No matter how skilled you are with your own boat DIY projects, or if you even work in the industry yourself (as Chad does), there will always be some type of work that you end up having to hire out to professionals to get a job done. For example, in Southern California painting your own hull can be quite difficult due to environmental laws and the scarcity of affordable dry storage options. It puts a monopoly on the market to a degree and as a result, boat owners like us end up having to shell out the cash for a job we could otherwise do ourselves. To boat owners, shipyards are at times a necessary evil and during others, a saving grace when the project is too intensive to tackle alone.
Be specific with your marine service requests
Whether it’s a repair or an upgrade of some kind, being specific is essential. What is “right” to you may be different than what is “right” to another boat owner, so don’t assume the shipyard knows what you mean. If your request is something like “add a thru-hull for a watermaker,” you may want to have some additional details included like, where exactly should the thru-hull go? Which angle should the fitting turn? What, if anything, are you going to mount the fitting on (e.g. our new thru-hulls are mounted on starboard and this was only done by request)? The last thing you want is to have to pay for the additional man hours to make an adjustment because you failed to voice your specific preferences.
Go to the shipyard and inspect the progress
This one is tough, it requires actual time on your end as a boat owner to go and check on the marine service you’re paying for as it’s happening. This mostly pertains to larger jobs that require multiple days of work, which if your boat is at a shipyard, this likely applies to you. Don’t, I repeat don’t, be the owner who sits over the technicians shoulder the entire time they’re working; but do be one that cares. If something is going to be installed on your boat and you don’t like where the mounting block was placed, you want to notice this before all the wires have been connected, not after. A phone call will likely not reveal these kinds of details. This goes hand-in-hand with our previous tip to be specific before the job begins.
Build a positive relationship with the shipyard employees
This applies to not only the owner of the shipyard or the folks in charge, but the actual people who will be providing the manual labor. You are trading your cash for their sweat equity, so treat them with the respect they deserve and they’ll treat your boat with the extra care and attention you want. In our case, this required testing our Spanish skills out just to communicate, but making that effort has gone a long way in our boat being more than “just another boat” to them. Chances are the shipyard owner isn’t going to be the one down on their hands and knees doing the actual work and getting epoxy or paint all over their clothes to service your boat. The person doing that is going to be the one that most boat owners will overlook, walking by without saying hello or even looking their way. Don’t be that owner.
When speaking with the shipyard owner, be concise and clear about what you want done and if you have any special requests, the earlier you make those in the boat repair process, the better. These people have a lot to plan for and coordinate that you might not realize – ordering parts, reviewing the invoice, scheduling workers, and the list goes on. Before you meet with them, have your thoughts organized and throw a few praises in when you bring forward any grievances. No one likes to hear only the negative.
Take photos of your boats condition before giving it to the shipyard
Think of this as your insurance baseline. Before a hurricane strikes, homeowners take photos of their home and possessions to set a baseline. To be honest, shipyards can be a little like hurricanes. Boats are constantly moving in and out and several workers will likely step foot on your boat during its stay. You have no guarantee that your hull won’t get scratched when it’s being moved (this happened to us) or that a worker won’t drop their drill and dent your flooring. The marine service industry varies drastically when it comes to care and attention given to keeping a workspace orderly and avoiding careless mistakes. Having these photos on hand will allow you to refer back to any damage you think occurred while it was in the care of the shipyard. This is the leverage you need to ensure they make it right before you pay your final invoice.
Do your homework
Simply put, the more you know, the better you’ll be able to look out for your interests. With marine service, there are often several ways to accomplish the same goal and you want to make sure you’re going to get the final result that best suits your boating needs. What works best for a daily fishing charter boat isn’t always the same as what works best for a racing sailboat but a shipyard may not make this distinction with their work. A good example of this is bottom paint. Many shipyards will recommend the bottom paint they have the best wholesale deal on and while their recommendation might get the job done, perhaps it’s a bottom paint that performs better in brackish waters and you’re about to leave your nearby waters for saltier ones.
Consider getting a third-party survey
For the high ticket and intensive projects that you’ll have a shipyard complete, getting a surveyor to come verify the work is completed up-to-par might be a good idea. This is especially important if the work done has any safety implications such as repairing a hole in the hull. The last place you want to find out corners were cut is out at sea.
Lastly, shipyards can sometimes be a jack of all trades and master of none.
Don’t expect that a shipyard is going to be the best regarding all aspects of marine service. In most areas, there’s a rigging company known as the best, a fiberglass company known as the best, and yet another company that’s known for being the best woodworkers. Sometimes they’re full-blown companies, other times just a guy with a truck who does excellent work. If you have a specific project (e.g. fiberglass repair), you may want to ask other boat owners for references for that specific project before you default to using a shipyard.