Superyacht Shipyards & Refit

Amico ©Freaklance

Refit is big business and there are more yards popping up or transitioning from traditional commercial work into the superyacht arena. But, what is it that makes one shipyard stand out? Why should one be better for your yacht than another?

Captain Michael Howorth investigates facilities and considers what crew need to think of when choosing and entering a yard

At some point in their career, unless of course if it is a very short one, all superyacht crews will visit a shipyard. They will do so either incharge or as part of a team overseeing a refit or repair project. So, it makes sense that crews take an active interest in what makes a shipyard work for them when it comes to choosing one to work on a yacht. Yacht owners like to be involved in the way their yachts are run. Many take an active interest in the way it looks and how it is crewed, but very few owners get involved in the refit or repair process themselves.

Of course, most yacht owners have involvement at the beginning and the end of a project. At the start, they set out a list of changes they want made and then, at the end, they inspect the finished work and pay the final invoice. It is a fact though, that the grunty bit in the middle of the project, is crew led. So, while it is true that as in all things to do with the yacht, it is the owner who is the boss or as shipyards would call him; the customer or client, the fact is it is the project manager who is the one the shipyard has to satisfy.

The project manager is either an outside contractor appointed by the owner to oversee the work or it is the yacht’s captain. Equally true, it could be the engineer or, as is often the case, a team effort involving all key members of the yacht’s crew.

Regardless of size or age, every superyacht will, at some stage in its life, need to be repaired, maintained or refitted according to its applicable regulation. This means that, from a shipyard’s point of view, there is a never ending stream of business waiting around the corner. Where it not for the fact that superyacht repair and refit is a profitable business, none of them would bother to compete with the other.

Fortunately for the yacht owner, there are too many superyacht specialist shipyards for them to become complacent and therefore healthy rivalry ensures they stay on their toes when it comes to acquiring new business.

So, superyacht refit and repair shipyards market are setting themselves up to meet not only the increase in number and size of superyachts seeking to attend in the coming years, but also, they are being forced into meeting the new complexities that superyachts present when they enter the yard. Privately and off the record I cannot find a single yard that does not acknowledge that the people they most have to impress, when seeking new business, are the yacht’s Captain and the Chief Engineer.
On the record, they deny this, claiming that it is the owner or the yacht’s manager who are the more important party. Whatever the truth, there remains a powerful element of choice that rests with the yacht’s crew members when choosing the yard to complete the work.

This means that crew need to have a grasp as to which factors they must consider when they require repair shipyard services.

Commercial shipyards traditionally fall into two distinct types and these depend on the workload for which they are designed. The two comprise of construction shipyards and repair and maintenance shipyards. But superyacht yards tend to fudge the lines of distinction somewhat and builders the likes of Feadship, Amels and Lurssen are muscling in on the lucrative refit side of the business where they can, giving those yards that do not build yachts, a run for their money.

The big boy builders have got reputation and marketing might on their side but offer little else to the visiting yacht. The repair and maintenance shipyards have got geography on their side. This type of yard is characterised by its infrastructure and available facilities. Each have landside and seaside elements. The seaside is used for repairs afloat or inside floating docks. While ashore their space is used to store and work on superyachts lifted from the water by travel lift, crane or slipway. The area ashore is also used for support areas such as warehouses, workshops, stores and offices.

Having established which type of yard is the most appropriate the next task is to consider the other factors. Here, the background history, facilities, reputation and geography all play major roles. It is important to look at the benefits one yard offers when compared to others and it is prudent to check on references while considering the yards reputation and specialities. The attitude staff show and their approach to problem solving and future proofing their structures are all equally important.

What is it for example that makes one yard more attractive to customers? What is it that makes a Captain choose one yard over another? The Greece-based Lamda Nafs Shipyards is located within the major port of Perama, in Athens, and its shipyard is located at the port of Mandoudi-Evoia. Renowned for its steel, metal and piping work, it is the only shipyard in Greece that specialises in aluminium work and superyacht construction. Working to ISO 9001:2008, ISO 14001:2004, and ISO 18001:2007.

The in-house scientific staff includes naval architects, ocean engineers, mechanical and electrical engineers, while their technical department is contemporary, especially in elaboration treatment metal welding and special alloy works. Evi Leivadara, a Naval Architect and Ocean Engineer who works there says, “The thing that makes customers keep coming to our yard is the diligence, the time of the yacht delivery which depending on the yacht’s size is 2 to 6 months sooner than other shipyards that construct similar yachts, our quality which can be seen from the fact we have not a single claim in any construction or refit we have completed up to now and the excellent co-operation we have with our clients.”

Many yards can trace their modern day success back through the centuries. Among them Navantia, the Spanish, state-owned, shipbuilding company. Historically it is best known for its services to both the military and civil sector. It is the fifth-largest shipbuilder in Europe, and the ninth largest in the world with shipyards around the globe.

The company history dates back to 1717, but it has stayed apace with modern times and now goes out of its way to attract customers from the superyacht sector. The company’s repair shipyard in Cartagena, is specialised in the repair and reform of large motor yachts or sailboats. It represents a growing business for Navantia and works carried out in their facilities include, hull extensions, interior renovations, exterior painting, rigging service, technical services and machine room reforms. This centre has its own team of highly qualified people to meet the needs of yachts in steel, aluminium, mechanisation, electricity and carpentry.

Another Spanish yard with strong historic roots is the PTW Shipyard in Tarragona. It can trace its ancestry back to 1918 when it began handling craft as Astilleros Tarragona, the PTW Shipyard is now specialist in Yacht and Superyacht refit and repair maintenance works, built to provide quality services to yachts and superyachts. The shipyard was originally comprised of just one building, and a space for shipbuilding serviced by a single slipway for handling larger vessels. Today, the PTW Shipyard has fully renovated facilities that provide an updated, quality technical service for superyachts. Xavier Mercado, the Business Development Manager is proud of the client base and the number of returning yachts. He puts this down to the level of personal service each yacht receives. “We offer an honest and transparent service with a great team of skilled in-house specialists, added to our flexible nature, this is key to keeping the yacht crew a happy and delivering project on time and in budget,” Mercado explains. A member of the Melita Marine Group the shipyard is just 40 minutes by car from Barcelona Airport. Laden with hi-tech, state-of-the-art equipment, the yard is specialist in yacht painting, carpentry, engineering, welding and upholstery jobs all to the highest standards.

Shipyards with a good reputation often acknowledge that history has played a major role in their modern day success servicing superyachts. One prime example would be the Balk Shipyard. Ever since the shipyard was founded in 1798 by Sijbrand Balk it has been run by a member of the Balk family. Generation after generation, the yard has been passed on from father to son. Now, 222 years and 7 generations later, Daan Balk is at the helm of the yard on the island of Urk in the Netherlands. Over the years, the family has built up and maintained some great connections between Balk Staff and owners, managers, captains and crew and like to think that mouth to mouth advertising between for example the captain of one yacht to another contributes to the gaining of new customers.

In more recent times other shipyards have been founded. They have generally been created especially to deal with the ever increasing work load a fast growing fleet of superyacht offers. The KRM ship yard in Turkey is one such. Founded for the sole purpose of refitting and repairing superyachts, KRM Shipyards specialise in servicing superyachts in the 30 to 40 metre range but is capable of handling craft up to 50 metres. The main facility of the KRM shipyard is located in Tuzla, just 15 minute drive from the international airport and allows for quick and easy access for crew and owners alike.

As a facility it is part of a large marina with shopping malls, entertainment places, cinemas and a luxury hotel all located within walking distance. With secondary service points in Gocek, Antalya, Bodrum and Yalova, the company offers a Turkey wide support service to local craft and visiting foreign flagged superyachts.

Some modern day facilities are not even shipyards in the true sense of the word. They are instead clusters of nautical excellence and Bordeaux Superyacht Refit in the north west of France is a prime example. Developing refit and maintenance activity among superyachts along the Atlantic seaboard is the main mission for Bordeaux Superyachts Refit, an association of local shipyards, marine equipment manufacturers and companies. The nautical cluster provides and promotes on-site hosting of contractors, in order to position Bordeaux and the Nouvelle Aquitaine Region as a superyacht stopover, refit and maintenance destination for superyachts.

A 10 million euro investment has been made available for the development of the refitting and yacht repair activities and this includes the recent renovation of the drydock known as Bassins à Flot ship repair hub and is just part of the many major strategic projects being spearheaded by the Atlantic Port of Bordeaux. The local authority realises that encouraging and supporting this initiative will be a boost for local income and geographically, the location is perfect for yachts crossing to the Americas or those just looking for a trusted alternative to the southern French yards.Perhaps one of the newest entrants into the market is the 300t Origins shipyard, a dedicated refit facility for superyachts in the 30to 50 metre range. Created by MB92 La Ciotat shipyard, the facility, as the name suggests, is dedicated to maintaining and refitting yachts up to 300 tonnes. The facilities include 14 spaces on the hard, 4 of which are fitted with keel pits, as well as a 50 metre paint cabin.

Ben Mennem, President of MB92 La Ciotat explained this new venture: “The 30-50 metre segment is our historic area of expertise and requires a different approach. In order to cater for this smaller, yet just as discerning size range, we decided to create a dedicated facility that is able to provide our clients with a ‘boutique’ experience to maintain and refit their yachts. As such, I am very happy to appoint one of our longest serving team members, Philippe Escousse, who is a seasoned skipper and a very experienced project manager, as Manager of this new facility.”

Clients of 300t Origins will benefit from the best of both worlds: an agile organisational structure enabling a more flexible and tailored approach while benefitting from significant advantages of working with MB92, one of the world’s leading group of yacht refit shipyards: experienced and qualified teams, a significant network of high quality subcontractors, world-class facilities, customer care and crew areas including a gym, and an environmentally conscious approach.

Age is not everything and the old adage; experience outlasts all, is often a truism. As if to prove the point, the open shipyard complex operated by Astilleros de Mallorca has a long tradition on shipbuilding and in¬house workshops that ensure that work reaches and exceeds superyacht standard. Located in the Port of Palma, a short walk from the city centre, the yard was one of the first facilities of its kind to provide a full ‘one stop’ full refit and repair superyacht service centre in Mediterranean Spain. Its Palma based shipyard, with more than 500 subcontractors is specialised in offering an open yard policy ensures maximum benefits where every client can choose which contractor they want to use while enjoying reduced handling fees from the shipyard.

If Mallorca is the choice of cruising yachts in the western Mediterranean, then the Genoa based Amico & Co dominates the middle Med. Amico & Co is a specialised shipyard that again only offers only refit and rebuild solutions to superyachts.
With a range of superyacht facilities, from covered dry-docks to its 4000 tonne ShipLift and 835 tonne Travel Lift, the shipyard is incredibly well prepared for this type of work. Covered hangars with temperature controlled environments are ideal for painting projects large and small. A keel pit, as well as an ample technical marina space in the water paired with well-respected, in-house departments and craftsmen permit the shipyard to operate with maximum flexibility, optimising project budget and schedule.

he shipyard is located in Genoa in Northern Italy at the heart of a triangle covering an area from Viareggio to Milan and the South of France, including all the artisans and craftsmen necessary for servicing vessels working within the large yacht sector. Located just minutes on foot from the centre of the historical city of Genoa, a hidden gem and personal favourite, the yard is perfectly located for crews with an international airport and connections to other major Italian cities and nearby ski resorts. Genoa has been fully renewed over the last couple of decades, shedding its grittier industrial image and emerging as a riviera metropolis – once crews discover it, they return again and again as they really enjoy the quality of life that it offers.

Frequently it is the facilities offered by a shipyard that win the day and ensure the deal is signed. As part of the Italian Sea Group, the NCA Refit Yard, created in 1942, is strategically positioned inside Marina di Carrara’s port and offers its infrastructures and services to superyachts across the Mediterranean. It boasts the largest private drydock in the Mediterranean capable of handling superyachts up to 200 metres in length.

With 100,000 square metres of operative space, 11 warehouses, 2000 metres of alongside dockage, a floating dock for yachts up to 90 metres and a maximum capacity of 3,300 tons the yard prides itself with an excellence for refitting operations and the repairing of both power and sailing superyachts.

All the facilities in the world are not going to help when repairs become suddenly critical. As it says on the front of the T shirt: Ship Happens and when it does, geography plays an important part in the choice of a shipyard. Good to know then that quality repairs are not just confined to the Mediterranean basin.

Billed as the biggest little boatyard in the Caribbean, the family owned; Subbase Dockyard has operated in Crown Bay St Thomas in the USVI for over 35 years. Its customer base is impressively diverse -from European based superyachts to continental USA captains and mangers. From locally owned private boats, to commercial vessels owned and operated by government officials, the yard caters and adjusts to all customers and individuals needs.

Marie Kral says, “Our location is central in the USVI. We are able to haul vessels up to 225’ in our drydock. We have access to FedEx shipping for necessary materials We have dedicated project managers and we adhere to the highest repair standards in the industry. We use all high quality products. All of our metals are ABS certified: 316L and of the aluminium we use for marine application is 5086. Our paint is Lloyd’s registered. Crew has the option to stay aboard during repairs. We are in close proximity to the airport and town and all provisioning.”

On the same side of the Atlantic is the summertime destination port of Newport, Rhode Island. It attracts many yachts from around the world. The Safe Harbor Shipyard located there has a 500 tonne Marine Travelift, one of the largest in the northeast US, and offers many onsite specialty shops including: metal fabrication, carpentry, paint, and marine mechanics.

The yard works closely with a large network of local subcontractors who are experts in their trade and are onsite frequently. Popular with visiting yacht crew the yard prides itself on offering amenities that are convenient for captains and crew who may be spending long periods with them. These include a fitness centre, marina vehicles, ship store/chandlery and Belle’s Café serving breakfast and lunch daily with plans to serve dinners in 2021.

Popular with captains who seek a yard with a ‘can-do’ attitude is the Mutimarine complex based in Cyprus. With ship repairs and fabrication yards inside Limassol Port and more than 40 years of experience, Multimarine has been operating a Superyacht Refits division since April 2018. Its aim is to constantly excel in this area and offer top-quality services to Yacht Owners and Yacht Management Companies in the Mediterranean.

Speaking for the shipyard Angelos Phokas said, “I would say it is our attitude towards quality over cost that is an important factor in our success. Our company since its foundation is constantly aiming to provide the best quality to the Client, while keeping the budget and also offering very competitive rates as opposed to yards in the western part of the Mediterranean. The shipyard is run by family, and as such we are quite flexible in decision-making. The aim is always to satisfy the client without compromising quality.”

Not all shipyards are the same and some stand out from the crowd having established a specialty. After all, it would not make sense to the operators of a steel hulled yacht whose superstructure is of composite, to visit a yard where welding aluminium is its prime selling point. Velislava Ilieva the PR & Marketing Manager at Astilleros de Mallorca says, “We also use very well-known local subcontractors for painting jobs as Pinmar and Nautipaints, that have made Palma a hub for superyacht painting. The facility is well known for its workshops that tackle mechanical jobs and metal works. In Holland the Balk Shipyard has carved out a name for itself for aluminium construction and has a special hall dedicated to the task.”

Angelos Phokas at Multimarine says, “I don’t believe in those who say they can do everything. Therefore, you will never hear from us that Multimarine is specialised in everything related to a yacht. Instead, we can firmly say that we are unrivalled in offering top quality service in engineering and propulsion, steel repairs, hull treatment (for anti-fouling) and recertification of life saving equipment. These are done in-house by our technicians and engineers. We prefer to collaborate with specialised contractors for teak and top-sides painting.”

Sometimes it’s not services but location that is the speciality. Subbase Drydock is quite literally the only facility in over 500 miles that has two floating drydocks. They say, “We are strategically located in the crossroads of the Caribbean. There is no other facility capable of lifting vessels up to 68 metres and performing all work necessary with no need for outside contractors and we always have dedicated project managers so that each project is completed to specifications in an efficient and timely manner while upholding the highest repair standards.”

Often a captain will choose a yard because of the benefits it offers to his crew. In Italy, NCA Refit, for example, offers the ‘Village’, a high-end area fully dedicated to the free time of captains and crews. At the Village, people can enjoy a drink or have a coffee with friends at the elegant lounge bar or have a dinner at the restaurant, work out at the gym or relax with an essential oils massage at the spa. The internal concierge staff takes good care of all guests to make their stay comfortable and enjoyable. Crews have access to many activities for leisure, services for personal care, and will be able to visit some of the worldwide famous Italian cultural and historical spots.

The Balk Shipyard recently, opened its own crew house in the town of Kampen. They say, “The house is monumental and built in early 1900s in one of the most beautiful spots of Kampen. It is a 2 minute walk from the historic city centre. Besides that, the centre is picturesque, you also find all convenient shops from supermarkets to clothing stores. The house is also only 2 minutes away from the river “IJssel” where you find a lot of large sailing vessels.” Kampen has 2 train stations and a bus station. There are trains going to cities like Amsterdam, Zwolle and Schiphol Airport.

In Rhode Island, Safe Harbor has a fitness centre, marina vehicles, golf carts, a ship store/chandlery and a café. “Yes,” says Veronica Brown the facility’s Director of Experiences, “We think the captains and crew truly appreciate these amenities.”

Many yachts return to the same shipyard year after year. But how or perhaps more importantly why do the do that? Around 90% of Amico’s clients return for a successive refit or maintenance period, testimony perhaps to the positive feedback that its clients have regarding their experience in the shipyard.

Jessima Timberlake the Marketing and Intelligence Supervisor at Amico says, “The quality and reliability of the service has led Amico & Co to develop important working relationships with most of the Northern European new build yards, working often with Oceanco and others and becoming part of the Feadship Service Network.

The yard renews and improves the services on offer constantly, inaugurating its bespoke 4000 tonne Ship Lift in 2019 and opening Waterfront Marina, a berthing facility a couple of minutes’ tender ride from the main shipyard, in Genoa’s Darsena area, with dedicated and innovative services for crews and owners under development.”

Velislava Ilieva at Astilleros de Mallorca says yachts return there because, “We give the same level of attention to every client, but obviously the relation with the repeating clients improves year after year as we better get to understand their needs and they also know us better. We also have a maintenance plan for repeating clients where we plan and quote the following winter period prior to the departure of the yacht. This helps the crew and the owner to plan their following seasons time-wise and financially.”

While yachts do return back to the facilities at the Balk Shipyard it is a fact that in many cases it is the owners driving this decision. Daan Balk says, “We think key to this is that the total concept should be in the right balance which means price, quality, service and experience. Also, we think that everything mentioned above contributes to it. We like to put in just the little bit of extra effort and think that’s one of the reasons yachts like to come back to our shipyard. This mind-set is instilled in all our employees, no matter what job they do. It is like one big family”

The Italian Sea Group believes, “The reason we are successful in attracting repeat business is because we keep our word over and above the contractual commitment, making people feel at home, creating a community, not putting the shipowners’ representatives in a position to ask for extra budget not agreed, creating a trust, making them feel confident. In 5 years we have completed 125 projects and the new business has always come word of mouth.”

At Multimarine Mr Phokas is less verbose believing the reason to be; “Just by the quality of our service.”

Sub Base in the USVI agrees saying, “The quality of our work speaks for itself. We have many repeat customers that return annually.”

Planning for Statutory and Mandatory needs to begin well before certificates expire. But how long in advance should a yacht begin to for a 5 year survey yard maintenance period? The answer varies depending on which yard is asked. Both Astilleros de Mallorca and Multimarine believe the period to be: “Ideally the year beforehand in order to have space available.” While Balk Shipyard and Navantia suggest that is the maximum and the minimum should be half of that. A more technical answer is supplied by Amico & Co who say, “Class offers flexible timing for the survey window, but a vessel should be putting its budget together around a year before the window opens.

An 80 metre + vessel will need to ensure availability of the slot on the hard or in dry dock and with planning starting 12 months prior can ensure a range of options. Vessel HODs should hold and constantly update lists of ‘ideal work scope’ and provide clear details to quoting shipyards with equipment specifications, running hours, serial numbers and drawings as required when the moment is right.” Wonderfully laid back, the Italian Sea Group declares; “It is not easy to declare an exact time, it depends on how many bookings we have!”

But that same group is very busy with a future proof expansion programme and therefore will have increased capabilities. They say, “We have made general investments of more than €22 million over the last two years. From March 2021 there will be an extra 5000 square metres of land space available for us to use. From November 2021 a second mega dry dock of 140 metres by 50 metres will be available in addition to the one we already have of 200 metres per 35 metres. By Spring 2022 we will be ready with an additional 25 berths for superyachts up to 150 metres.”

One final consideration Captains need to take before booking a maintenance slot in a shipyard and that is references. In much the same way one would check the bone fides of an aspiring stewardess so too should a good Captain ask around. Just as reading the CV proffered by a prettygirl is not enough nor should a captain believe a yard representative, website or brochure. Captains should check and check again with colleagues who have recent firsthand experience of a yard.

Get it wrong and it will be the Captain who gets to ship out.