Written by Capt. Chris Caldwell
April 2016

You’ve had a great first season with your new boat! You cruised to wonderful destinations, met fabulous boating friends and managed to find deep water … most of the time. Now you need to start thinking about boatyards, but how do you choose one?

Going into a boatyard is not like dropping your car off at the dealership. There are many different specialists, craftsmen and subcontractors involved in the various and complex systems aboard your boat. Before you can select the right boatyard, you need to get involved and learn as much about your options and all the factors involved as possible.

When Do You Need A Boatyard?

If your hull has algae growing on it or you are curious about the status of your zincs on the running gear, it may be easier to hire a diver to do that work while your boat is in the water than to haul it out. But a haul-out is required for things such as changing props, painting the hull, inspecting stabilizers, inspecting the running gear, upgrading the engine or generator, storage and even fiberglass blister repairs. Some of these items are everyday boatyard services, while others may require more technical experience by factory-trained technicians.

Once you’ve decided to take your boat to a yard for haul out, you must consider whether to select a full-service yard or a DIY (do-it-yourself) yard. Full-service implies just that: They’ll take care of everything. At a DIY yard, they’ll haul out your boat and then you can work on the boat yourself or, if the yard doesn’t require you to use their on-site service department, bring in the contractor of your choice. Some boatyards may charge an additional fee for using a non-approved contractor, and the contractor must also have the proper insurance.

How Do You Choose A Boatyard?

Obviously, the Internet is a great asset when researching boatyards, but don’t forget to ask around at your marina —learning about good or bad experiences from fellow boaters is priceless!

Look for a boatyard that participates in national associations that promote a high level of professionalism. The American Boat & Yacht Council (ABYC) develops safety standards for vessel construction, maintenance and repair procedures. The American Boat Builders & Repairers Association (ABBRA) is a national network of marine service and repair companies dedicated to professional development, training, education and knowledge sharing. The ABBRA Boater’s Resource Directory is also a great reference to find an ABBRA yard.

Ask a prospective boatyard about progress reports and whether or not you’ll be permitted direct contact with the yard project manager or service tech. If not, consider another yard. Remember, for any work done, they are on your clock, so there need to be clear channels of communication to keep you informed. If you are far away from your boat, consider hiring an independent project manager to represent you in the boatyard. Your PM will check on your boat’s progress and report back to you, often interpreting some of the boatyard lingo. Two-way communication is essential.

Storage, Anti-Fouling Paint and Pre-Powerwash Inspections

Indoor storage is all about climate control. Northern indoor storage may be heated, while Southern indoor storage may be dehumidified in a certified hurricane-proof building. Outdoor storage is more common than indoor, but in the North you should consider shrink wrapping the boat if it’s going to stay outside, and adding an entrance area for periodic visits. All systems must be winterized. Southern outdoor storage may include a ground strapping system to hold the boat in place during high-wind storms and hurricanes. Shrink wrapping is not common in the South because of the humidity and the possibility of mildew.

Bottom paint is properly known as anti-fouling paint, but all paint is not created equal. Start by asking your boating neighbors what type and brand of paint they use and whether or not they are satisfied with it. The two basic types of anti-fouling paint are hard and soft/ ablative. Where and how you use your boat will be determining factors in the type of paint you choose, and your boatyard can be an essential resource for deciding.

Your underwater propulsion system, or “running gear,” includes struts that hold the propeller shaft, the cutlass bearing inside the strut, rudders, trim tabs, possibly line cutters and the zincs. Your bow and stern thrusters may also have zincs. When you haul your boat, the yard staff will visually inspect the running gear, thru-hull fittings, thrusters and the condition of the anti-fouling paint before starting to pressure wash the vessel. Pod drive systems like the Volvo IPS or Cummins Zeus are new technologies that continue to evolve every month, week and day, so bringing in a factory-trained technician to perform the inspection on these systems is likely the best choice.

Outside Contractors and Clarifying Warranties

Your boatyard may bring in outside contractors for certain jobs that require a specialist. So another thing to consider when choosing a boatyard is, does the yard select outside contractors or do you? If the yard selects them, does the proposed work schedule fit your time line? And is the outside contractor insured to work in the yard and aboard your boat?

Determine whether the boatyard or the subcontractor is responsible for backing up the warranty on services provided. Who you pay may be part of the warranty answer, but figure that out before you agree to the service. What happens if, after all the work is done and you are enjoying your boat, you notice that something is not right. You call the boatyard, and they agree that they need to take a look at it. But how do you get the yard and the boat together again, when you are now 200 miles away, cruising? Do they come to you or do they ask a nearby boatyard to check out the questionable item? If they come to you, who pays for the travel? And if the problematic item is under warranty, how and where do you get it repaired under that warranty? All questions that should be answered before you agree to the initial service. Web-based services such as MyTaskIt can help simplify communication between you and your service provider.

Insurance Coverage: Yours, Mine or Ours?

Read your insurance policy’s fine print before going into your chosen boatyard for the first time, and speak with your vessel’s insurance company to get a better understanding of how you are covered. Some boatyards require you to list the yard as additionally insured on your policy, and some marine-service companies also add line-item fees for Longshoreman or Jones Act insurance charges. Other boatyards have it written into their service agreement that the yard and its workers will be held harmless. Check, check and check again to be sure you are covered under someone’s insurance!

Captains Chris and Alyse Caldwell are USCG 100-ton Masters and Cruising Coaches who offer Personal Boat Training Online or Onboard Your Boat anywhere!  The Caldwells help build your cruising confidence with hands-on training, seminars and with their AskCaptainChris.com training videos filled with tons of tips for the boater who loves learning. If you have additional questions for Captains Chris or Alyse, please contact them at [email protected]