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Refits are an essential part of each superyacht’s lifecycle. Once they have been built, they can’t just be left as they are forever more; maintenance and upgrades are necessary to keep them safe – and to preserve value.
As such, a refit will be something every owner, captain and crew member experiences at some stage during their careers. Probably more than once.
Whether it’s a repair, renovation or complete overhaul, these projects are huge and often complex. To ensure things run as smoothly as possible – and to limit the chance of delays and rising costs – it’s important that everything is managed effectively.
Yachting Pages caught up with Xavier Mercado Rabella, CEO of ptw Shipyard in Tarragona, Spain, to devise a handy guide for those involved in a superyacht refit project. He believes a refit to be ‘successful’ when it is completed on time, within an agreed budget and to the highest standard. He cites a positive synergy between owner teams and the shipyard as the key to delivering on these criteria.
Keen to experience this kind of project on your yacht? Follow his 10 top tips to help ensure everything goes according to plan.
This may seem obvious ahead of any project, let alone a yacht refit, but it’s impossible to overstate the importance of good preparation. To all intents and purposes, it’s probably the most crucial stage.
“If done carefully, it can greatly reduce the risk of issues and delays cropping up. It is important to ensure that you stay focused on the goal and that everyone involved is on point and clear about what is required. Draw up a worklist and consider the possibility to include other essential maintenance or works such as annual surveys or painting so as to maximise your shipyard visit.
“Ensure that you begin your planning early and with more than enough time to realise the entire project. Know exactly what your vessel needs, be realistic and have a clear understanding of what is required to realise the project. Refits are never a ‘just wing it’ situation and a full plan should be set in stone before your arrival at the shipyard. Owner, captain, crew and shipyard should all be on the same page and have a clear understanding of the end goal.”
The next step is solid organisation. Consider the refit as being a series of smaller, bitesize projects that make up one big project.
You simply cannot legislate for every single eventuality, especially those beyond your control, but by taking a holistic view of the project you can make sure as much as possible is organised ahead of time.
“Once you have ascertained what needs to be achieved in the refit you need to begin organising the entire project. Refits often involve a number of mini-pro- jects and ensuring that each step is carefully planned and organised can ensure a smooth flow and best use of shipyard and contractors time thus reducing costs and maintaining deadlines.
“While it’s fair to say that refits can be notorious for churning up the unexpected, looking at the big picture goes a long way to reducing the possibility of unwanted surprises. Assess the yacht’s needs from a realistic point of view because fully understanding the vessel is your best indicator to possible hiccups which may be encountered.”
The budget, unsurprisingly, is the aspect of the project that everyone has an opinion on – and invariably there is never a unanimous verdict. The only way a true and accurate figure can be achieved is when the objectives are clear and the parameters have been clearly laid out.
“An owner will of course want as low a figure as possible, the shipyard will be pushing the bottomline upward while the captain and project manager will be somewhere in the middle trying to achieve the best outcome while ensuring all goals are achieved to a high standard. However, only once the project’s parameters are decided can the budget really be accessed because without a clear vision it’s impossible to know what the scope of the project will be.
“Begin by drawing up a clear and concise brief of the refit project, including all the yachts’ specs and data to allow an accurate evaluation of the project by technicians, designers, and engineers.
“Preparation and planning are key components to staying within budget as last-minute changes or surprises can quickly cause your budget to spiral into overspending. Having a realistic knowledge of lead times allows for parts to be sourced and delivered at the best possible price and eliminates dead time at the yard.”
Planning and organisation, as you’ll be well aware by now, are pivotal. However, it would be naïve not to anticipate some delays during your yacht’s refit project. Sometimes it’s out of anybody’s realistic control, and it’s savvy to accept this ahead of time.
“Having penalties in place to minimise delays is of course acceptable practice but understanding what you’re asking of the yard and being realistic will provide you with a more definitive timeline than just coming up with an arbitrary date.
“Be open-minded about the advice and recommendation from the shipyard on a particular product or service over another, as sometimes the least expensive may not be the best option and shipyards have experience from previous projects, which helps. Remember, refits are their business, it’s what they do best and their history and knowledge working with products will hold more proven insight.
“It’s vital that the captain, owner and shipyard work together to prioritise the work list and devise a plan that anticipates potential unseen issues that may arise during the refit project. To save time and avoid delays it’s a good idea to discuss and agree a backup plan that includes acceptable optional changes to save time and allow a more fluid refit.”
Taking the time to get to know your shipyard in advance will ultimately be hugely beneficial. Asking other captains and owners for recommendations is a good way of ascertaining the competence of a yard and their ability to complete your project. Who offers the cheapest quote shouldn’t be the most crucial factor.
“Putting time and effort into your shipyard research will pay dividends in the end. Refits are an expensive business and there is a vast array of yards offering services in the superyacht arena. Take the time to get to know who you’re working with. Experience and technical knowledge are fundamental for the preparation of a refit so do your research and ask for recommendations from other captains and owners. Be careful when choosing a yard; just because it offers the cheapest quote it does not mean that you are getting the best value for money. Though it’s vital to be meticulous about your budget you need to understand why a quote is so cheap and compare the quote with other yards to avoid any nasty surprises.”
Another thing to consider is the location of the shipyard you ultimately trust with the refit. It needs to be a logical choice in respect of your country and intended cruising grounds.
“When selecting a shipyard ensure that the location you choose for your refit is a logical one for your country and superyacht cruising ground needs. Different yards are better equipped to deal with different types of projects and vessel sizes, so reach out to your peers and the superyacht community to ask for recommendations to ensure that you find the best possible yard to take on your specific project.
“Getting to know the shipyard in advance of the refit will also improve a refit experience immeasurably, so pre-visits are ideal and can ensure the technical team can hit the ground running once the vessel arrives at the yard, saving time and ensuring a smooth refit process from the outset.”
As alluded to earlier, a cohesive relationship between everyone involved will undoubtedly lead to greater efficiency – and even a more enjoyable experience.
“As well as thorough preparation, a successful refit also needs both owner crews, contractors and the yard to work coherently. Taking time to build strong relationships with the shipyard staff and acquainting yourself with the security provisions and emergency services at the yard will make all the difference and ensure a successful outcome.”
Do not underestimate the value and significance of the crew. They know the yacht inside out and can identify the areas that require the most attention. This type of insight is invaluable and contributes to a productive working relationship with the yard.
“The owner crew can be a valuable missing link between the shipyard and owner to guarantee the best quality and project outcome. Having the crew involved in the refit keeps them informed with what the shipyard is doing but also they are the ones who know what areas of your superyacht needs most attention as they are the people who work on, live in, and maintain it.
“They can assist the yard in making decisions, improving the quality of the work as well as checking and reporting so as to keep the refit on point and within budget.
“Choose a project manager who is well prepared, organised, unflappable and offers regular scheduled updates – but also knows how to get the best out of all project members. The project manager needs to be able to schedule each aspect of the refit project and allow an appropriate amount of time for workers to effectively do all aspects of their job, so they are not working on top of one another.
“Everyone needs to know their exact role, what is expected of them and how they fit into the wider schedule so as to align all the works at the yard.
There is no such thing as too much communication, but a lack of communication does exist; and it can have repercussions. The art of communication is essential in all aspects of life.
“It must be said that communication is fundamental to every aspect of the refit process, from planning to completion. Lack of communication and miscommunication are the main factors in a refit going off course. From the outset it is vital to give clear and precise instructions that don’t leave any room for misinterpretation. Make sure you provide a proper and detailed description of all the works to be executed.
“The first step should be a meeting of the project manager, captain and crew to draw up a thorough yacht refit worklist so there is a clear and concise idea of the scope of what the superyacht will undergo. This will also allow for more accurate budgeting and timings and it is imperative to have this from the outset of the process. This worklist will benefit everyone as it details exactly what work the client wants and guides the shipyard through what needs to be done, allowing them time to plan any additional work and ensure the budget is not compromised.
“All job changes or additions to this worklist should be done in writing so that all amendments can be tracked and back-checked to avoid slip ups and further delays.
“Another option to help with communication during a large refit is to secure the service of an Owner Representative. This representative will act in your interest, taking a key role throughout the refit process and act on your behalf in all discussions and decisions with the shipyard, surveyor, class external subcontractors, etc., saving you time and money. The Owner Representative will also handle all discussions with Flag convenience and provide you with tax savings through the TPA inward process.
“Taking all of the above factors into account will ensure that a superyacht is back on the water on time, with the refit completed within budget and will help to engender a solid and lasting relationship between owner teams and the shipyard.
“Superyacht refits are no longer seen as just necessary servicing to ensure the safe operation of the vessel. Nowadays they are viewed as legitimate contenders to new builds. However, even the most straightforward refit projects should never be undertaken lightly.
“Every step needs to be meticulously planned and thoroughly managed throughout. Definite specifications and planning, accurate yard assessments, sourcing knowledgeable and experienced management teams are all absolutely essential to ensure that owners get the refit they desire from the project conception.”
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