It goes without saying that in order for a refit project to reach fruition on time, on budget and to the desired quality standards, best practice must be adhered to at all times. With superyachts growing in size and complexity, the role of the market’s top refit yards has evolved in line with them. Throughout every stage of the refit process, from specification and yard selection to project management and delivery, owner’s teams must work closely with their chosen shipyard to ensure that works are carried out in an environment that engenders trust, respect and communication. Herein Amico & Co explores some key stages associated with refits and provides advice on best practice and how to mitigate error.
“There are two levels of service that are often described within the overarching term ‘refit’,” starts Alberto Amico, chairman of Amico & Co. “The first relates to various degrees of standard service, which might include annual or ordinary maintenance, the types of jobs that do not typically require anything exceptional in terms of general organisation, although it is always best to plan in advance. The second type of refit relates to significant rebuilds, which might include extraordinary maintenance or vessel modification with new designs and additional features. In these instances, the technical and managerial burden requires high levels of skill, knowledge and experience on the part of both the shipyard and the owner’s team and advanced planning is essential.”
When one considers the challenges of the contemporary refit market, it must be underpinned by knowledge of the changes that the superyacht market as a whole has experienced in recent years. While it is often said, it bears repeating that in line with the fleet growing in terms of units year on year – 5729 at the time of writing – the vessels are also growing in terms of average LOA and GT, as well as becoming increasingly complex from a technical perspective. Furthermore, superyachts, especially charter vessels, are in use for larger periods of the year than ever before and, therefore, have far smaller windows for refits to be completed. As a result of all of these factors, the pool of quality refit yards that can handle the largest and most complex projects, such as Amico & Co, has shrunk.
“Who is involved in a refit project is key to its success,” continues Amico. “Often the first contact includes a preliminary specification, but these can vary in quality depending on the technical expertise of who has presented it. From our perspective, experience and technical knowledge are fundamental for the preparation of a refit. Around 50 per cent of the time, we are presented with technically adequate specifications and the other 50 per cent we are presented with wish lists, requirements and a brief specification. In these latter cases, I would urge owner’s teams to engage the shipyard earlier in the process because, especially with a complicated refit, there are so many aspects to consider that are impossible to appreciate without adequate experience. The single largest mistake that the industry makes is to think that everything can be achieved easily and that anybody can do it.”
Amico’s point is not that there are insurmountable tasks associated with large and complex refits, simply that in order to have the tasks completed on time, on budget and to the required quality standards, it cannot be overstated how important planning, communication and teamwork are. In line with this point, Amico is clear that not all shipyards, companies, contractors and management teams are equally capable of rising to the challenges of large contemporary superyacht refits. There is a misconception that superyacht refit yards all work to an accepted standard, the reality could not be further from the truth.
“This is where the problems start,” explains Amico. “One of the key factors is the need for excellent technical skills and knowledge in terms of management. It is not sufficient to have great technical skills or technical knowledge. Being able to evaluate the strength of a yard’s management proposition is vital in order to ensure that an incorrect evaluation of the refit’s requirements is not made and, therefore, an incorrect evaluation of who is able to complete the works is avoided.”
In recent years the scope of works expected of refit yards has grown exponentially and the ability to effectively select an appropriate refit yard only represents the starting point of a complex ongoing relationship. Even with an exhaustive specification and scope of works, refits are invariably subject to changing requests on the part of the owner, emergent works and the many and varied surprises that rear their heads throughout the refit process. As such, developing a refit team and management staff that can respond to demands in a swift, flexible and accurate manner is essential on the part of both the shipyard and the owner’s team.
While there is no fixed model for how this relationship should work, trust, respect and effective communication are essential throughout. Fortunately, as the industry as a whole has matured, a greater appreciation for the complexity and requirements associated with refits has grown in conjunction. Nevertheless, from an owners perspective, a representative with excellent technical and management experience is essential and, to add to this, direct shipyard or refit experience goes a long way when trying to mitigate errors or breakdowns in communication.
Today, refits are no longer just seen as a necessary part of the ownership experience for tweaking and adjusting superyachts to ensure their continued safe operation, they are seen as a legitimate alternative to new builds. With faster turnaround times and the ability to create vessels that feel almost entirely new, the sky is really the limit for refit projects. However, these projects must not be undertaken lightly. Definite specifications and early planning, accurate yard assessments and the creation of knowledgeable and experienced management teams are absolutely essential to ensure that owners get out of their refits what they desired from the projects initial conception.
The Perfect Refit is a 2021 editorial series developed with journalists from The Superyacht Group in order to help Owners, Owner’s Representatives, technical management and Captains plan their refits in an optimum way. Watch out for the monthly episodes!