Can I leave my boat to be refitted in my absence?

It was a long week and for some it was too much

We get emailed a lot about our refit and soon I’ll be putting together a ‘guide to refitting your boat abroad’. In the meantime I wanted to respond to an email I received recently asking whether it’s possible to leave the boat in the care of the yard for a complete refit, to be done in the owner’s absence.

“We have recently purchased a boat that requires a bit of a revamp. We are quite impressed with the quality of workmanship that is being displayed with the refit of your vessel, and this has led us to consider if we should not be doing something similar.

The big problem that we are encountering at home is the very expensive cost of labour for a quality finish, & due to our work commitments we are unable to be there to supervise all our desired projects for the duration of their execution.

So our question to you is: Do you believe that it would work to deliver our boat into the care of the PSS boatyard, with a list of repairs/jobs that need doing, and entrust them to complete them to the standard that we have been seeing on Esper?

List of works to be done include…”

And there follows a list similar to Esper’s refit. My response was quite blunt, which is, perhaps, why they never replied, but the answer is the same however it’s phrased: no, this is a bad idea.

You Are The Project Manager

Boatyards do not have project managers. They may have ‘facilitators’, yard managers or key personnel who make your lives a little easier but ultimately only you can manage the project. Here are a few reasons why:

You are the project manager

A project manager does the accounts

No one is going to oversee the accounts to make sure you are within budget. You may receive regular invoices and a breakdown of materials used but they need scrutiny and monitoring. A yard manager, meanwhile, spends his/her time on the shop floor facilitating the workers and the materials. He does not have the time or the inclination to go through a meticulously filled-out and constantly changing spreadsheet. That’s your job.

It’s an administrative minefield

Whether it’s doing the accounts, paying the workers, sourcing materials or researching the internet, there is a lot of invisible work that goes on in the background. We’ve been fortunate enough that PSS provides an air-conditioned room with fast internet access where we can sit at a desk and do all of the above. They are essential to the success of the refit, but if you are not here doing it, who will? These are not things the boat yard wants to be bothered with.

Quality control is lost

Are the workers using stainless fittings or are they buying the cheap screws they use on fishing boats? Are they glueing the veneer correctly? Did they remove all the air bubbles when fibre-glassing? Did you want that hook at eye-height? Will that fitting stay in place when the boat is heeling? The list of jobs that require your input is bigger than you’ll ever anticipate and a boat yard cannot be checking the progress at every turn.

Esper refit

Yard workers don’t know sailing

On a number of occasions we have had to intervene on a job where the suggested solution would have come apart/fallen over/broken/gone over the side the moment we hoisted the sails. Yard workers, no matter how skilled they are and no matter how many hours they’ve spent on boats in the yard, rarely get to go out sailing. Solutions are offered for the here-and-now whilst the boat sits in the yard, but what happens when the boat heels 30 degrees and you get thrown across the saloon, grabbing onto anything you can get your hands on? Will the new saloon table collapse if you lean on it? Are there locks on the drawers? Did you want that wall panel epoxied over that crucial deck fitting? You know the answer to these questions but the skilled craftsmen who work with you may not.

The project expands

Jia, the yard manager here, occasionally has to remind us that the fifty-odd stainless jobs we’ve undertaken were never part of the original twenty we agreed. One job turns into two jobs, either because the second job is required to complete the first job, or because you get more ideas about what can be done during the refit. We exceeded our original budget by a significant amount because we were so impressed with what the yard can do vs the cost of the job. We found ourselves telling each other that we’d be silly not to get the work done now, so we’ve taken advantage of being out the water in a good yard with cheap labour. None of these extra jobs, however, were ever anticipated when we drew up our original plans.

The curved wall with temporary brackets holding the curve in place

Are they actually doing the work?

In most instances you pay a daily rate for a worker. If you are not present, how do you know how hard that worker is grafting? Is it fair that you were charged X for a job that you believe should only have cost Y? How do you know? The only way you know is to be there, monitoring the workers, building a relationship with them and ultimately trusting them to do the work. Those of you familiar with our refit will know we dropped one worker because he wasn’t pulling his weight, and that decision was only made after working alongside him for two weeks. Like anywhere in the world you get good workers and you get poor workers. Spending time with them is how you hang on to the good ones.

Team Esper - most of whom also worked on Thea


I’m sure there are many other reasons why you need to be present during your refit, but the above points are the main issues that spring to my mind. In my next blog post on this subject I’ll be talking more generally about cultural differences, expectations, costs and timings but I felt this subject important enough to warrant its own post.

Shortly before publishing this article I spoke to Julie of PSS about this subject. When I told her that I was writing an article about leaving a boat at PSS for them to manage her face went white. When I told her the angle of the argument she was noticeably relieved. “Can you imagine the amount of time we would have to spend emailing the owners every time we had to make a decision on which screw to use?” With only Julie and Jia at PSS qualified enough to write and respond to emails it would be left to them to manage the project. From our experience this is a full-time job and it’s not a service PSS wish to offer.

In my reply to the above-mentioned email I said I knew of no boat-yard that would undertake such a project without the owner’s presence. This may not be strictly true but the point is that you’d have to pay top Western prices to employ a qualified project manager to complete such an undertaking. If you want to take advantage of cheap, good labour in a country where most of the workers speak no English, you need to be standing over them every step of the way.

Share this Post

8 Comments on “Can I leave my boat to be refitted in my absence?”

  1. ” I have recently purchased a boat that needs a bit of a revamp”
    translation: I have bought a knackered boat cheap.

    “…one concern is the high cost of labour for a quality finish”
    translation: I am too cheap to pay a decent wage.

    Here’s the thing, sailing is an expensive hobby, happily it is not compulsory, may I suggest taking up golf?

    1. Well there may be some truth in that, Sharon, but you could put us in the same boat, excuse the pun. We certainly couldn’t afford to do what we have done back in Europe, it’s too prohibitive. One thing I was tempted to add to that post, however, was the idea of buying a boat and refitting it straight away. Unless these people know the boat well, have spent several sailing months on it and understand what needs to be done, I would recommend that they don’t do the refit straight away. Get to know the boat first. We spent eight years on Esper before making any changes and I think we’re better off for it. We knew exactly what needed to be done.

    2. Sharon

      I was the individual that emailed Jamie and Liz about project management at PSS.

      Just to give you some insight into the project that we have undertaken, you are incorrect about the price of the boat, you are also incorrect in the fact that “I am too cheap to pay a decent wage”

      Here in Australia we are paying $2.30 per foot per day for hard stand. So that works out to be 3588.00 per month. Skilled labour starts at $90.00 and runs up to about $150.00 per hour, money doesn’t guarantee quality.

      Simply put, I think Jamie and Liz have ended up with a great finish for some what less than what I’m pay in Australia

      I dont generally make comments on social media but i get disappointed when individuals like your self fire from the hip.

      i hope you enjoy your days on the greens and keep up with the maintenance on the golf buggy.





  2. don’t want to do this to death but checked with a UK boat builder yesterday, rates of pay run between £6.50 ph to £20.  I have yet to meet an AWB owner who works for minimum wage.

    Yards have on- costs that jobbing boat builders don’t, if it was me, I’d seek out a boat builder rather than go to a yard.  There are a few great builders around but as with most things skilled in UK, these guys are approaching retirement and there’s no one coming up behind.

    Oh and yes you’re right about living with the boat before throwing money at it.  OK I’m done, ma pen rai.

  3. Totally agree with all your comments Re not leaving the boat whilst having any work done on it. We have been up on the hard in Boat Lagoon, Phuket, twice, once for 14 months. Every day decisions have to be made, and as it ultimately you who is going to sea and not your contractor or workers, how could you not be in total control of the process.

    1. Hi Neil and Ley. Couldn’t agree more with your comments. It sounds like you speak from person experience and it’s also encouraging to know that your refit took as long as ours. Now we don’t feel so bad celebrating one year in the boatyard this weekend 😉

  4. Jamie / Liz


    we have been following your refit via your website and watched some of the videos as well , it is an awful lot of work that has been done at the same time, keeping track of some many things and people can indeed be very daunting, you are right to point out that kind of work needs a project manager.


    We have suffered from poor quality and poor workmanship in both the uk and abroad, after 15 years of owning this boat there is little


    I haven’t personally rebuilt, I loathe letting other “craftsmen” have access at all .


    Ian and Andrea  – Blown Away


    good luck with the ongoing work

    1. Hi Ian and Andrea,

      I was in the middle of replying to your PM on YBW as I read this 🙂 Thanks for stopping by and for the messages. I’m about to read about your engine woes, which is quite appropriate as I’ve discovered a fuel leak this morning, damn it.

      Hope to get another clip up soon. Been so busy with the refit that I haven’t had time to do the editing.

      Cheers and fair winds

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *