Choosing a Yard

12 October 2010 By Gary Beckett

When it comes to selecting a shipyard to handle a refit, engine overhaul or even routine service on a superyacht, you’d think that in these belt-tightening times, price would be the primary consideration for many captains. But according to the yard managers we spoke with, the tab is almost never at the top of the list. In fact, according to Steve Shaw, service manager for Derecktor Connecticut in Bridgeport, and Eli Dana, yard manager and dockmaster for Newport Shipyard in Newport, R.I., cost typically comes in third after quality and capability, also location plays a major role.

Here are some things to keep in mind when shopping for a shipyard:

1. Give me a lift

OK, this is obvious – the yard must have the depth to accommodate your vessel and the capability to haul it if necessary, depending on the project at hand. The good news is that as yachts have gained in both LOA and volume in recent years, shipyards seeking more yacht business have invested in bigger lifts and improved their infrastructure accordingly. Derecktor Connecticut, for example, widened its dry dock in June 2010, enabling it to haul vessels of up to a whopping 4,000 tons.

2. Quality is job one

According to Shaw, the top question in most captains’ minds when considering entrusting a new yard with their boat is: “Is it a yard that’s used to dealing with yachts of my caliber?” The best way to determine that often is to ask for a list of yachts that recently had work done at the yard in question.

Dana agreed. “Generally most of the captains will know the other boats that have done a lot of work with us.” He cautions against judging a yard by the types of yachts that are currently in for service, however. Newport Shipyard is often mistaken for a facility dedicated to sailing yachts by potential clients who stop by in mid-summer, but in reality, its clientele often depends on the season. Large sailing vessels that do a direct run back and forth to the Caribbean cruising grounds each year call in for service in the spring and fall. But powerboats, which typically stop in Florida or along the Atlantic Seaboard, before coming to the Northeast, frequent Newport Shipyard in the summer.

3. Have your people call my people

Especially when a major refit is in the offing, for many captains, the “make or break” consideration in selecting a yard is whether or not it will let him bring in his own subcontractors to work on the project.

“We are a little bit unique,” said Dana. “We work with a lot of subcontractors, but we also have our own workforce of between 30 to 40 skilled guys. Captains have a choice.”

4. Location, location, location

When it comes to a long project like a six-month refit, the shipyard’s location, including the availability of decent housing nearby for the captain and crewmembers involved in the job, becomes an important factor. “It’s a big consideration. We definitely help them out and help them find the right accommodations,” Shaw said. “And New York City is only an hour away.”

Dana pointed out that the yard’s proximity to a desirable destination can be equally important to the yacht’s owners, and it can prove less disruptive to their cruising schedule. “They can get off the boat here,” he said. “And the yacht doesn’t have to go away for a yard period for the smaller stuff.”

5. Familiar faces

Yards that maintain a consistent, high-quality workforce over a long period of time also enjoy repeat business because of the rapport that builds between the yacht crew and the workers. “When the captains get back into port from the Caribbean or Florida, they make a point of stopping by to say hi,” said Dana.

6. Customers for life

“In my view, customer service is essentially important to having a good refit,” said Shaw. “My phone is on 24/7 and I make sure our project managers are available.” Communication also is important, with daily meetings between clients and the yard, and transparency in all operations. “We have full disclosure,” he said.