Focus on Refits - Potential Pitfalls to Avoid During a Refit

13 October 2009 By Louisa Beckett
Photo by Frank Trotman

As the world’s financial woes continue, some owners who normally would be in the market for a new yacht are starting to see the wisdom of buying a brokerage vessel instead. Others are holding on to their old boats longer than usual before building or buying a new one.

Both of these trends can be summed up by the same word: REFIT.

But a poorly planned and executed refit can wind up costing the boss almost as money as he saved by not building a new boat in the first place. Since the captain often ends up in charge of the refit, how he or she handles the project often can make the difference between a smooth job or a costly, out-of-control one (See Refits Gone Rogue in the August 2009 issue of Dockwalk).

Here are six common mistakes captains make while managing a refit – and how to avoid them:

1. Not reading the boss’s mind. Refits go wrong when the owners, the captain and the shipyard aren’t on the same page when it comes to the ultimate goal and scope of the project. Are you simply updating the yacht’s soft goods and equipment, or are you “taking her back to bare metal” and transforming her into a whole different vessel.

Capt. Phil Parker, master of the 108-foot Delta Princess Gloria, took his yacht’s new owners on a cruise in the Pacific Northwest before bringing her back to Delta Marine for the award-winning refit that changed her into M/Y Stampede. By watching how the owners and their family used the yacht, he was able to help them articulate the changes they wanted the yard to make in advance of the project. But even if you don’t have the luxury of a “preview cruise,” experts agree that open communication between the captain and the boss is the key to a smooth refit.

2. Not checking the shipyard’s references. “Contact the most recent half-dozen customers,” Capt. Parker says. Call the last one on the list first, since it’s human nature to put the best reference first. He also recommends asking for references and work samples from all the vendors involved in the refit project.

3. Picking a shipyard on price alone. You get what you pay for, in Capt. Parker’s experience. “I like shipyards for their extremely high level of expertise, willingness to pioneer new ideas and technologies and daily unquenchable enthusiasm for creating the best possible yachts,” he says. That’s something you just don’t get at a cut-rate yard.

4. Keeping the bad news from the boss. “A lot of the time, it’s the captain not getting the information to the owner – [like] not wanting to break it to him that they need a new engine,” says Eli Dana, yard manager/dockmaster of Newport Shipyard in Newport, Rhode Island. That can lead to projects running longer and costing more than expected when the owner finally sees the whole picture.

5. Not planning early enough for the project. “The biggest thing is to have communication before a refit; to have the job planned out before coming in,” Dana says. In particular, he recommends ordering the necessary parts in advance in order to avoid late shipping charges and delays. Planning ahead also allows the yard to start the project when you arrive, without making you wait around.

6. Letting your ego get in the way. “Set aside your ‘Captain’ persona, as this usually includes a fair amount of autocratic behavior,” advises Capt. Parker. “If you convince the yard that you are an ‘expert’ on everything, you will only get as good as your ‘expertise’.” Instead, he says, “Arrive early, leave late…a cup of coffee with the shipyard director before work starts a couple of times a week, and a bit of a cleanup and set up after quitting time will help with the next day’s work and help keep the project on course….”