Overseeing a refit project can be a daunting task for captains as it is a crucial time for the yacht, with a lot of different factors to consider and the potential for things to go wrong. The Crew Report recently heard from David Wharton, managing director of Marine Solutions Asia, who recognises the issues that can be thrown up during the refit period, especially in foreign cultures, and has particular advice about the refit process.

“One industry-standard issue is that many captains aren’t necessarily prepared or equipped for a major refit or alteration projects,” Wharton observes. “This is understandable as the technical fields of naval architects, shipwrights and systems engineers have little in common with the day-to-day operations of the yacht. The captain may be a very competent master, mentor and crew leader - amongst the never ending list of their responsibilities - but once you take the yacht out of the water and place it in a yard, it is a completely different and alien environment, requiring a vastly different skill set.”

“Some owners seem to understand this dynamic and will support their captains with professional project managers for the duration of the project,” he continues. “The captain is still looking after the owner’s best interest, the wellbeing of the crew and ultimately the vessel, but they have the support of industry experts who know what to expect during a yard period and can keep the project on track when issues arise. Having an experienced project manager on the team to communicate with the contractors at a high technical level, schedule and track the process with a solid understanding of the considerations, advise the captain of the options, and help find the best solution will save on time, stress and ultimately project costs.

"From a yard and contractor's perspective, issues commonly arise from the ‘unknowns’ at the time of preparing estimates and scheduling work and yard space; A contractor can estimate with the best of intentions that a specific task is going to take x number of hours with ‘x’ many tradesmen and will require these materials etc, though when  the project starts they may find that there were unknown and often previously undiscoverable factors such as corrosion in the base materials, inaccessible trunking and conduits or broken or unserviceable ship systems and equipment. How this is then managed is paramount to the overall success of the project."

"Once you take the yacht out of the water and place it in a yard, it is a completely different and alien environment requiring a vastly different skill set.”

And this is when Wharton has experienced that the majority of problems arise. "The captain is obviously still interested in completing on time and in budget, the contractor is now focused on how to address the additional work needed, supply extra skilled labour and materials etc," he explains. "If this common situation isn’t correctly managed it can quickly escalate and nobody wins – a project management team bridging between the captain and the contractor can help find a fair and reasonable solution, keep additional costs under control and help ensure the finished product is as expected."

The above considerations can be further complicated if the refit project is to take place in a foreign land, something which Wharton is familiar with being based in Labuan, East Malaysia. “In Asia, Eastern Europe or South America, as examples, the expectation that most captains don’t need professional project support becomes almost farcical," he adds. "On top of all the regular considerations for a refit, you can now add language barriers, customs - the traditions of the local and the red tape bureaucratic type - work ethics, supporting industry and supply considerations.” But is this a reason not to conduct extensive projects in developing markets? Wharton thinks not; “But it is a reason to ensure that your project managers not only know about superyachts but also have firsthand experience working in the region.”

With the growing list of superyacht destinations, this should be an important consideration for captains who are overseeing refits. “The expanding superyacht refit facilities here in Asia can be very attractive to owners on several levels including cost," acknowledges Wharton. "As Asia is now commonly promoted as the ‘third destination’, opening up vast and ideal cruising grounds and more yachts are visiting and staying longer with owners choosing to base here and return for extended cruises.” So faced with a refit in these developing regions, what is the key to a successful project? “In a nutshell, it’s all to do with the regional experience of the project management team and consistent detailed communication."