Choosing A Yard Or Marine Service Provider

By Tom Neale

Spring is coming and that usually means yard work or a visit from a marine service provider. If you need to find a yard or marine service, here are just a few of the lessons I've learned that may help you find someone with whom you'll be happy.

Photo of boat bottom repair at Camachee Yacht YardA good yard like Camachee Yacht Yard, must meet regulations.

Chose One That Fits

Two distinctly different types of boat yards and marine service providers lie at either end of a well-populated spectrum. The Mega Yacht Mentality yard caters to people with enough money to tell the yard what they want and write a blank check. The attitude of workers and management in these yards may reflect this. A task is done supposedly "just right," following all codes and standards. These yards may turn out near perfect work product, but at huge expense.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the yard employed by those for whom owning a boat is a major financial issue. Sometimes the workers at those yards are poorly trained and equipped. The capabilities of the facilities may be very limited. Some yards (when I say "yard" I'm also, when applicable, referring to the marine service provider who may come to your boat.) specialize in serving the entire range of the spectrum. The point is that you can probably find a yard that works well for your needs and budget if you look.

The type of work that you need may dictate the type of facility you engage. If your job is simple, such as hauling and painting, a yard at the lower end of the spectrum may do. If it is more complex, like engine replacement, installation of bow thrusters, or repair of damaged running gear, you may want the high-end yard. But remember: if that "inexpensive" yard that's just going to paint the bottom also drops the boat in the process, things could get very complex very quickly.

If you're like me, you probably must find a yard between the two extremes.

Do Some Background Research

How long has this yard been in business under the same management and ownership? Frequent turnover in management or workers may mean something's wrong. What is the yard's reputation in the boating community? (Any yard will have its haters and lovers, so look for opinions based on knowledge and facts.) What boats has it serviced? Does it have regularly returning boats? Are the employees well trained and with appropriate certifications such as those by the ABYC?

Visit the Yard

What does it look like? Are the tires or lifting straps on the travel-lift threadbare? Are the lift's hydraulic lines well maintained? (If one of these were to break, your boat could fall.) If there's a railway, check the condition of the cable that pulls the car up the track. Are strands popping up? Is it well greased? Do its drum and motor appear well maintained? Are the tracks on solid foundation, including below the high tide line? How do the jack stands look? They are going to be holding up your boat. Are they bent and rusty? Chains are used to stretch under the boat from opposing jack stands to keep them from sliding apart. Are they in good shape? Are the notched crossbars to which the chains are attached bent, rusty, or poorly welded?

Photo of a boat lift at Camachee Yacht YardLift at Camachee Yacht Yard.

In many areas you should check out yard security. Your boat's very vulnerable when it's up on the hard.

Is there a parts shop? Is it well stocked? If you're just getting bottom paint this may not matter, but it does say something about the yard, and their capability to quickly handle an unexpected problem.

Do they have the equipment needed for your job? I once needed a cutlass bearing removed. I got the bill for a huge number of hours. I checked and found that they didn't have the tool for this (typically the right tool can make this job relatively quick and easy) and were charging me for time required for learning and improvisation.

Do the workers look like they're on the ball? Are there organized break periods or are people just walking off the job to take breaks on their own?

Talk to others whose boats are already there being worked on.

Talk to the yard management. Will they understand that you aren't a millionaire yachtsman? Will they work with you or run you through a mill? Will you understand that the yard must make a profit on its time, materials etc. With ever increasing regulation on many fronts it is very difficult to run a successful yard. We need to keep this in mind also.

Is there sufficient monitoring of jobs to assure that the hours billed are appropriate to the actual results you get? Boat jobs are notoriously unpredictable and we must recognize this, but, just as an example, some workers will charge for a lot of time ambling to and from the shop when they should have carried a complete tool box in the first place.

Ask About Doing Work Yourself If You Want To Do This

Can you choose what parts of the job you wish to do? Will they let you? Will you have electricity and water on-site or will you be treated as an outcast during your work period? Remember though, that it's getting increasingly more difficult for yards to allow owner work. This is because of the increasingly burdensome number of government regulations that cover yards. If you don't comply with a regulation or law the yard may be responsible, and the yard owner probably won't know you or your abilities.

Save Money in a Buyer's Market

Try to schedule your work when the yard needs jobs. You may get a better deal, a quicker job and perhaps more attention. In most boating areas, the worst time to get work done is in the spring. Everyone is clamoring to get his boat ready, and it's a seller's market. During the summer months, most yards have a Monday morning line of people wanting to get the things that broke over the weekend fixed before Friday. They also have a Friday rush day because people want them to do something so they can go out for the weekend. The fall is less busy, but, depending on where you are (in particular the east coast) there will be work on boats heading south in early fall, and winter haulouts just before it gets cold. During winter, the yards are anxious to have work and you may negotiate better deals. Different sections of the country vary. Research your area. This often takes some time, so don't wait for the last moment. You want to be out on the water before the last moment.

Tom Neale is Technical Editor of BoatUS Magazine, with a lifetime of liveaboard and cruising experience. Read more of Tom Neale's articles here.

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— Published: February 2015

Tom's Tips About Material And Parts Pricing

  • Some yards charge MSRP for all material and parts.
  • MSRP is usually a number that no one actually pays on the street, but a manufacturer's guide for retailers.
  • Some yards will charge a certain percentage over their actual cost. This may be a much better price for you.
  • The yard is entitled to make a fair margin on what it sells you. Unlike a box store that just orders, stock and sells, the yard often needs to use its expertise in what it stocks, and more specifically, in what it uses for your job. Also, their work is often too varied for them to order many parts or types of materials in bulk. Ask about their policy.
  • A yard pricing policy may be different for different parts and materials. This could be for reasons beyond their control, such as policies of their suppliers.


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