By Capt. Ken Kreisler
With apologies to Shakespeare and his melancholy Danish prince—neither of whom were ever boaters—this still seems to be a fitting title for assisting in making the right decisions for your boat refit.
Deciding to do a major refit (and in this nautical scribe’s opinion they are all major) is something that should only be undertaken after seemingly, but quite necessary, endless research and legwork. This is in addition to careful considerations to the scope and costs of the project, bracing yourself for contingencies, choosing the right yard and key personnel, and making sure you get more of what you need rather than what you want.
To the point, back in the day I owned a 42-foot, Maine-built, wood Downeast lobster boat. She was a salty craft and I did my best over nine years of ownership to keep her that way. One season, having had enough rain, wind, and sun, I decided to undertake a refit of the open bridge and add on an enclosure. Enlisting the aid of a suitable carpenter, and with an acceptable file of bar-nap drawings and somewhat of an idea of what it should look like in order to preserve her distinctive profile, we armed ourselves with all the instruments capable of massive destruction and restoration and got to it.
Even with the best intentions and careful planning, once we got going we uncovered other problems that pushed the job timeline out further and added to the bottom-line expenses.
“We get approached in different ways for a wide variety of projects,” says John Fitzgerald, president of Saunders Yachtworks of Gulf Shores, Alabama. “And one of the first questions we ask is, ‘How are you going to use this boat for the next five or 10 years?’”
What follows is a list of priorities so you can put together a plan to take care of what is most important first and the rest to be done later. Of course, if there are no time constraints and money allows, then a more expansive undertaking can be laid out.
“With sportfish boats being mostly seasonal, sitting in a boatyard is not the most favorable situation for an owner to be in,” Fitzgerald says. If a repower is in the plan, for example, then that should be done first so the boat can do what it’s supposed to be doing while a proposed salon do-over can wait. “We’ve had boats stay with us for over a year whose owners were looking to do an interior refit, exterior paint, a new mezzanine, and a repower, among other things.”
One of the most important factors to consider is trust. That’s why you want to work directly with a top-of-the-line yard and, depending on the complexity of the project, this will help in determining how far you want to go.
“We stand firm on our ability to keep the owner as informed as possible with weekly updates and pictures in order to mark our progress. If the owner cannot always be present, we will work closely with the captain and our assigned project manager. As a full-service yard, we even have specialty subcontractors to handle any assignments requiring that kind of attention including in-house, authorized engine dealerships, crafts, and vessel systems,” Fitzgerald adds. “We did a forward collision replacement on two sportfish boats, which required us to make a mold of the sister ships and build new jigs. This meant everything had to be re-fabricated as per the original builders’ blueprints and computer files as to structure, fiberglass, electricals, you name it, in order to get them back to new.”
What is a common point of conversation across the broad spectrum of yards is the importance of communication with everyone involved. This will ensure that once things begin, it will be undertaken in the most efficient way to make sure there is as little waste of time as possible and to avoid work order changes that can go through the alphabet very quickly.
“As is practical, everything should be in place to make things flow from start to finish including having an outline of the full scope of the work before you even show up at the shipyard. And while there will always be discovery, you will still be able to keep your individual target in focus according to plan,” says Doug West of Willis Marine.
Having a project plan means providing the service/project manager with an entire list of parts and materials to get an idea of lead times, contingencies, and how all the jobs involved may have an impact on each other. “In our experience, as most captains are not project managers, this plan is usually developed with an assigned project manager or managing company and the boat’s personnel for this stage of the proposal. With a captain that has been on the boat for some time, this idea works well. A new owner/captain can often miss a lot of the details and cause the budget to soar,” West says.
Full-Service Yard vs. Market-Place Yard
As far as full-service versus non-full-service yards go, there is a difference.
“For example, Lauderdale Marine Center is a non-full-service yard in that it will give you a place to dock your boat while having access to 200-plus contractors for your project with no mark up or fee from the yard. The boat’s representatives will deal directly with these personnel. With a full-service yard, everything goes through the yard whether it is their contractors or subcontractors and will be able to negotiate prices accordingly. The big difference is that the yard will manage the project from start to finish with the vessel representative being responsible for the scope of the refit including lead times,” West says. “The important thing is when something pops up, someone has to be there to make the decision, sometimes on a daily basis, and make the call to the owner. This can have an effect on time and money.”
You might want to also consider seeking out a boat builder/refit yard to handle your particular project if indeed your boat comes out of its factory. In this way, any targeted updates will be to the boat’s original specs. This can consist of, among other proposals, engine rebuilds/overhauls, installing big ticket after-market items such as a Seakeeper gyro system, as well as other undertakings including mezzanines, pulpits, and electronics. “When one of our boats comes into the service center here in Riviera Beach, Florida, it is beneficial to our team as well as the owner because we have all the specific information from the New Gretna, New Jersey factory,” says Daniel Mueller, the Viking Service Center’s general manager.
An important factor to consider is if you are going outside of your original builder, and doing such proposed alterations could void your warranty should it still be in effect, you must check this out first before undertaking the project. “In some cases, a lot of boat owners will change their minds after they take delivery. This mostly happens on an older boat without some of the so-called up-to-date, necessary features found on a newer model including skybridges, pulpits, towers, teak installs, and mezzanines. We’ll do a retro refit using the molds from New Jersey and when we are done it will look like it came out of the factory,” Mueller says. “We have six project managers here, a dedicated person who takes care of deliveries, and like to work on a one-on-one basis to achieve the desired result.”
The one-stop, full-service facility allows all the trades—including engine manufacturers, fabricators, tower people, paint building—to have access to docks, workspace, and Travelifts for any particular boat owner’s project. Most important is finding the right yard with a skilled labor force. “What we try to do here at the Jarrett Bay Industrial Park facility is cover everything from engines to soft goods, and present a small industry of experts, often working off each other to achieve the desired outcome,” says Jarrett Bay Founder and President Randy Ramsey. “Having all this in one place gives the owner the tools and expertise they are looking for.”
While Ramsey is building bigger boats of better quality, Jarrett Bay’s refit business, comprising commercial and government work, yachts and sportfish boats, hauls some 700 to 800 vessels per year. These projects include boats with fire damage, those in such a bad condition that a total refit is necessary to something as simple as bottom paint and prop tuning.
“Each situation is different and must be approached that way,” Ramsey says. “One of the things that I feel allows us to attract refit and repair work, regardless of which manufacturer built it, is our ability to deliver as high quality a finished product, covering ride, safety, and looks, as you can find in the industry,” he adds. “It all comes down to having the right personnel on the premises at all times.”
Ramsey’s last point is well-taken and when carefully researching your individual project, it is a given that while the choice of a yard is paramount, it will be with those key craftspeople in whose hands you will place not only your boat but a great deal of money.
You might also want to consider working with a smaller yard, a sort of boutique facility, and one capable of handling your refit almost exclusively. “Most owners come in with a general vision of what they want to accomplish but a lot of them do not fully understand the processes and scope of work required to get them there,” says Steve Chaszar, president of Stuart, Florida’s A&J Boatworks.
What Chaszar is referring to is echoed by everyone else, whether yard or project manager, captain or owner, first timer or repeat customer—that no two projects are alike, even on similar boats. “Think of a repower job for example. Now that you’ve got those engines out, are you going to finally Awlgrip? Rewire? Upgrade your gauges or change your mounts? How about adding new insulation or LED lighting? Maybe it’s time to replace the batteries? And that’s just one example,” Chaszar says.
As noted, keeping things on time and on budget is also a very important component of the process and the more organized you and your team/crew are will form the foundation on which you will find things going your way. “What makes a good project manager? Having that unique ability to see the end before you start,” says Capt. John Crupi, the founder of Rubicon, a consulting/operational management firm. Having been through decades of major refits he began his company in order to “manage significant refit projects and solve complex problems on a regular basis.”
With details being the key, Crupi suggests you do a pre-refit survey and develop your project in a step-by-step process. Rubicon’s pre-planning book can cost around $30,000 to put together. To some it may be costly while to others it makes a great deal of sense. “You have to look at a boat as a business and in doing so, viewing any refit from this vantage point will greatly assist the overall success in bringing things home.”
Plan It Out
We discussed the importance of doing things in phases, this is to prevent tying the boat up with an arm’s length wish list. Rich Scheffer Sr., builder of Tribute Boats, suggests you should approach your particular project as if you were a boat builder.
“Start with the most important things first; what needs special attention up front, and once done, you can get the boat back in the water as quickly as possible.”
And if you are doing two jobs at the same time, avoid having the crews working against each other so as to compromise space and efforts.
“Complete everything you start. For example, if you are doing a refit on your cockpit and bridge, have it all dialed in; new mezzanine, teak decking, livewell, tuna tubes, and electronics. And have the same team start and finish. Picking up where someone left off is not recommended.”
Whether you are considering a minor or major refit, it can’t be stressed enough how important it is for you to create your wish list. And even within that, you will have generated the opportunity to scale things down from most to least important. “We like to schedule as many meetings as we can before a project is commissioned,” says Jeff Montz of SeaBrook Harbor & Marine in New Orleans, Louisiana. “This definitely makes it easier to create estimates, bring in shop forepersons, and depending on what is needed, assign a project manager. Most importantly, as every job has its own unique problems, and those which may be uncovered during the project, we try to stick to schedules as much as possible.”
If you are considering a refit, get it all out on the table. Everything you are planning to do must be written down, discussed, decided upon and put in the initial schedule. Making a bunch of changes while the project is in process will only cost time and money.
And while no two projects will ever be the same, and there is no real way to estimate the costs until a full analysis is done, you need a complete understanding of what you are attempting to accomplish before you bring the boat into the yard so as to avoid the dreaded, “As long as we’re here…” conversation.
You should set up weekly meetings, whether on location or remotely, in order to keep yourself involved in the project regardless of having your personnel on site. While no one refit will ever be like another, education is the key and the more you know, the more successful yours will be.
Refit Yard Specialties
Established in 2004, and located in Stuart, Florida, off Indian River’s Willoughby Creek in Port Salerno, A&J Boatworks offers 50- and 100-amp hookups and repair services including DIY, hull, both outboard and inboard engine maintenance, props, AC and DC electricals, air conditioning, and paint and varnish work. The Travelift is rated at 50-ton max. Ph: 772-286-5339, ajboatworks.com
Jarrett Bay Boatworks
The Jarrett Bay Marine Industrial Park is a 175-acre facility, situated directly on the Intracoastal Waterway on the central coast of North Carolina, halfway between Florida and New York. Its deep-water basin offers a 300-ton, 220-ton, and a pair of 75-ton Travelifts. Jarrett Bay’s core 73-acre JBBW yard serves as the centerpiece of the park, featuring dedicated service buildings totaling over 140,000 square feet, surrounded by on-site major marine service operations, ensuring that almost any recreational, commercial, power or sail support needs can be met. Climate-controlled paint facility, ship’s store, dockage and fuel. Ph: 252-728-2690, jarrettbay.com
Capt. John Crupi, a veteran of many major refits and builds, who has traveled the world for decades, established his consulting firm to oversee refit projects from start to finish. Knowing the full scope of a particular undertaking requires developing a Refit Book and can be the difference in bringing in an on-time, on-budget success. Pulling in industry-leading contractors along with his own deep experience, and keeping strict tabs on all expenditures, will take the guesswork out of the job for an owner. email@example.com, rubiconmaritime.com
Family owned since 1959, in 2012 Saunders opened a brand-new, full-service boatyard on 14 acres along the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) in Gulf Shores, Alabama, with accommodations for vessels up to 130 feet in length. The facility provides dockage and long-term dry storage, and features the largest lift capacity for recreational boats in the northern Gulf of Mexico. The fully-enclosed works building is designed to include a 50-foot door height to accommodate custom tuna towers. Next to the works building, a 13,000 sq. ft. covered space allows a staging area for vessels in a weather-protected environment. Carpentry and machine shops are located here as well. Saunders Yachtworks is located at mile marker 155.5 on Gulf ICW and offers a 165-ton Travelift and 3.5-acre service and transient basin. Ph: 251-981-3700, saundersyacht.com
SeaBrook Harbor & Marine
With 350+ boats spread out over some 14 acres, 80- and 120-ton Travelifts, a 27,000-pound capacity forklift, and the ability to handle refits, repairs, and just about anything that has to do with upkeep and getting you back in the water, Jeff Montz and his crew at their New Orleans, Louisiana, facility offer a full-service yard with in-house teams specializing in repower, retrofitting, extensions, painting, and interiors among other needs. Ph: 504-283-6001, seabrookharbormarine.com
With transom names such as Typhoon, Summergirl, HT Hook, Alican, and Donaken running deep offshore waters, Tribute Boats has garnered a stellar reputation for building superior custom sportfish boats. With its appeal to competitive and serious owners, as well as its selective clientele, this third-generation builder has earned its place among the rarified air of premier boat building. Ph: 561-262-6434, firstname.lastname@example.org
Viking Yacht Service Center
The Viking Yacht Service Center in Riviera Beach, Florida, features floating docks and a 150-ton Travelift. Includes a 125-foot by 150-foot open-end building with 50 feet of overhead clearance along with a three-story building with service bays and office space. With sister companies, Atlantic Marine Electronics and Palm Beach Towers on the premises, the Viking Service Center is a one-stop solution for routine maintenance, engine and generator overhauls, major renovations, mechanical, carpentry, fiberglass and electrical work. Viking purchased a second waterfront facility, a few docks north of the Viking Yacht Service Center on the Intracoastal Waterway. The two, full-service yards offer the boating community a high level of service. Ph: 561-493-2800, email@example.com
Whiticar Boat Works
Family owned and operated since 1947, Whiticar Boat Works was one of the first full-service marine facilities on Florida’s Treasure Coast. Whiticar can haul up to 75 tons and 18’ ½” beam and specializes in engine and generator service, repower, stabilizers, electrical services, A/C, carpentry, painting. Now offering certified outboard repair and service. Located on Willoughby Creek in Stuart. Ph: 772-287-2883, www.whiticar.com
Located on the site of the former American Custom Yachts site in Stuart, Florida, Willis Marine covers some 64 acres with an additional 90,000 square feet of boat building and manufacturing space. Covered repair and dockage facility is also available as is a 150-ton Travelift and an enlarged haul-out well for a 220-ton lift. Bausch American Towers and MarkCam Inc., the in-house design and CNC business, are now part of Willis. Additionally, a new waterfront facility east of NW Flagler Ave. in Stuart, Florida is being developed for new yacht customer deliveries very near the Stuart inlet. Ph: 772.283.7189, firstname.lastname@example.org