4 things you need to know about yacht project management

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Why a project manager is essential

Building a superyacht is by no means a simple process, with construction, legal and insurance implications all to weigh up. For this reason, employing an experienced and impartial project manager is essential. To find out more about what this role involves, Boat International spoke to Peter Wilson of MCM in Newport, who are the operational managers of Sybaris (pictured above) and are currently managing the construction of a 58 metre Vitruvius-designed Feadship, which is due for launch in early 2019.

“When a client commissions a large yacht project, he would be ill-advised not to engage the services of a knowledgeable and staunch advocate; someone entirely familiar with what is customary within the superyacht building sector but also fiercely independent with no commercial relationships with builders or vendors,” Wilson argues.

“The underlying responsibility of the project manager is to give guidance and protect the client’s best interests in terms of yard and equipment selection, cost versus value, design, materials and construction decisions. These are all choices that will affect his and his family’s use and enjoyment on board.

“His responsibility is to furnish the owner with undistorted advice without conflict of interest, which gives the owner the confidence to make educated decisions. Adhering to these standards will result in much higher degree of likelihood in achieving an on-time, on-budget vessel that meets (and hopefully exceeds) his expectations.”

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The role is always evolving

“Project management is a constantly evolving field as various facets of the projects develop,” Wilson explains. “New rules need to be adhered to, such as Tier III compliance for engine emissions (pictured above) and new flag state regulations. These have a direct bearing on the design and construction of the yacht — and there are inevitably attendant operational and cost impacts, which need to be understood and considered. The ability to manage the integration of these mandatory elements — and explain to the client the cause and effect — is one way in which the role is ever-changing.

“Furthermore, as there is an ebb and flow of contracts in the shipyards’ order books, the vessel’s price and the project duration is also a moving target. Insider knowledge of the industry and knowing the health of the candidate shipyards, relative labour rates and materials costs represents important information that one must be familiar with and be able to convey intelligently to the client.”

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Refits bring a different set of challenges

The main difference between refit and new-build yacht projects is the potential for surprises cropping up, Wilson adds.

“Even though the vessel may have been well maintained and thoroughly surveyed and inspected, there are frequently things that are impossible to know, prior to cutting some area open. Therefore, there is a need for quick decisions and a high degree of flexibility. Ideally, the project manager needs to be physically close at hand throughout the entire superyacht refit process as one will often need to go on board and discuss various options, consider schedule and cost impact, and how best to serve the owner.”

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What you should look out for in a good project manager

When asked for the three key qualities needed in a project manager, Wilson is quick to answer: “Experience, experience, experience”.

“An owner should look for someone who has a long track record in managing projects similar, or more complex, to that which is being contemplated,” he continues. “He should speak with the project manager’s previous clients to get a first-hand opinion of their performance and the success of the project.

“A good project manager also needs to be honest, tenacious and reliable. Ideally a person with hands-on boat-building skills as in many cases, the discussion may happen on the shop floor with the welders and fabricators themselves. Being able to communicate on that level of detail can be invaluable. Additionally, they should be someone with solid commercial and business acumen, with a history of having been to sea in yachts of all types in all conditions; someone who knows what happens on the darkest of nights in big waves, with wind strong enough to blow the oysters off the rocks, because things don’t always go as advertised in the brochure…”

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