something to be busy with.”
“I don’t believe anyone has it worst or better,” says Chief Stewardess Marién Sarriera, owner/founder of Yachts Mermaids. “To be honest, the involvement depends on where the refit is taking place. If the refit is in the engine room or the deck, more than likely the interior team won’t be as involved, unless asked to be. But if the refit is an interior refit, then there is a storm of jobs and overseeing to do — on top of your daily duties and projects that have piled up during the season.”
Although chefs aren’t typically that involved in the refit process, Chef Henri Kriel of M/Y Big Easy says it just depends on the refit. Kriel and his fellow captain and crew have been in the shipyard since November. “In our case, I think it is the [engine room] and galley that is affected the most. With a new galley and 220V yacht, all electrical equipment needs to come from Europe. Different contractors are involved from carpenters, plumbers, metal workers, and electricians.”
With the galley out of service, he is cooking from a rental house. “I drive the crew in the morning to the yacht on my way to shop. This is a daily occurrence, since the house fridge only holds lunch and dinner for one day,” explains Chef Kriel. “Then I need to drive the prepared meal to the yacht. In the evening it is a different ball game.” He compares his schedule to that of a soccer mom/Uber Eats situation: “Dinner gets prepared in plastic containers for each crewmember and then gets delivered to the different apartments [they] are renting, and back to the boat for the watchkeeper’s dinner and to bring the crew back.”
Pros and Cons of the Refit
“I have done a few refits in my career and what has gotten me through them with ease has been my organizational and leadership skills,” says Chief Stewardess Sarriera. “Of course, inevitably you will encounter roadblocks but if you are organized, have good communication and leadership skills, you will rise to the occasion every single time.” That’s one of the reasons that Sarriera created The Mermaids Kick-Starter Bible, which provides a system to deal with refits and more. “Plus, having fun and enjoying the process helps, no matter how crazy or hectic it gets, you can always find the silver lining. Keeping an optimistic perspective will support you in the process,” she says.
“The good part of a refit is that you get a break from the 18-hour shifts and are able to enjoy a ‘normal life’ on land. Eight-hour days and weekends off are a dream come true after a busy season.”
Sarriera is quite candid about the not-so-great aspects of a refit: “For me, the unpleasant part of a refit is the endless dirt, the nasty chemicals, and the fact that no matter how long a timeline extends, there will always be pending projects. This is why prioritizing the project is essential. So when it is time to splash, whatever is left pending won’t have a massive impact on the coming season.”
But the refit period is not without its pros. “The good part of a refit is that you get a break from the 18-hour shifts and are able to enjoy a ‘normal life’ on land. Eight-hour days and weekends off are a dream come true after a busy season,” says Sarriera. “But I guess it will also depend on what location you are doing the refit in, because if you are in a yard that is in an isolated area of town, it can be challenging for anyone after a few weeks/months of work.”
“Of course, inevitably you will encounter roadblocks but if you are organized, have good communication and leadership skills, you will rise to the occasion every single time.”
“For me personally, the fun part about a refit is moving ashore and supporting that shore life with the crew,” says McKeever. “However, that comes with both pros and cons; having to commute isn’t always fun. Also, the day-to-day operations of a ship do not stop whilst in a refit. A purser still has to work on owners’ itineraries, complete the daily and monthly accounts, manage crew certificates, flights, immigration, etc. It’s important to plan your week out and stick to it, as no day is the same when in yard — and curve balls are thrown fast.”
“Refits and shipyards are brutal on crew,” says Chef Kriel. “Most of us are in the yachting industry because we like moving around to different places. We are not built to stay put in one place for long periods of time. I would advise that during a shipyard period to get away for a weekend at least once a month,” he says, adding, “Exercise in this period will help with the mental strain of doing the same thing every day.”
However, Kriel also sees the refit period in a positive light. “Refit duties is the easy and fun part. You get to order new toys, all brand-new!”
From the perspective of the interior, former purser Pierre gives a couple of examples: “If there are many electrical issues being fitted in the guest cabins, the interior will need to know when this is happening to be able to protect this. If the work is ongoing, the interior will not get the guest cabins detailed until all the work is completed.”
“Refit duties is the easy and fun part. You get to order new toys, all brand-new!”
Secondly, she says it can be difficult if provisioning while the teak is being worked on. “You have to find [imaginative] ways to get important items on board the yacht. At one point, the whole team removed a large piece of art and many other large, valuable objects for the owner as per their request during a refit period. We couldn’t get them off the yacht the normal way. A lot of teamwork was used, a lot of sweat, and it was very stressful not to damage it.”
- Write a super list of what is needing to be completed and achieved
- Source quotes for each job needing to be completed. This could include tradesman/companies covering varnishing, marble polishing, woodwork, varnishing, damage repairs such as sofa material, curtains, carpet cleaners, and faucet repairs.
- In some cases, you may have to get three quotes for each job.
- Get all contacts for the jobs being completed.
- Discuss with the captain and confirm what is able to be sorted within the budget.
- Liaise with the other heads of department to see what work is needing to be done to make sure what you are arranging does not conflict with their arrangements.
- Set out a super calendar of all the jobs that have been confirmed and communicate them effectively to the crew.
- Throughout the refit, you plan what needs protection and make sure this is set up and ready for the job to be started.
- Always be flexible and adaptable to change; things pop up or take much longer than expected.
- Manage the daily maintenance of the vessel and plan certain jobs later because if you were to do things before a certain refit task would be completed, you would only have to do it again.
In addition to respecting other departments and working together on the main task of getting all projects completed, Pierre stresses the importance of keeping calm and smiling.
According to McKeever, there are a number of tasks that a purser might be responsible for, including (but not limited to):
- Crew/contractor accommodation
- Arrival papers (importing/exporting the vessel)
- Local information for the crew: provisioners, shops, transport, currency, etc.
- Immigration for crew
- Per diem daily allowance
- Health and safety in the yard
- Yard security
- Contractor management (arrivals, security, paperwork)
- Budget management
- Project management tools for HODS
For Chef Kriel, his main duties to prep for a refit is ordering all of the equipment for the galley. As for his current refit period, his list has included the following:
- Make sure the new ovens will fit into the doors.
- Make sure that the power supply will accommodate the needs.
- Make sure that all equipment gets delivered in a safe and timely manner.
- Arrange with carpenters and installers on the layout and time frame.