Superyacht Decking

ALL DECKED OUT

Mike Wills talks to the decking companies and investigates how they have overcome supply chain and logistic issues over the past three years, and asks about the various hardwood decking options and alternative materials that have recently come to light

Globally, the covid pandemic is now firmly in the ‘rear view’ mirror, the world’s breathing a sigh of relief from the human consequences however, its after-effects created a ‘long tail’ for businesses across the world which were badly hit principally with logistics headaches and getting finished goods to end users, coupled with managing volatile prices with crude oil based raw materials.

For most countries, the recovery was not a simple bounce back but slower than expected and with many countries further thwarted by the Russian/ Ukrainian conflict in Europe, many industries found themselves thrust into another type of global chaos.

Other than those companies negatively affected by sanctions imposed on Russian yacht ownership, the marine and superyacht industry has remained buoyant and insulated throughout, with most manufacturers and suppliers reporting rising profits.

I have been talking to key players in deck fabrication, to see how they have fared since the last report in ONBOARD magazine in 2019 and just how they have managed the past four years of ‘head winds’ together with a view of how they view the way ahead. This business is intrinsically international and relies heavily on imports of hard wood and resins for composite products often transported by container ships.

Back in 2021, for example the price of a container had drastically risen from $5,000 to $30,000. Labour shortages also hampered the supply of resin supplies with many incumbents quoting delivery times ten times slower than the previous year. Ever changing costs and unpredictable delivery times are the antithesis of trusted customer service and best practice in any industry.

There has since been another unfortunate problem because those decking companies that supply age matured teak, had a ‘double whammy’ as Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, had unfortunately, slipped back into questionable provenance and a lack of due diligence.

On 16th May 2023, The Environmental Investigation Agency reported that 12 American timber firms had imported high quality natural teak under the guise of purchasing existing stockpiles prior to sanctions being imposed in April 2021.

With wood for yacht decking being identified as one of the end beneficiaries, this market deteriorated further with the emergence of another military Junta in early 2021.

The current notion that the business yields ‘blood money’ for the Junta, has subsequently been aired in national press in the UK and no doubt beyond, further stigmatising anything imported from this country.

I donned my investigative hat and asked identical questions to key players who have revealed how they fascinatingly operate and continually innovate, from completely different perspectives in the same market place. My findings were intriguing and inevitably diverse.

Stefan Paust, Managing Director of Tikal, experts in teak levelling and bonding but not a supplier of decking, set the scene perfectly when asked how they have fared in the last four years.

“Sure, we were affected by the pandemic suffering several delays from raw materials to getting supplies of label stickers something so basic, that simply held up dispatch of our products.”

When asked about new pricing policy, he added, “ Prices have had to rise but delivery times, in the worst case scenario are now only 2 to 3 weeks as opposed to the 6-8 weeks we endured throughout the pandemic. Logistics have substantially improved.”

Innovation and differentiation from competition remains core to his business and remains robust, with the recent launch of Tikal Tef Gel, an odourless sea water resistant lubricant to add together with a new activator for synthetic teak (PVC). In the latter case and this is important to note, he has to balance the odds because he thinks that the market for traditional teak decking will shrink and synthetic teak PVC, will increase in the future.

Meanwhile, Timberlux Srl remains steadfast and a complete advocate of teak. The company offers, it claims, an ethical alternative to Burmese teak because it imports from the best plantations all over the world and confirms that its sources have been fully sustainable and replenishable for two centuries.

Compliant with European and other international regulations, Timberlux makes the point, by possessing a registered trade mark JST® which is designed to reassure its customer base, that sources are entirely secure, especially where yacht decking, their major market, is concerned.

I put my questions to Matteo Rossi, director, for Timberlux, who stated, “Yes we were affected like everyone else. Timberlux and specifically our product JST®. We kept stock levels high and were able to satisfy orders throughout. This has continued post pandemic. But there was a risk in our strategy because there was so much uncertainty in predicting our customers’ needs, especially when trying to anticipate when boat builders restarted production and started buying our decking. Fortunately it paid off as we remained ready when the market required us to be.”

When asked whether any new processes have been implemented, he added, “No new processes were adopted, but long term precision planning have helped a swift recovery.”

And despite everything, pricing policy has not changed either, he added, “We didn’t increase standard prices if the orders were in line with our normal modus operandi. However urgent or special requests could require a premium if it required special management measures. We are able to communicate any price fluctuation with our customers to ensure a mutually beneficial result.”

Timberlux remains highly confident about importing teak and despite the challenges, is largely unchanged with pricing policy in supplying natural wood to the yachting industry.

Ecodeck B.V., meanwhile, had a longstanding 25 year experience with supplying teak decking to the yachting industry but in the last ten years, took a different view. It sold the entire stock of the precious hardwood, in pursuit of what they say, was a feasible and sustainable alternative. Nothing other than a complete change of direction!

The material now used is recyclable and branded Ecodeck®. It is a two component polyurethane system and is produced with renewed and solvent free resins. In accordance with SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea regulations) and IMO (International Maritime Organisation) regulations, it has also been green tag verified therefore recognised internationally as a globally eco friendly product.

Niels Bruinse, Sales Manager of EcoDeck B.V., explains what happened, “We converted our entire production process and became fully focused on eco friendly materials which can be recycled after long term use on board, as yacht decking.

“For 25 years Herculan Marine became an established supplier to the cruise liner, military and commercial markets and now the leisure marine market. With their technology, and also being based in the Netherlands, both companies became partners. What it meant for us, that importing teak from anywhere in the world, for yacht decking, was no longer necessary.

“Last year in 2022, EcoDeck B.V. made a huge investment in time and money and with it, a significant transition and new

strategy. We have built a completely new production facility, the complete re-education of the organisation and the same with our contractors.”

As far as pricing policy is concerned, Niels added, “With the investment we can produce decking extremely efficiently by allowing us to shorten lead times which favourably affects the price to the end user. Our ambition is to become a leading global brand, by investing in various partnerships worldwide and we have started with Germany, Italy, Sweden and Australia. We have expanded in a short time. The high quality and the level of finish in fabricating a yacht deck, is amongst the most prestigious in the industry.”

Another deck fabricator had an equally robust set of answers to add to the debate. With its roots in faux teak it was clear that their expertise had become confident over its 15 years of existence in composite decking and when asked what their composites were made out of, the reply was, “We produce UV stabilised, outdoor grade, virgin PVC.” Worth noting and worth further examination but virgin PVC remains incomprehensible to my mind!

The fabricator in question is Permateek: With a vast array of vessels that they have supplied decking to from fitting out 60m superyachts down to much smaller production sail or power cruisers, Permateek is well integrated into the marine fraternity and Vince Coda, Managing Director, smoothly shrugged off the pandemic and the restless markets that have transpired.

”During the pandemic, business was unaffected and our turnover increased in line with previous years. We did experience some shortages of raw materials, but fortunately, we held sufficient stock levels that our production line was able to keep on running. Since then, we have doubled our production capacity, appointed many more distributors world wide and exceeded sales targets in the process.

“We haven’t adopted any new processes but expanded our production capacity in line with increased demand though Permateek’s versatility which, we think, is a major part of our success which lies in the fact that it can be cut, routed, and heat-formed to create curves, steps, or other intricate designs. This is important especially with smaller boats between 10- 15 metres.

When probed on pricing policy, Vince Coda commented, “There has been a slight price increase due to increases in our raw materials. But, fortunately, we have been able to keep this down to the very minimum.”

This was a sample of the top major players in the field of yacht decking that were candid about how they fared throughout the difficulties of the past three turbulent years. All have shown a robust approach to stocking levels despite the uncertainty of demand and whilst there still remains an untouched prestige of a natural hard wood decking system, the alternatives now offer something very similar.

In their conversations with me and heavily depicted on their websites, all claim to be ‘green’, however one stands out, with EcoDeck® becoming green tag verified. Internationally recognised in the Asia- Pacific rim and additionally with 70 other countries around the world, it relates to products or services that have a lesser or reduced effect on human health and the environment when compared with competing products or services that serve the same purpose. Awarded only to those that are prepared to be rigorously tested. This, Ecodeck B.V. believes, is an important USP and already features prominently in their marketing material.

Meanwhile, Timberlux maintains its vigilance in ensuring that its products strictly adhere to its criteria and with its own kitemark emphasises its credence in offering teak, a natural and durable wood that still retains the prestige and panache that befits many yachts.

On the other hand, Permateek, maintains that the composites that it uses, means it is harder wearing than many of its rivals and therefore once installed, costs less to maintain and in turn retains its appealing appearance for up to two decades, which it claims, therefore lasts longer than many alternatives.

With thirty million leisure boats in the world and counting at a healthy rate of increase, each boat needs a decking solution, whether fitting out new yachts, through the OEM route or alternatively, engaging the burgeoning refurbishment and refit market when used craft need that ‘make-over’. The leisure market from superyachts to production cruisers to RIBs, has become vast with huge future potential for deck fabricators of all types.

In my conversations with the key players, I was taken aback, by the diversity of products, ranging from DIY kits to full customisation services for a superyacht deck.

Remarkably, the business carried high stock levels throughout, to ensure that orders from any boat builders, once they recovered, would be fulfilled as swiftly as possible.

And finally the technology in decking also continues apace and whatever lies underfoot, think for a minute, when walking barefoot to the helm or hospitality areas, how comfortable, secure and cool it feels and looks. There’s an army of ‘back room’ personnel and technicians that made that happen for you, your crew and guests!

Forest Stewardship Council

Can shipbuilders can strengthen their contribution to forest conservation?

ONBOARD talks to Tijmen Hennekes from the Forest Stewardship Council™

Read more here – HEALTHY FORESTS, HEALTHY PEOPLE