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The Smart Buyer: The refit process: Getting started

In the July issue I examined how to choose the right boat for a refit. Let’s assume you’ve gone ahead and bought a boat. The next step is to determine where the project will be carried out.

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If you are refitting the boat yourself, you will need an appropriate space. I can’t emphasize enough how important a controlled atmosphere is to the success of the project.

If you have no access to an indoor workspace — preferably climate-controlled — I recommend renting one or building a temporary enclosure. If you’re having a yard undertake the project, look carefully at how it intends to allocate space and personnel so that everything proceeds in a timely and efficient manner.

Now we move to what I call “project identification.” Using the report from your prepurchase survey, create an outline for the project. Decide whether the jobs and purchases can be done immediately and simultaneously or whether a phased refit is best. It may depend on your budget, your available time or the yard’s schedule. Break down each job into several tasks and assign each task a projected work-hour allocation and materials list. This will serve as a final chronological guide.

Project “costing” is one of the toughest parts of a refit. Even repair pros tend to underestimate how long a job will take. Many factors eat up time, including tool failures, parts and materials availability, and personal issues. A two-hour estimate — for you or the yard — can easily turn into three. If you carry out that small error over a large project, you’ll see that careful estimating makes a big difference. Some experienced service managers will take estimates from a craftsman and double them. I’ll be frank: The doubled number is pretty accurate in many cases. It’s better to come in under budget than over.

The propulsion system is an area where it’s easy to miss the mark. Two or three workers may be required, depending on the difficulty of the repower or repairs. Safely moving engines that can weigh upward of a ton requires careful rigging, the proper equipment and planning. Don’t mess around. If you are lacking in these areas, hire someone. An engine may need to be lifted vertically out of the engine room and moved through the cabin to a position where it can be removed from the boat. Gravity is not your friend in these situations.

Don’t be afraid to consider options that may seem extreme, such as opening a carefully executed hole in the deck or elsewhere. That hole could save a lot of rigging time. When estimating a repower, remember to add the time needed to provide good protection to the boat. Cover the teak-and-holly sole, Corian countertop, woodwork, etc.

Evaluating the existing parts and equipment often gets overlooked. What can be reused and what needs to be replaced? Can any of the wiring be saved, or does it all have to be tossed? It’s not necessary to purchase all parts immediately. Once you know what needs to be replaced, allow for its cost and determine at what stage it will need to be ordered so it’s available when the time comes. In manufacturing, this is known as “just-in-time procurement.” Simply stated, don’t buy it and provide storage for it before you need it, especially big-ticket items. Just make sure the delivery time fits your schedule so you don’t hold up progress in other areas.

Speaking of progress, it should be tracked weekly. This will allow you to shuffle priorities to avoid cost overruns and stick to your timetable. If you are doing the refit through a yard, establish how often you would like progress updates. I recommend weekly briefings. The yard usually will assign a project manager, so establish an open line of communication with that person. An important aspect of this relationship is how change orders will be handled. They should be swift and efficient. In our world of instant communication, delays should be minimal. The distribution of images, videos and messages will help you and the yard make decisions on the fly.

Lastly, keep track of everything with notes and photographs. It’s a pain but will pay off in the long run. And that’s what you want — a boat that will give you many years of enjoyment.

September 2014 issue