Smart Boater

Choose the Right Boatyard for You


During a recent conversation with my survey customers, they asked about boatyards and if there was a way to ensure they were choosing the right yard. By posing a few questions about their preferences for how they want to maintain their boat and what their cruising areas would be, I came up with a few questions to ask boatyard managers before selecting the ideal place.

Crocker's Boatyard in New London, CT | Credit Crocker's Boatyard

When it comes to boatyards, no two are alike. A boatyard is made up of capabilities and skills pertaining to haul out capacity, draft and depth into the area, technical skills, and certifications based on manufacturers (boats and systems). In addition to the technical side, the yard manager and staff provide the customer-facing side, and their ability to communicate and manage projects is a critical skill most often overlooked when selecting a yard, yet the most common complaint from customers.

Having an approach when selecting the boatyard that’s responsible for annual maintenance and repairs ensures a safe and uninterrupted cruising season. You should expect to spend time talking to the yard manager, following up on task schedules and in turn answering calls from the manager when things change.

Smart boaters also understand the more the yard knows about their boat, the better service they will receive from the yard. Boatyards want to deliver the best service they can but need customers to participate in the process of communicating throughout the entire project.

With the complexity of our boats and their systems today, having a competent and trustworthy boatyard that knows you, your boat and its systems can be the difference between an enjoyable boating season or sitting in the wrong yard all season long.

By asking these questions, you can put yourself in a better position to find the right yard for you.

Can I do some of the work myself while my boat is in the yard?

Owning a boat comes with annual maintenance and repairs that can be costly if paying a yard to do everything. Some maintenance requires specialized tools and skills that you will want a boatyard to handle, but you can tackle many tasks yourself. These may include bottom painting, replacing anodes and changing fluids (oil, transmission, coolant). While the boatyard hauls and blocks, find out if you can work simultane- ously on your items while the yard does its work.

While this is wise and economical for the boater, some yards do not allow owners to work on their own boats while in the yard. Reasons for this may be insurance-related, or it might not be cost efficient for the boatyard if space is limited and they are trying to keep their own staff busy.

It’s important to understand what the boatyard does and doesn’t allow if you want to do some of the work yourself. For instance, I am currently experimenting with different bottom paints on my small fishing boat and want to ensure the bottom is prepped and painted the same way while testing paints. Because of this I am doing the work but have worked it out with the yard to haul and block the boat so I can do the painting.

I also order materials through the yard. By doing this, I give the yard some business while also taking on the tasks myself and saving money. By sharing the work, instead of just taking up space, borrowing tools and asking for free advice, it’s helpful to create a true partnership that benefits both you and the yard.

Boatyard Credit Manjagui from Getty Images

Is the staff trained and certified on the systems and equipment on my boat?

Knowing what you need helps ensure the boatyard is qualified to do the work. Asking about technical qualifications, experience and certifications is one of the most frequent questions yard managers get from prospective customers.

Most of the time, this information is advertised by the yard or posted on its website and social media so boaters can search for the needed services. If you have a John Deere engine or a Northern Lights generator, having a technician that is trained on that equipment is important. If the systems are still under warranty, it is essential for the technicians to be certified in most cases if you want that work covered by the manufacturer.

Where are you located, and do you have a mobile service or partnerships with other yards that support my cruising locations?

If you have a relatively short travel range from your home port, maybe your local boatyard meets all your needs. However, if you travel up and down the East Coast, you might want to look for a boatyard that provides options for meeting your broader cruising requirements.

A boatyard with multiple locations or one that has a mobile service to extend its reach can provide confidence for boaters in their travels and keep the knowledge all at one place. The ability to look at past maintenance items and recall repairs or problems from earlier visits will provide a more comprehensive understanding and a greater probability to get you back on the water quickly.

Do you have references that you are willing to share based on the projects I am looking to do?

Boatyards are made or broken based on their reputation with the boating community. Online forums, social media and reviews can make selecting a boatyard less scary. Negative reviews and references are easy to find about most businesses, and if you’re looking for something bad, you will find it.

However, smart boaters look at all the reviews and follow up with the yard manager to understand the comments. That helps the yard manager understand what you expect from the project in terms of timeline, cost and work performed. References are a great point of information, but remember they are only one point of many that you should consider while making a decision.

A boatyard is more than just a place to drop off your boat for repairs. The right boatyard becomes the boaters’ partner in managing and maintaining their boat. The right boatyard develops a plan with the smart boater that ensures preventive maintenance is scheduled and performed on all the systems at the right time and can troubleshoot and repair the boat when repairs are needed. Asking these questions will put you on track to find the right boatyard for you.

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