Captain's Tips

Top Tips for a Successful Boat Refit

Do Your Homework

Capt. Juan

Many owners out there have either been down this road before or are about to head that way at some stage ... the dreaded boat refit! It is absolutely understandable why there might be some trepidation. The following hypothetical situation will provide you with some perspective and useful tips when refitting your vessel.


Mr. Jones purchased a 50-foot motor yacht. The vessel passed survey well and the owner got the boat for a great price since the vessel required a paint job. He decided a bow thruster might be wise because of the new paint job. So now we begin.


Determine your projects, whether it be new paint or a bow thruster. I recommend doing some basic reading on each of these so you have some understanding of what is involved. Next is the important task of selecting the yard. Below are some important factors to consider:

What type of reputation does the yard have? Are they expensive, difficult to deal with and/or true professionals? Try to get feedback about a yard from several people if possible.

Meet the prospective project manager and understand the importance of having an honest discussion about your concerns.

Does the project manager have the right personnel and equipment for the project(s)? Do they have painters trained to apply the specific paint application you have chosen? Have they done any recent bow thruster installments, and can they provide testimonials for you to review?

Is the yard close by so you can make regular visits to monitor progress? I do not suggest being there every day. If you provide the yard with the occasional feedback they need, they will know if they are doing the job right for you.


Mr. Jones has done the preliminary vetting and has a particular yard in mind, A Boat Works. This is where we nail down the project details and refit agreements. Agreements should generally cover:

  • Proposed timeline for the overall refit, detailing the responsibilities of the yard. If deadlines are not met, the timeline could involve daily or weekly penalties, covering the layup charges if applicable or nothing at all. One might consider a clause that allows for the date to be adjusted, provided it is agreed and signed by both parties.
  • A detailed scope of the work and cost. It should clearly detail if the install is a fixed price or an estimate. If it is an estimate, the owner might consider putting a not to exceed amount clause on estimated amounts. This will allow for the owner to be informed if the project is running into complications and not to leave the yard sitting with the cost. Remember, any custom fabrication cannot be returned so be sure everyone is on the same page.
  • Payment of the refit. This could involve payments made at certain milestones during the refit or deposits upfront and the outstanding balance at the end. If you are working on the first option make sure the milestones are clearly defined; this has the benefit of being able to review the billing in smaller chunks and makes expenditure tacking easier. Option two means less checks, but you are left with a yard bill that is two months in the making.
  • Insurance responsibilities should be clearly defined in the event that there was to be any damage or loss to the vessel for any reason during the refit. Check with your insurance provider to ensure adequate coverage for yard work, as an additional umbrella might be required.


Mr. Jones and the yard have now come to terms and the refit is under way. Tracking progress is important so listed are a few recommendations to help the process:

  • Start a binder to organize all the signed agreements, invoices and estimates, etc.
  • Create a folder in your email account to track and store all refit- related digital documents. Always follow up with an email if you happen to have a conversation in the yard or over the phone.
  • See if the project manager can provide you with a weekly progress update covering yard hours and purchases. If convenient, meet weekly to go over the progress.
  • Once projects are under way, take as many photos as you can. They can come in handy, and it is good to print copies and add them to your refit binder.


Refits can be stressful. At the same time, when it goes well it can be particularly rewarding. In 2011, I was in charge of a refit project of a 101-Foot motor yacht. The project went on for months and involved painting the entire vessel and doing six other large structural and mechanical projects. The following points are what most resonated with me on that refit, which was a particularly successful one:

  • Vague agreements do not serve any party at the end of the day. Spend the time on the front end, and find terms that work for all involved.
  • If the work is done right and on time, make sure the yard is paid on time. This is a great way to build a great long-term relationship with the yard, and in my experience they will go the extra mile for you.
  • It is not always easy, but it is vital that both parties understand what the project entails. The yard must be clear in its abilities, scope and costing. The owner/captain must do his best to express what he/she is looking for.
  • Change orders can be expensive so try and avoid those.
  • The ultimate goal is to get that new paint job or bow thruster installed right. It takes a true collaborative process to achieve that goal.

Juan Watson is a 14-year mega yacht veteran. Currently, he owns and operates Pelorus Yacht Consulting, LLC in Annapolis, MD. PYC focuses on educating yachtsmen and owners.

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