Avoiding the Boatyard Blues

Plan, and avoid the boatyard blues

We had hauled our boat at a DIY-friendly boatyard and left her on the hard for a few months to dry out. We returned to prepare the bottom for fall cruising only to find a half-dozen new signs in big, bold letters stating that bottom-sanding by non-marina personnel was forbidden. In our absence, a well-meaning relative of an elderly boat owner had come in after hours and sanded off a 28ft boat’s ablative bottom paint with a vacuumless palm sander in a fresh breeze. The resulting pale blue dust had blanketed every surrounding boat. The marina owner, a good man in a bad situation, had covered the cost of detailing, but enough was enough—DIY would no longer include sanding.

It took some tense negotiations and a copy of the printed rules at the time of our haul-out, but eventually we were given permission to sand our bottom, provided we rented the marina’s vacuum sander and left no trace of paint behind. In our case, the story ended well, but we learned a valuable lesson: know the fine print, and keep it on hand, just in case.

Selecting a boatyard and successfully navigating its policies can be a challenge. From our own experience and those of countless other cruisers we have commiserated with over five o’clock cocktails, we have developed guidelines for avoiding the boatyard blues.

The author
The author

Compare price lists and boatyard rules for several marinas before you haul
Most marinas have a price list available for basic services such as hauling, blocking, launching, sanding, and painting.  Look for hidden fees, such as unusually high amounts for towing your boat from the slip, repositioning jack stands, or moving your boat if the launch is delayed. If you plan to do work yourself, get a current copy of the DIY rules, and ask about anything which is not clearly spelled out. Are water and electric available in close proximity to your boat? Is there an additional fee for/ limit on their use? Are there specific ‘clean marina’ procedures for sanding and painting? We have recently come across yards that charge a mandatory environmental impact fee for all DIY bottom work: the yard places plastic sheeting under the keel, then disposes of it when you are finished—in some cases adding a significant cost to the overall price of your bill.

Another consideration is whether you will stay aboard your boat during some or all of your time on the hard. Many boatyards charge an additional daily fee for liveaboards. If so, clarify what amenities are provided. Can you use all the yard/marina facilities, such as showers, laundry, pool, or lounge? Can you run power and water to your boat at all times? Can you receive mail or packages through the office? Is there a courtesy car or transportation available to buy necessities such as groceries?

The key here is to assume nothing, and if possible, ask for it in writing.

Haulouts can be stressful
Haulouts can be stressful

Consider the convenience of the boatyard’s location
When we bought our sailboat, she was sitting in an isolated rural boatyard. The closest marine parts store was thirty miles away. The first rule of boat work is that anytime you repair one thing, something else will need to be fixed. I must have spent a hundred hours driving back and forth just getting different sizes of stainless steel screws. We decided then that our next boatyard would have a well-equipped ships store on the premises or within walking distance.

Think about security
We’ve all heard horror stories about returning to the boat after a few months’ absence to find that it had been burglarized, or worse, vandalized. Insurance may cover the loss or damage but cannot ease the heartache or replace the time lost to repairs. Minimize risk by choosing a boatyard that is well-lit and well-maintained. Many yards even offer security measures such as fencing and gated entry. Constant activity will discourage vandals and thieves, so look for a busy marina/yard.  Don’t forget the surrounding neighborhoods. If you hesitate to park a car there for a night, is it a good place to haul your boat? When in doubt, secure and lock everything. A little paranoia goes a long way!

Meet the staff
The office manager may never lay a hand on your boat. Make it a point to talk to the yard crew whenever you are hauling out or having work done. Their experience and expertise are invaluable, and you may also be able to avoid the translation problems that can occur between the work order and the actual work.

No one buys a boat to have it sit in a boatyard. With a little planning, you can avoid the boatyard blues, and spend your time where you belong—on the water.

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