The Boatyard Boogie

Navigating the ins and outs of a boat haulout can be a delightful dance (almost).

shutterstock_166706729 copy    When my husband and I bought our boat, I was so excited that I sent out birth announcements. Everyone thought it was funny except for my mother, who is still waiting for a (human) grandchild. In my cutesy rhyming letter, I noted that the boat would be going to the “spa” for the summer — meaning, of course, the boatyard — to “get a little work done.” I had only a vague notion of what I was getting into and a steep learning curve to climb.

Since then, I’ve spent more time in more yards than I care to admit. However, along the way, I learned a few things about the boatyard boogie that, when properly executed, can be a positive experience for all parties involved, especially the boat that is getting asked to the dance.


Boatyards differ. Some are full-service facilities that specialize in large refits, such as Newport Harbor Shipyard, which has in-house services for everything but canvas work and interior décor. Others, such as Shelter Island Boatyard in San Diego, have independent contractors (sometimes on the premises) that offer a menu of services. Still others, such as S3 Maritime in Seattle, are in-water repair facilities that do just about everything, but they leave the actual haulout to a subcontracted boatyard.

Whether you’re getting a light cosmetic facelift or doing the refit rumba, the key to boatyard success is to know as much as possible about the establishment that will be taking care of your baby.shutterstock_128921255 copy

Here are 10 things to keep in mind when evaluating your options.

1/VARIETY OF SERVICES. Like most businesses, boatyards tend to specialize. Be sure to match what you need with what the boatyard does well, and check to see if there are comprehensive services available, since your job may turn up unexpected side projects. A full-service yard will have a well-outfitted machine shop and offer welding, carpentry, paint (bottom and topsides), systems expertise such as HVAC (cooling/heating) and electronics, and engine work. Some yards may subcontract work out (canvas fabrication, genset service, etc.) to complete their offerings, and that’s fine as long as the yard aligns with good technicians who have the right tools and know how to use them.

2/EQUIPMENT CONDITION AND SIZING. Check the condition of the straps on the Travelift or other haulout equipment. Some yards have a syncrolift (rail system) or even a crane. (Beware of improper use of a crane, as it tends to pinch a boat, which can damage older lapstrake and wooden boats. Using cable spreader bars may keep the crane from compressing the hull and dislodging interior bulkheads.) Evaluate the age and condition of docks, pilings, mooring cleats and yard tools to ensure the yard can manage a boat your size (length and weight). You do not want to be the largest boat a yard has ever hauled or worked on.

3/FAMILIARITY WITH YOUR KIND OF VESSEL. Yards tend to do business with a certain type, class and size of vessel. Do they specialize in large motoryachts, racing sailboats or runabouts? Do they know how to block and shore your boat appropriately when it is hauled? Do they understand the complexity of your onboard systems? It’s not that a yard can’t service a superyacht and its tender, but its expertise should align with your boat, so there are no surprises for anyone.

4/CLEANLINESS. The way a yard is kept is often a reflection on its general business approach. Cleanliness extends beyond the yard to the tool shed, shop area, office and even restrooms. If the yard is clean, it’s likely your boat will be treated well and returned clean.

5/SAFETY FEATURES. Safety should be of critical importance to a yard, not only for a good outcome for your boat but also the well-being of its employees and customers. The yard should have safety gear for the workers, equipment in good working order, fire-suppression systems on hand in all parts of the facility and generally have a safety first attitude, which includes not taking unnecessary risks.

6/COMMUNICATION. The yard should have excellent communications skills and follow up with quick answers to your questions, keep you posted on a project’s progress, provide options for fixes and give you a heads-up if the timing, scope or budget is about to change. Some yards provide a contact, or project manager, as a go-to person, which saves customers time, money and headaches. Communicating today includes texting, email, phone calls and photos of work or issues. If the yard is unresponsive to the first call or visit, look elsewhere.

7/INTEGRITY AND LONGEVITY. This sounds like a no-brainer, but check out the reputation of the yard and its personnel. Talk to your dock neighbors and yacht club members and make sure the yard isn’t in the habit of over-promising and under-delivering. People love to share, and it’s not difficult to get a feel for a yard’s reputation quickly, so look for favorable customer opinions. Word of mouth is important, and you can even look for Yelp reviews online. Ask around to see if the yard stands behind its work even after you leave. Look for a yard that has a few years under its belt, and check to see if it has changed ownership recently, because that could change everything.

8/FRIENDLINESS. Happy people are friendly, and friendly people tend to enjoy their job and do good work. Talk to the employees (when they have time). See if they like working there and if they are given opportunities to keep up with the latest training in their field. Is the overall atmosphere helpful? Disgruntled workers and grouchy office personnel don’t bode well for your relationship with the yard in general.

9/COMPATIBILITY. You should look to develop a relationship with your local yard, because chances are, you’ll be back. Does the yard negotiate with subcontractors for you if you don’t want to do that? Does it let you do your own work if you’re so inclined? Does it let you stay on your boat or work on smaller projects? If you love to work on your boat and the yard doesn’t allow DIYers, investigate other options. Does your project manager understand and respect your goals, whether they are technical or financial? It’s a bit of dating game, so be sure to swipe right (Tinder reference) only on the yards that make sense for you.

10/RESPECT. It’s an intangible, but you tend to feel it, or not, from every customer touch point. Judge the reception you get in the office, which is the brains of the operation — where the work orders are generated and your final bill will be tallied. They don’t have time to chat because it’s their work day, but they need to take time to listen. Another sign of respect is how your boat is treated. Your job shouldn’t be the rounding error on the day’s receipts, and your boat should come back clean and with work satisfactorily completed. Whether you have $1,000 or $100,000 to spend in the yard, you and your vessel should be respected and cared for as a priority.

shutterstock_130775948 copy10 THINGS TO DO BEFORE YOUR BOAT GOES TO THE YARD

Being prepared is not only your responsibility to the yard, but it will save time, money and frustration. Get involved and help create your own experience.

1/ MAKE A LIST. A detailed list of what you want done will help the yard understand the scope of the project, which will lead to a better initial time and cost estimate. Spend time on your boat and write down everything you need to have done and what needs to be done with the boat out vs. in the water. Include wish-list items that you can drop if they exceed the budget or timeframe.

2/VERBALIZE YOUR GOALS. If you don’t know exactly what you want to get out of your boatyard experience, you can’t expect the boatyard to guess. If you expect to work on small projects yourself, ask what is allowed. For various liability and environmental reasons, there are few DIY facilities left.

3/DO YOUR HOMEWORK. First, check out yards online. Do they have the services you need? (Remember, websites tell only part of the story.) Ask around. Do they have a good reputation for work, timeliness and cost effectiveness? Take the time to visit yards in person. Walk around, meet the people, evaluate their skills and helpfulness, and introduce yourself. Ask for examples of their work, either a boat currently in the yard or photos of work done on past projects.

4/COMMUNICATE. The more information you give yard personnel about a particular problem (e.g., with engines, AC, pumps, electronics), the better they will be able to find a fix. Just telling someone there is a “problem” with the engine doesn’t provide much information. Does it smoke, make funny sounds, vibrate at a certain rpm? Is there water ingress or a bad smell? Time spent on diagnostics is expensive, so the more you relate, the faster and less expensive the solution. If you expect to be out of town during your project, provide a way to reach you in case a project changes unexpectedly.

5/NEGOTIATE COSTS. Whether the yard has all in-house staff, subcontracts work for you or expects you to hire contractors yourself, you’ll need to be involved, so dust off your negotiating skills. Remember that it’s not so much about price as value, so don’t ask how much a bottom paint job costs before you decide whether you’ll be using bottom paint at $100 per gallon or $300.

6/GET AN ESTIMATE IN WRITING. An estimate protects both you and the yard. Keep in mind, however, that estimates are educated guesses. Don’t push the edges of your budget, and keep some funds in reserve even if they’re just for the taxes that are added at the end.

7/BRING A CLEAN BOAT. Your boat should be ready for work inside and out. Take out all perishables, turn off the ice-maker, shut off systems, dry the bilges and clean the bottom. Communicate with your diver to understand what’s going on below the waterline, including the condition of props and struts. You may need to remove and plug the speedo, although some yards will do that for you.

8/PREPARE THE BOAT. Put away deck carpets or interior rugs that may be damaged by workmen. Remove high-value portable items. Work the through-hulls, because these large holes in your boat are your responsibility. If they’re frozen or show signs of corrosion, put their replacement on the list.

9/EDUCATE THE LIFT OPERATOR ON HAULOUT POINTS. If possible, provide a schematic of the bottom or use markers to indicate where to put the Travelift straps. The more a yard knows about the vessel’s hull, the safer the haulout will be.DSC_0047 copy

10/MANAGE YOUR OWN EXPECTATIONS. Understand what you want done, how much you want to spend and how much time you have for the boat to be out of commission. Projects may grow once the yard gets into the crux of the problem. That damaged rubrail may need more than replacing if rot is found underneath. Also, ask for an information sheet that outlines what you can and cannot do on your own and what contractors you are allowed to bring. Asking for permission ahead, rather than forgiveness afterwards, will make the process smoother for everyone.


Whether you’re a new boat owner or a veteran, there are still surprises to be found at the yard, especially when it comes to the following five costs.

1/ADD-ONS AND LAY DAYS. Last minute decisions add up. If it’s not on your original list, you may want to rethink its importance. Don’t forget to factor in lay days that are fees for storing the boat (usually out of the water) while no work is done.

2/THROUGH-HULLS. Often overlooked, these vital safety features need to be kept in good shape, so exercise them regularly or be prepared to replace them when hauled.

3/SHAFT LOGS. Shaft logs, cutless bearings and packing glands can get expensive fast, so understand their condition before you go into the yard.

4/ELECTROLYSIS. Propellers and running gear that have been affected by electrolysis can make a dent in a budget.

5/BLISTERS. Serious hull blisters can precipitate the need for an expensive scraping and epoxy barrier bottom before the first coat of antifouling coating is applied.


Good boatyards should provide all of the following things.

1/POLICY ON CHANGES. Any changes to the scope of the project should be laid out in advance with your full involvement. A yard should communicate what it has found, what needs to be done, how much it will cost and what time will need to be added to complete the work. All this should be provided in writing.

2/TRAINED EMPLOYEES. Workers should be certified in their field, and work habits should be up to date with the latest technology. Workers should be happy that the yard is investing in their education and their career.

3/KNOWLEDGE OF ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES. A yard should know and abide by environmental standards for both water and air pollution. Especially in California, yards need to know the copper content of the paints they use and the latest requirements for runoff containment.

4/COLLABORATION. You don’t need to be an expert in a project, but as long as you hold up your end of the relationship (e.g., detailed work list, observations of the problems, clear choices), the yard should see you as not only a customer, but a knowledgeable collaborator who is to be treated with respect.

5/COMMUNICATION. Over-communicating and under-assuming is the best policy, so expect to hear from the yard with some frequency over the course of the project.


1/CLAIRVOYANCE. Yards do not have a crystal ball, so they can’t give you a precise estimate on work sight unseen. An estimate is just that, so watch for any additions to the scope of the work.

2/OPEN SCHEDULES. Understand a yard’s busy season and plan accordingly. If you have a major refit that will take months, do not bring the boat in May and expect it to be ready for opening day. January to March tends to be slower, and winter months are a good time to tackle big projects.

3/UNUSUAL COSTS AND LONGEVITY OF EQUIPMENT AND SERVICES. New boaters often underestimate costs. Carpentry, for example, can be expensive, since nothing on a boat forms a right angle. Newly initiated owners will also overestimate the lifespan of equipment and services. Boat systems work in a moving, wet environment surrounded by salt spray and generally inhospitable conditions, so they tend to fail sooner. Bottom paint, gelcoat waxing and other maintenance has a much shorter shelf life than most new owners expect.

4/WARRANTY BEYOND THEIR WORK. A boatyard should stand behind its work and warranty its services for some amount of time after you leave. Be sure to get a written policy. However, subcontractors need to warranty their own work, especially if you contracted with them separately. Additionally, warranties on specific equipment such as electronics will be with the manufacturer of those items.

5/OWNER INVOLVEMENT. This one is up to you. If you plan to drop off your boat and pick it up a month later all done, clean and ready to go without interim communication with the yard, you may be sorely disappointed. You don’t need to park yourself in the yard, but you must provide a way for yard personnel to reach you in case issues arise, changes need to be made or budgets are exceeded.

shutterstock_113449300 copyDON’T FORGET

If you expect a pleasant experience with the yard — and you should — you need to keep these five things in mind.

1/PRIORITIZE OR SUFFER. Diagnostics done by the yard and last-minute additions get expensive, so plan ahead and be disciplined about your project.

2/RESPECT THE YARD’S SCHEDULE. They may not be able to haul your boat right when you arrive, and they may launch your boat early due to a lack of space, unless you say you want to inspect it before it goes back in the water.

3/YOUR SUBCONTRACTOR NEEDS TO CARRY HIS OWN INSURANCE, is responsible for the warranty on his workmanship and needs permission to work at the yard. The yard may take a percentage on his total services, too.

4/RESPECT THE YARD’S PERSONNEL and expect the same in return.

5/DO INSPECT ALL WORK PRIOR TO SIGNING OFF ON THE BILL. It will be more difficult to contest the work a month later when you finally look at that set of drawers you had added or run the genset that was serviced.


I’ve known many project managers, workers, office personnel, yard owners and even brokers who deal with yards. They were remarkably similar in their outlook when discussing what makes a good boatyard and offered some unique insights, as well.

BARRETT CANFIELD is the co-owner and president of South Coast Yachts in San Diego, and a broker and dealer of Beneteau power- and sailboats. He understands that yacht owners making assumptions about yards can lead to problems. He also insists on getting the lowdown on a yard before even visiting.

“San Diego talks,” Canfield said. “And there is no substitute for word of mouth, so ask everyone you know before making a choice, and be sure to get a perspective from both customers and industry people. Ask around for recommendations on the specific kind of work you need done. Someone may be happy with their bottom job, but that doesn’t say anything about the yard’s carpentry capabilities.”

JESSE SALEM is the owner of Newport Harbor Shipyard, a full-service yard that specializes in topsides paint and major refits. Salem advised boat owners to inspect the housekeeping elements of the yard, request photos of the bottom if you can’t be there prior to launch, and form relationships that will last well beyond that one visit.

“Shop specifics when comparing yards,” Salem said. “Create a comprehensive list and start with the safety items below the waterline first, then go on to the cosmetic issues. Know what you are comparing and form an alliance with the yard so you always have a positive experience.”

J.R. MEANS is the president of Bayport Yachts and a broker and dealer of Prestige, Carver and Chris- Craft boats, as well as other brands. Although Bayport does most of its new boat commissioning in-house, Means is no stranger to boatyards. He knows that a lack of clarity will cost you.

“Talk to your broker,” Means said. “We offer free counsel and we know who has a good reputation, honors their work, and comes in on time and within budget. My advice is based not on what I’ve heard but what I’ve experienced.”

ERIC JOSENHANS, the customer relations manager of South Coast Shipyard, is the kingpin of customer expectations at this Newport Harbor boatyard, and he knows how important communication is to long-term business viability.

“Pick a couple of yards you want to work with and then visit them,” Josenhans said. “Make sure they have a communications liaison who listens and understands your goals and needs.”

RYAN PARKER is the co-owner of S3 Maritime. Parker and his partner own a waterfront repair facility in Seattle that is not a traditional boatyard. They have 20 employees who specialize in every kind of service and are responsible for 95 percent of the work done in-house. For haulouts, Parker subcontracts with a boatyard, saving himself liability and saving boat owners expensive yard lay days.

“Troubleshooting is often much more expensive than the actual repair,” Parker said. “Provide as much information as you can, because we can only estimate so much without tearing the boat apart, and bills get big in a small window. Also, research your products. Don’t just get what the yard recommends, but instead, choose what’s best for the way you use your boat.”


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