When Thomas Paine wrote, "These are the times that try men's souls," he was referring to the colony's treatment at the hands of nasty King George III. But were he around today, Tom's observation could also apply to boating. It's hard to imagine a crueler month for us nautical types than March.
So it's perhaps understandable that at a time of year when so many boats are still covered in white shrink-wrap and the shrink-wrap is probably covered with layers of ice, we boaters tend to ruminate about our favorite pastime. And number one on my list of March ruminations is the disappearance of the do-it-yourself boatyard. That this institution is becoming more scarce is a fact I could better accept if it had simply become obsolete. But I suspect it's really a victim of the ceaseless search for higher profits.
Boatyard operators say no. They claim the these typically mom-and-pop yards are actually casualties of skyrocketing insurance costs and stringent environmental regulations. They claim that as businessmen, they simply cannot allow just anyone to work on his boat because what if it fell on him? Not only might he get hurt, he could sue! In fact, the situation has apparently become so risky, they've been forced to ban subcontractors from their yards.
As for environmental concerns, the argument goes that average Joes cannot be trusted to properly use and dispose of hazardous materials such as solvents, paints, and dust. (They can, however, be trusted to fill their own fuel tanks.) Only yard employees with equipment such as special vacuums, respirators, and full-body Tyvek suits can be trusted, and only when they operate in controlled environments.
Sorry, but I think the demise of the do-it-yourself yard has more to do with economics than ecology or liability. Many boatyards are grappling with rising operating costs such as property taxes, utilities, and, yes, insurance premiums. As they watch their margins shrink, they naturally begin looking for other sources of income. The obvious solution is to make sure all work being done on site is done by them.
I grew up around do-it-yourself yards. While my well-heeled friends were hobknobbing with blue-blazered swells at the local yacht clubs, I was learning most of what I know today about boats from quirky, iconoclastic mariners—guys who'd been to sea. So I admit, nostalgia is at play here. But why should you be concerned? Because in a lot of boatyards, the no-do-it-yourself policy has been carried to such an extreme that the only thing boaters can do is wash their boats. Obviously this means considerable added expense to you, but it also means you're going to be spending more time butting heads with your yard manager and less time out on the water.
Man, is the sun ever going to come out?
—Capt. Richard Thiel, Editor-In-Chief
This article originally appeared in the March 2008 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.