The path to build a new yacht from boat show to sea trial usually takes many twists and turns. Builders of production boats have an assembly line style of manufacturing that values speed of the new build to maximize profits. Building new production motoryachts 80-foot LOA and above follows the same pattern: reusable molds for fiberglass hulls and superstructures, a standard but limited menu of interior design and equipment options, and a precise estimate of “man-hours” needed to complete the yacht at a profit.
Imagine building a new house from a cookie cutter home builder. First, paying the general contractor a down payment, and then progress payments along the way, but never seeing the house until it is finished prior to closing. That’s the model that many production yacht builders prefer to follow.
However, the new yacht owner whose vision of their completed boat mirrors what they saw as they walked through the model yacht at the boat show, has high expectations of quality to match the multiple millions of dollars they have spent. Sometimes the expediency of production overrides the quality of the finished product.
Using a team approach for yacht building, with the owner represented by a project manager, captain and marine surveyor, working closely with the manufacturer keeps lines of communication open throughout the building process to help minimize surprises during the owner’s acceptance after commissioning and sea trials.
An experienced, credentialed marine surveyor is a must. Their skilled eyes will identify major issues and minor defects during the in-build stages and while inspecting the new yacht at the dock and during sea trials. Prior to closing on the new yacht, the surveyor works with an acceptance checklist in hand and methodically reviews build quality and conducts tests.
This detailed checklist covers hull and deck structure, deck outfitting, machinery, electrical, electronics, plumbing, interior outfitting and safety, with about a hundred items falling into these broad categories. Hull to deck joining, through hull fittings, cleat installation, engine vibration, shore power operation, autopilot functions, fresh water distribution, and anchor windlass freefall ability are some of the many items to be reviewed. Acceptance is a simple “yes” or “no”. If not accepted, the surveyor will note the problem and possibly recommend a remedy.
Examples of minor defects include cosmetic problems, such as dull gelcoat or mismatched gelcoat color. Ill-fitting doors that bind when closing, hatches with a small leak and warped floor boards opening to bilges under the cabin sole are quite common. Major issues either compromise the integrity or safe operation of the vessel. For example, an electrical equipment space without sufficient ventilation to allow converters, inverters and lithium ion batteries to operate coolly or an incorrectly installed hydrostatic release mechanism for a life raft.
The yacht builder, as part of the production process, assumes there will be a swift acceptance process, closing and handover to the owner. A long list of items that do not meet the surveyor’s acceptance criteria will cause a call back of tradespeople who are probably already working on building the next hull. Needless to say, this wreaks havoc in the company’s schedule for the next boat coming down the ways.
At this point, the owner and the owner’s team may need to negotiate and prioritize the remaining items to be accepted, as they may receive push back from the builder due to time, labor availability and cost. This can be a very frustrating period for both the builder and the owner. What has been an amicable working relationship to this point, can get frayed over a few key sticking points with difficult to reconcile points of view. Therefore, a well-crafted contract by the owner’s attorney with an agreed upon procedure for such situations, is vital at the start of the project. Ideally, the marine surveyor should be the final arbiter of all technical issues.
In the end, both parties will come to agreement, and the manufacturer will have delivered a well-built yacht that will meet cruising criteria of the owner. The savvy yacht builder knows that their last happy client is their best advertising for future customers. And a satisfied owner is usually very willing to have their new yacht on display at an upcoming boat show to allow the manufacturer to start a new production cycle all over again.