Annual class surveys are a fact for captains of superyachts built to the technical standards of a maritime classification society or registry such as the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS), Det Norske Veritas (DNV), Lloyd’s Register, or Registro Italiano Navale (RINA). Once a yacht is launched, the class society typically requires it to undergo annual inspections by a surveyor, along with more extensive surveys performed at five-year intervals, to maintain its class certification. Some also specify intermediate surveys between these milestones.
Surveyors approved by the various class societies are located around the world near ports where superyachts go for service and repair work to facilitate this process. “A huge amount of our work is Class visits with approximately 25 projects at each shipyard every year,” says Philippe Groulx, technical office manager at MB92 La Ciotat. “We have a very close working relationship with class surveyors who are based nearby.”
“We work regularly to help our clients stay in a condition meeting class-required standards. This is usually regular maintenance with survey inspections requiring more extensive service at known intervals,” says Judy Salzman, project administrator at Thunderbolt Marine (TMI) in Savannah, Georgia.
The class societies do not take these surveys lightly. According to Engel-Jan de Boer, global yacht segment director at Lloyd’s Register, failing to do required surveys within the specified period and to the satisfaction of the Lloyd’s representative will result in an automatic suspension of the yacht’s class certification.
Other reasons a yacht might lose its Lloyd’s Class can include: not reporting all damages and defects to class; not reporting all repairs and modifications; operating the yacht incorrectly or not in a suitable environment; not maintaining valid statutory (flag) certificates.
Staying in Class
Yachts that are built, maintained, and operated to class standards generally pass their periodic inspections and surveys without issue. But there are still cases when a surveyor will find items that don’t conform to current class specifications and require they be remedied for the yacht to maintain its status. If you are unlucky, the issues will be big enough to require a refit.
According to Groulx of MB92 La Ciotat, these items could include “… corrosion, which could lead to significant hot works, as well as issues related to propulsion systems and underwater components. Corrosion is commonly found in areas such as black- and graywater tanks, ballast tanks, or concealed and inaccessible bilge or void spaces. To minimize such risks, it is crucial to engage in frequent maintenance, high-quality coating application, and conduct regular tank inspections.”
He listed other items that have popped up on class surveys: “Pump or electric motor overhaul, generator or engine works due to boroscopy that revealed internal engine issues, safety and lifesaving equipment that requires replacement or servicing.”
“We continuously have yachts [that] are being brought back to class or are in a refit period. The most important thing is to agree on a clear scope of work, including a well-defined inspection and test plan.”
Sometimes a survey results in a major refit project. Victor Iglesias, superintendent of RMK Merrill-Stevens in Miami, gave the example of a 45-meter luxury charter yacht that came into the yard early this year for a refit to maintain its ABS classification: “It had to have massive welding work done. We had to cut aluminum planks out of the bottom of the boat and weld them back together. We had to remove the engines and the generator to [do the welding]. It’s a big project.”
While a refit to maintain class can be costly in money and time, there are many reasons for owners and captains to go ahead. “They have too much to lose by falling out of class. The insurance will be higher, and resale value goes down,” says Rick Hambley, senior project manager, Derecktor Dania.
“The reasoning behind each owner wishing to bring his or her yacht up to class varies, but in our experience, reasons have included seeing class as a quality mark, increasing the vessel’s value, meeting charter/commercial requirements, bringing down insurance premiums, and improving the vessel’s reputation within the industry,” says Toby Allies, managing director of Pendennis in Falmouth, UK.
Hambley cautions that a refit project with the goal of keeping a yacht in class can be very different from a typical refit project such as refurbishing a vessel’s interior. “The main difference is going to be that the vessel is beholden to the class demands. The owner and captain of the boat no longer determine the scope of the refit. The surveyor for class is going to determine [it],” he says.
Hambley adds that while it’s common for a yacht owner to want to take advantage of a yard period to tackle other unrelated projects on the vessel, that may not be possible or advisable during a class-driven refit project. “If the owner comes to us and has two million dollars to spend … if you have a fixed budget like that, it all may be spent on the class project,” he says. “The owner’s desires might not fit in the yard period. That happens a lot.”
The protocols for the refit project also are different, according to Hambley. “The vessel has to set up all the class visits,” he says. “It’s usually the owner’s rep who does this. They don’t allow the shipyard to set those meetings up.”
In addition, the class surveyor may mandate only workers approved by the class registry be employed for certain parts of the refit project. “Bringing fire and safety plans up to date along with the required inspection of onboard systems and equipment is usually handled by class-approved specialized contractors with whom we work closely on a regular or daily basis,” Salzman of TMI says. “Electrical, metal, and mechanical tasks such as servicing or replacing valves, pumps, or motors, Megger testing of electrical systems, or cutting out sections of wasted plating is what our in-house technicians normally address. Sailing vessels usually have a relationship with a class-approved technician to take care of the rig survey.”
“The main player in these activities is obviously the registry company, which profiles and guides what needs to be done,” says Virginia De Carlo, marketing director at Palumbo Superyachts in Ancona, Italy. “It is rare for the request to be coordinated by the shipyard unless it is an original shipyard yacht for which we may also have a lot of supporting documentation necessary for such reclassifications.”
When organizing a refit for class, Stefano Biasotti, senior project manager at Amico & Co in Genoa, strongly recommended working with a shipyard that is experienced in that type of project. “The first step would be for the captain to contact a class representative and organize a kick-off meeting with the shipyard in order to discuss the scope of work,” he says. “Preliminary gap analysis would be helpful if performed prior to vessel arrival, in order to have already defined a study and scope of work and maximize the efficiency during the yard stay. For this task, normally a naval architect study or an independent surveyor is appointed, who works in conjunction with class and flag and defines the clear scope of work.”
He added, “… OEMs or designers and other owner’s original contractors who are already working with and familiar with the yacht since build may be involved and contracted with regard to their relevant work scope (navigation equipment, AV/IT, original manufacturer, original interior designer and specialist) on a case-by-case basis.”
“We do see it happen that someone who bought a boat for an exceptional deal wants to bring it back to class. It’s never going to be a cheap endeavor.”
“We continuously have yachts [that] are being brought back to class or are in a refit period. The most important thing is to agree on a clear scope of work, including a well-defined inspection and test plan,” de Boer says. He also stresses that class and flag should be kept informed throughout the project. With a major refit-to-class, Lloyd’s recommends designating a project manager who can coordinate communication between parties.
Timing is essential — the refit project must take place before the class society’s deadline. “At times, due to tight charter schedules, some of the yachts request a ‘condition of class’ to delay work required to maintain class status. But these delays have time limits,” Salzman says.
During the project, the class representative typically requests frequent progress reports from the shipyard and conducts vessel inspections at designated intervals. For example, during the recent class refit at RMK, “The welders had to have ABS inspection; ABS had to approve it,” Iglesias says. “Every job goes through three different inspections: preliminary, process, and final.”
“We do see it happen that someone who bought a boat for an exceptional deal wants to bring it back to class,” Hambley says, adding, “It’s never going to be a cheap endeavor.”
A yacht might go out of class if it has been laid up. “One example is Haida 1929,” Allies said. Prior to her 2016 refit at Pendennis, she had been laid up on the Truro River for several years with a class suspension. “Working with the [new] owner’s team and our local class surveyor, we brought her in to Lloyd’s as part of the refit,” he says.
Some yacht owners and captains will deliberately take their vessel out of class, especially if it’s only going to operate as a private vessel. That was the case with the 45-meter Cheoy Lee explorer yacht Dorothea III, which was originally built to Lloyd’s A1 Maltese Cross. The yacht’s former captain, John Crupi, says, “We took it out of class when [the owner] purchased it in 2011. I didn’t see any value in it. I did not want to interrupt our cruising schedule. Where are you going to do a five-year survey when you’re in Vanuatu?”
Eleven years later, when the owner decided to sell Dorothea III, the yacht underwent a major refit at Derecktor Dania that included bringing her back to Lloyd’s Class. The project was complicated by the fact that the yacht has a unique propulsion system incorporating a Schottel drive.
“Lloyd’s said, ‘You are never going to meet today’s standards,’” Crupi says. After going through an exhaustive process that included replacing the sea valves with Lloyd’s-approved valves and pulling the Schottel drive’s tail shaft, Dorothea III was restored to Lloyd’s Class. “It was an ordeal, but we made it,” he says.
In rare instances, a captain will be tasked to organize a refit project to bring a yacht that was not built to class into class status. “Dealing with a boat that has previously deviated from its designated class is usually relatively straightforward as we have all the history. However, coming into class with a vessel that was not built to class standard is much more complex as it potentially involves significant modifications. In this case, the captain and crew will likely need substantial assistance from the shipyard,” Groulx says.
“In order for a non-classed yacht to enter class, we need to follow an Acceptance Into Class (AIC) procedure,” de Boer says. At Lloyd’s, this entails:
1. Initial due diligence (including Risk Evaluation)
2. This report is sent to our Class Committee for evaluation. If they consider that the vessel can be considered for Acceptance into Class, we move to the next stages:
- The committee will authorize progressing with a pre-inspection, which is required for all AIC cases. A pre-inspection is a general survey to establish the condition of the vessel. A contract for this pre-inspection must be in place. A surveyor will come on board to carry out the surveys.
- The pre-inspection report is submitted to the Class Committee. If approved, it means that you need to sign formal Acceptance into Class contract.
- Following receipt of the signed contract the following activities need to take place: (i) Design review (ranging from high level review of previously approved drawings to full plan approval) (ii) Full surveys of the vessel (class and statutory surveys) (iii) Reporting and certification
3. Following the satisfactory completion of the surveys and design review, the vessel will be formally submitted to the Class Committee for acceptance into Class.
Allies sums up, “Put quite simply, the process we would follow includes a pre-refit survey, followed by an official vessel request to join their chosen classification society, an agreed and pre-defined work list that details the scope of works/requirements to meet class standard. All this builds to finally receiving approval with class certificates by the end of the refit with us.”
For captains, the takeaway is this: If your yacht is class certified, it’s to your advantage to do everything in your power to keep it that way.
Prepping for a Class Survey
Capt. Scott Newson of the 47-meter Loretta Anne, which was built to Lloyd’s Class by Alloy Yachts in New Zealand, offers some tips for getting through a major class survey quickly and smoothly.
1. Stay on top of the survey schedule: To do the five-year and 10-year survey, you have three months prior to the [yacht’s class certificate] expiry date. A lot of captains get screwed on the fifth and tenth. You must make sure you do them before the class expires. They really frown on it if you miss them — you come out of class immediately.
2. Know your class surveyor: Try to communicate with your surveyor ahead of a fifth- or tenth-year survey. You should start at least six weeks out. If you have a good relationship with them during your four- and nine-year survey, they will tell you what the class is looking for on the fifth and tenth.
3. Make sure the yacht’s paperwork is up to date, including energy status reports
4. Do your prep work ahead of class surveys: The surveyors love it when you have the prep work done and they have access to everything — your through-hulls, all your valves. Make sure the yacht’s fuel is low. I will always transfer fuel from one tank to the other … but the naval architects might not let you transfer fuel while the boat is on the hard. People get themselves in a little bit of a pickle there. Before the fifth and tenth survey, do a rudder bump test to see if there is anything weird with the shafts and props. Also test the cutlass bearings.
Get all that stuff sorted and you’ll be back in the water in no time.
This article was originally published in the August 2023 issue of Dockwalk.