While you should qualify the yard, the yard should also qualify you, advises Bronstien. Sometimes people jump into a deal without knowing enough about each other. "You're getting married to each other for two or three years," he says. "It's a bit of a dating game." What's the client's personality? What's their captain like? What's their experience? "For some, it's a passion and enjoyment building a boat; for others, strictly a business deal," he explains. Clients who've built yachts before understand what they have to be involved with and what they don't. And if there is a project manager, you, he, and the yard must have a symbiotic relationship, says Bronstien, so the yard should know who will fill the role before signing the contract.
Thou Shalt Hire an Advocate
One of the most common mistakes buyers make is not hiring a competent advocate to represent them throughout the entire project, says Eden. This can be a naval architect, broker, surveyor, or project manager, but the best is a combination of these disciplines. Few captains have the experience to be effective project managers, he says. "We recently lost a client to a very high-end northern European shipyard," he adds, "because he wanted to go direct with the yard. Well, he did and paid five million more for his finished yacht because he didn't have a competent advocate representing his interest."
Look for an advocate with lots of experience, he advises, with at least four or five similar-size yachts under his belt built at several yards. A megayacht is like a small city; it has sewage systems, power systems, and so forth. Shipyards are in business to make money, and some will cut corners if nobody's looking, but a skilled advocate knows what things should cost and how they should be built.
Too many cooks are as bad as too few, though. Recalls Joyce, "Recently an owner building a 100-foot-plus project was trying to be extra careful and hired multiple experts. He had a project manager, a full-time captain, and a really qualified surveyor but failed to define their respective roles in advance. All the guys were experienced, but each with a very different opinion and each with direct access to the yard. The owner was totally confused, frustrated, and overly concerned. In the end we built the boat the captain wanted."
Some owners assume the yard isn't capable of doing the job right and hire a project manager who just beats up on the yard, says Bronstien, who prefers to deal directly with a knowledgeable owner that makes frequent and planned visits to the yard—at least one visit per month—another reason for choosing a convenient yard. "I like to see the owner actively involved," he says.
What about periodic surveys during construction? "That's fine," says Bronstien, "but we like them to be scheduled visits." It's best to have a surveyor who understands that type of boat; don't hire a guy with a fiberglass background to survey an aluminum yacht, for instance. If you're going to have a surveyor at the yard, put it in the contract, Eden recommends, and specify that he is your acknowledged representative and that his word is final. That way, when he decides the teak planks the yard chose for decking aren't satisfactory and starts throwing them off the yacht (as one surveyor did at an Italian yard while Eden watched), the yard can't throw it back aboard.
Thou Shalt Institute No Change Orders
No change orders. "Break that rule, and you lose all leverage at the yard," says Joyce. "At Hargrave we will still do a 100-percent custom design, but we eliminated all change orders. Period." Why? Hargrave recently had a client's wife who was "so difficult, her husband gave up and asked us to deal with her direct," he says. "She told us it didn't matter what she signed or what she agreed to with the interior designer, and she did not want to pay any change-order fees or have any time delays." She was standing in the saloon with the carpenters, Joyce continues, still asking to see more wood samples to match a yacht she thought she saw a year prior. "We talked seriously about getting out of the custom boatbuilding business."
This article originally appeared in the March 2007 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.