What’s Your Boatyard Type?

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boatyard workers

What’s Your Boatyard Type?

Knowing your personality type will make your yard experience run smoother. Are you a Type D or a Type P?

As a young professional captain, whenever I had to take a boat into a yard, I felt like Jason at the helm of the Argo: Come the end of the voyage, I figured I was gonna get the Golden Fleece—in the form of a swoon-inducing yard bill. Too often the many-dollared invoices the yard managers hit me with back in those days stood for work that wasn’t quite up to par, or I found myself paying high hourly rates for work that didn’t require a lot of skill. After a few dicey episodes, I decided always to do as much work as possible myself, and part with cash to the yard only under the most extreme circumstances. Headshrinkers now call this a Boatyard Type D (Do-It-Yourself) personality, and I was a textbook case.

But who says a sea snake can’t change his spots? Now I’m older, possibly wiser, certainly creakier and lazier, and thinking differently: I see the boatyard more as my partner in the maintenance of my vessel, and less as an unmasked bandit perpetrating slipway robbery. It’s a lot less stressful this way, I get along better with the yard manager, and my knees don’t hurt from crawling around under the hull. I’ve become a Boatyard Type P (Pay-the-Bill) personality. (Neither of these boatyard types should be confused with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicators, by the way; I’m not a Jungian.)

What’s Your Type?

You can spot a Type D a nautical-mile away (some of you just have to look in the mirror). A typical D man (D’s are almost all men) drives a pickup; owns expensive power tools (DeWalt cordless is the ne plus ultra—see “Cord or Cordless” below); totes boxes of expensive hand tools; has coil upon coil of heavy-duty extension cords—at the yard, the nearest 120-volt outlet is always barely within sight, and you need a heavy-gauge cord to minimize voltage drop; and carries at least one industrial-strength ladder that’s guarded like the Holy Grail: Ladders disappear at boatyards faster than shrimp at a wedding reception. (I still keep my ladders under lock and key.) Type D’s spend most spring and fall weekends working on the boat, frequently remind you how much they’ve saved by DIY’ing, and complain about back, hip, and knee issues (or even replacements) exacerbated by boatyard dampness.

Type P guys write checks, enjoy free time on weekends, and have fully functional joints well into old age. (I wish I’d transitioned into a P before my hips so expensively gave out.) They complain about the yard bill, then shrug and say, “If you have to ask….” Boatyard managers love these guys.

Type D Boatyards

Maybe you haven’t reached the enlightened Type P state yet (would Buddhists call it Shipyard Satori?), and you would still rather do things yourself to save a few bucks. First step, then, is to choose the right boatyard, one that’s amenable to DIY. Read the storage contract to discover what the yard insists on doing—most forbid DIY when it comes down to environmental issues, like bottom prep and painting. According to Yachting Monthly, the European Union is considering a total ban on DIY application of antifouling paints because of environmental concerns. We may see that here before long.

Waxing the topsides and painting the bottom are the biggest DIY money-savers for most people. Last spring, my local yard charged $12 per foot for waxing the topsides, and $14 per foot for bottom painting, plus materials. Just about anybody can swipe a rag or swing a brush or roller, so if you can DIY either or both of these jobs it’s a nice cash savings with little expertise required. Of course, you have to spread tarps to catch any bottom scrapings, sand with a vacuum sander to capture dust (but you don’t always have to sand), and dispose of all the waste in an appropriate manner. The tarps, detritus disposal, and, maybe, vacuum-sander rental (figure $50 or $60 per day) cut into your sweat-equity savings a little, but you’re still ahead of the game. Thank goodness painted hulls don’t need waxing.

If your yard is OK with DIY, buy your supplies from them. If you don’t throw some money at the yard, next year when you go to sign up for winter storage, you may find the place is “unexpectedly full,” and you’ll have to go elsewhere. Or, thanks to his dwindling profits, you may discover that the owner has sold his valuable waterfront acreage to a developer for millions, and is now living on a Feadship in Naples, Florida. So take one for the team and give the yard a chance to make some money.

The Dreaded T&M

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here; painting and waxing, or not, saves/costs you in the spring, not in November. If you want to cut costs by DIY’ing at layup time, you’re talking winterizing, and more specifically dealing with those winterizing jobs that are typically billed by the yard in the dreaded “time and materials” category, not at a flat rate. My yard charges a flat fee for winterizing engines, so you know what you’re in for there, but all other systems—air conditioning, pressure water, sanitation, washdown, baitwells, and so forth—are T&M. Winterizing isn’t rocket science, and the owner’s manuals for the systems tell you how to do it. You can probably save a couple hundred bucks by going DIY, depending on how many systems you have. Unless you get it wrong—then you have to pay to repair the damage, and that couple hundred may wind up looking like chump change. So, if in doubt, don’t, but if you do, make sure everything is swimming in antifreeze; flush it out thoroughly before commissioning in the spring.

Independent Contractors

If you want to be really, really, popular with your boatyard manager, don’t give the yard any work and instead hire independent contractors to do it all, at lower rates. Make sure your “contractors”—they could be guys you found at the local day-labor shape-up, or at the nearest watering hole—don’t have any liability or workmen’s compensation insurance, use ladders they find lying around the boatyard, and blow fuses because they’re using crappy extension cords. It’s even better if they unplug somebody else’s cord (or cords) to plug theirs in. Yard guys love this. It’s even better when the yard manager confronts you and you say they’re your friends, “just helping out.” Don’t expect to store at that yard the following year, of course.

Cord or Cordless?

Type D guys love power tools—in fact, all guys love power tools, especially cordless ones. DeWalt, Bosch, Makita, and Milwaukee build great cordless tools—you won’t go wrong with them. I still have a couple of ancient, cordless Makita drills I used way back when I was one of the dreaded “independent contractors.” Only thing is, now that I’m not using them all the time, when I need a drill, the battery is dead. So the question is: Are cordless tools really the best bet for weekend DIY warriors? As much as I like the gunfighter aura of a cordless drill hanging off my belt, a corded tool is ready to go at a moment’s notice, even if it’s been idle for months. The last time I bought a tool for home use—a hammer drill—I chose the 120-volt model. After all, at home I’m surrounded by outlets, so I need only a short extension cord. Same is true aboard your boat, if you’re plugged into shore power or have the genset running. At the yard, the nearest outlet may be far away, and cordless makes more sense. Just keep a spare battery charged so you don’t have to stop mid-job. Corded tools cost a lot less, by the way: My DeWalt hammer drill sells for about $139, but its cordless counterpart, on the other hand, costs $129, plus $99 for two 18-volt NiCad batteries, plus $69 for the charger, or $297 total. (These are Amazon prices; list prices are much higher.) The lithium-ion version is about $40 more. So from now on, unless I really need cordless, I’ll take the plug-in version. And leave the gunslinging to the pros.

Engines should be laid-up with fresh oil in the crankcase. If you have an oil-change system, this is a no-brainer. Otherwise, you’ll need a pump to draw out the old oil through the dipstick tube; most people try using a cheap drill-powered model for this, then give up and buy a dedicated 12-volt model mounted on a bucket ($200 at West Marine). It actually works, and makes less mess. You’ll have to dispose of the used oil legally, which will likely cost a few bucks. My yard charges a flat $149 to change the oil and filter on a gas inboard, $229 for twins, plus materials, but T&M for diesels and gensets. I already have the bucket-type oil changer from my Type D days, so I change the oil and filter myself just prior to turning the boat over to the yard, but let them winterize the engines at a cost of $110 each.

Pardon me for being totally facetious just now. Sure, yards often farm specialized work out to independent contractors, but don’t do it yourself (or have one of your buddies do it) unless you clear it with the yard manager first. Some yards have a list of approved contractors who you’re welcome to hire—but at least give the yard first shot at any work you plan on having somebody else do.

Final Advice For Type P

If you’re a Type P, what you have to do at this time of year’s pretty simple. First, make a detailed work order for the winter (choose your boatyard like you would choose a doctor) and let ’em get on with it. Then, simply write a check in the spring and enjoy your boat. Believe me: It only hurts the first time.

This article originally appeared in the November 2015 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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