Superyacht refit advice from the pros
2015-01-21By Louisa Beckett

Much of the success of a superyacht refit comes down to decisions made before the refit ever takes place. No matter the reason a superyacht goes into the yard for a refit, following the expert refit tips below can be the difference between a smooth and easy refit or rebuild process and one filled with time delays and headaches.

Proper planning can be the difference between a successful or problem-filled superyacht refit

There are several cases why a large yacht may undergo a refit – and by that we mean major mechanical, electrical, structural and/or interior work, not mere maintenance. The most common is a change of ownership, with the new owners eager to put their stamp on the vessel – such as a change in the accommodation or updating the interior décor – key reasons can also be wear and tear to engines and running gear and updating various superyacht systems, or even classification requirements causing the need for a refit.

Yachts required to schedule haul-outs every five years to undergo survey and recertification by ABS, Lloyd’s, RINA or their flag states will often plan a refit to coincide with one of those mandated yard periods. ‘They’re going to kill those birds with that one stone,’ says Eric Haberli, in charge of Super Yacht Business Development for Bay Ship & Yacht Co, a refit yard in Alameda, California.

The aft section design of superyacht M5 before and after her refit

If you ask Captain Rocka Romcke why M5 (ex-Mirabella V) – pictured above – checked in for an 18-month refit at the Pendennis Plus shipyard in the UK, his answer would be: All of the above. ‘We had a certain amount of heavy service work to do,’ he says, ‘and we had the new owner’s wants… just a few small things like a new stern, new engines and a whole new interior.’ In addition, M5 is getting new generators, switchboard, rigging, wiring, a fuel filter system, sewage treatment system, teak decks, electronics, engine room insulation, some winches and fittings for a seaplane on deck.

Based on his experience, Captain Romcke advises, ‘Plan well. Get help if you need it. A refit is always bigger than you think it will be, and it will always grow.’ Following this advice from refit professionals can ensure that the refit doesn’t grow beyond your control.

1. Start a superyacht refit early

Pendennis, which has yards in the UK and Palma de Mallorca, recommends starting the planning process at least 12 months ahead of the desired work start date. ‘With more substantial refits that may include structural work, such as a rebuild or restoration, detailed planning with naval architects and the owner is required prior to engaging a yard, so that any quotes can be accurately prepared,’ says Toby Allies, Pendennis sales and marketing director.

Pendesnnis recommends starting the refit planning process a year in advance

In addition, Allies cautions that if you leave booking a yacht’s refit slot until you are ready to haul, your first-choice yard might not be available. ‘Reputable yards are often booked up 12 to 18 months in advance. Pendennis, for example, has bookings already confirmed for [the 2014-15] winter refit season.’

‘It’s all about pre-planning,’ agrees James Brewer, director of sales and marketing for Derecktor of Florida. ‘The better the plan, the more successful the refit.’ Although he points out that no two refits are alike, in his experience smart skippers typically start the planning process at least five to six months in advance. ‘One year out is even better,’ he says.

Most yards hire subcontractors for some element of the project, and they need to be alerted and specialists pre-booked, as well as large components ordered. Keep in mind that yards also have maintenance periods when their own systems and facilities are refurbished or heavy equipment, such as the lift, is serviced.

Superyacht Attessa IV during her rebuild | Photo by Ted McCumber

Just like a house renovation, surprises can pop up when the yard workers start dismantling mechanical and electrical systems and discover new problems that need to be addressed. Captain Ted McCumber, who oversaw a three-and-a-half-year masterful rebuild of the 100-metre superyacht Attessa IV at Washington Yachting Group in British Columbia, agrees that at least a half-year lead time is required to plan an intricate refit. ‘With a large refit, I would always add 25 per cent more time to my estimate for all the unexpected surprises.’

2. Prioritise refit goals

It’s essential for the captain, owner’s representatives and the shipyard to work together to prioritise the worklist and develop a plan that anticipates, as James Brewer puts it, ‘the things that can make this more complicated’. What are the potential unseen or unconsidered pitfalls that may be present in a particular task?

Derecktor emphasises how prioritising tasks can make or break a refit

This process includes assigning tasks and guaranteeing workers’ and subcontractors’ availability well in advance of the refit’s start date. ‘We generally sit down with the captain and the engineer to go through that list and determine who is going to be the owner of that task, whether it’s the yard, the subcontractor or the vessel’s crew, what its priority date is and what the delivery date is,’ says Brewer.

Work that will be assigned to crew can be programmed into the yard worklist and critical paths highlighted to ensure efficient timing and working relationships as well as clarity of roles from the outset.

3. Be proactive before the refit

Parts procurement is another important step in the planning process, so each part will be on hand at the yard when needed. Brewer even advises pre-ordering parts that might not be needed, as one of the worst delays a refit project can experience is when the boat and workers sit idle for days or weeks waiting for a valve to be rebuilt or some other vital part to be shipped. ‘For the owner of a superyacht, generally time is more valuable than money,’ he says. ‘He wants to have his yacht back on the water as soon as possible.’

Stocking basic parts that could be needed for a refit ahead of time is an investment that can save time and money

Brewer cites a recent example: ‘We just had a 60-metre mechanical refit project with a very finite delivery date. So we went through with the skipper and essentially pre-ordered every part that could [turn out to] be bad. It was thousands of dollars of parts that might not be needed – well, ultimately they will be needed, but maybe not until five years down the road.’

It was a relatively small investment to make sure the yacht kept its charter commitment. He sums up: ‘The really successful projects will come in with a very clear and defined scope. Parts are already sourced, parts are on the shelf and it’s relatively simple to execute it.’ On the other hand: ‘It’s the ones that say, “Oh, we’ll figure it out when we get there” that run into trouble.’

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