VBH's Casper Kleiman offers his advice on how best to circumvent the unique challenges a refit presents…
In the ’60s, integrating audio technology on board yachts was something still very new. So when two guys at a birthday party, one with an audio shop, the other with a yard, decided to take a car radio and integrate it into the yacht interior, it was a true innovation. Ever since Mr Van Berge Henegouwen put this small car radio on a yacht, VBH is involved in the integration of AV and IT systems onboard yachts.
A lot has changed of course since those early days. Yachts are much bigger, AV equipment is everywhere and IT networks are connecting everything. As a company, we now do much more than just audio. Satellite reception, subscriptions, signal distribution, GSM, UHF, screens, movie theatres, IT, networks, programming, UI design, UX, signature pieces, security, software solutions, etc. As the market and the possibilities change, so do we.
The refit market is growing. More yachts are built and hardly any disappear. Refitting a yacht is a way of improving or personalising a yacht. The fact that you have a shorter build time is an additional bonus. Refitting does, however, pose its own unique challenges, which we have learned over the years.
One of the challenges is you cannot anticipate everything. Refit projects are notorious for offering surprises. Opening up panels to see what’s behind sometimes feels like opening Pandora’s box. You can expect some things by doing surveys, usually while the yacht is in use. That means you cannot check everything. As-built drawings don’t reflect recent changes performed by other companies. The crew might have made changes as well. The way we deal with this challenge is by expecting the unexpected. By preparing for modifications, we are able to manage the process within budget and schedule. Clear communication is super important for this. By ensuring everyone understands the changes and their impact, a lot of noise is avoided. Usually removing one item and replacing it with another doesn’t have a huge impact.
Opening up panels to see what’s behind sometimes feels like opening Pandora’s box.
Another challenge is to explain how doing more is sometimes less work. For instance, if a few hardware items are replaced, the hardware cost is limited. However, integrating it back into the system might be a lot of work. Adaptors, special cables and fancy programming workarounds are not ideal. Sometimes replacing a few additional items has such a positive impact on integration and programming, it’s actually less work! Communication is again a crucial component of making everyone understand this principle.
The third aspect is to think with the end in mind. The end, in this case, is a yacht in operation. You will have to be able to do maintenance work, remote servicing, easy spares, etc. By taking this into account while making changes, you make better decisions. You don’t want to end up with a system that is hard to keep in working order.
How can one ensure all three aspects are taken into account? For starters, we make sure we understand the true expectation of the refit, not just the worklist. Understanding the specifications’ origin makes it easier to work together. When adaptations are required, knowing the aim makes it easier to creatively find solutions. People don’t want hardware, they want things to work. The difference is subtle but very important.
Understanding the specifications’ origin makes it easier to work together. When adaptations are required, knowing the aim makes it easier to creatively find solutions. People don’t want hardware, they want things to work.
Next, hard as it sometimes is, one must understand the current condition as best as possible. We do surveys, collect as-built drawings, reports of recent changes. Feedback on what is working and what needs improvement all help. You never have all the information you want or need, but understanding what you are not sure of is also helpful. It makes it easier to prepare for unknowns. Knowing by not knowing, if that makes any sense. It helps to prepare for what will need more time or extra testing or more reviewing.
In our case, by checking with our service teams, we quickly understand hardware, systems performance and alternatives that are easier to work with. From this knowledge, we can give better advice to our clients. Not all hardware turns out as easy to work with as it was expected from the sales brochure. The proof is in actual usage and our service team has extensive knowledge of actual performance. Sometimes different parts deliver the same functionality but are more reliable and easier to service.
With every project, your experience will grow. New problems lead to new solutions and new ways of working. For VBH, it helps that we do what we believe in; our belief the ultimate luxury is custom innovation, turning dreams into reality. By developing user-friendly innovations for all on board, we believe we can deliver new experiences for the yachting lifestyle.
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