Naval architect Ed Beckett is part of the Burgess Technical Services team that is minimising risk and enhancing performance in new build superyacht projects, even before the contract is signed.
This is not a story about paperwork. It is a story about how to build a 100 million euro superyacht in your mind and capture it in a few paragraphs. It is a story about predicting the future and learning from the past about obsessional detail and extreme technical expertise. And then there’s the paperwork.
» One of the most critical phases of a new build project happens before any contract is signed, any steel cut or any interior designed. «
When you sit down to sign a contract for a new custom-built yacht, what exactly are you signing?
The legal contract that protects your investment is underpinned by several documents, the heaviest of which is the 200+ page technical specification. Here, the devil is in the detail. From the type of welding to the material used for pipes and valves, from the gloss levels of the paintwork to the noise and vibration levels in every room (and even what equipment will be used to take those measurements). When you sign the contract you are agreeing to a million details buried in the small print, that will determine your finished yacht and the way it is built.
» If it’s not in the technical specification, it’s not going to be on the yacht. «
The pre-contract phase is critical because if you don’t include something now, you can’t ask for it later. Well, you can ask – but the shipyard is not obliged to agree, and you will pay a premium.
For the Burgess Technical Services team, working on behalf of our clients, the pre-contract phase represents the best window of opportunity to improve the specification, enhance the performance of the yacht and meet the owner’s expectations while at the same time minimising the risk of issues arising later in the project or indeed during the life of the yacht.
At this stage, the balance of power is with the owner and we can negotiate more of what our client wants on board. Once the contract is signed, changes represent a cost that is harder to control. As the project progresses, changes become more difficult because there is a physical and financial reality to the construction process.
We get involved at the pre-contract stage in order to tighten up the technical specification. At this point, our attention to detail is surprising to some clients, and also to some shipyards unaccustomed to such interrogation.
We focus on details that are crucial for on board comfort, functionality and safety. Will the specified number of air conditioning units achieve the required performance? If not, where will those additional units go? This will affect the general arrangement and interior design, too: the owners will not be pleased to hear that they can’t have a gym, because the space is needed for air handling units which were not included in the ‘as sold’ arrangement.
It might be specified that the swimming pool should be heated to 30°C but how fast can it be filled and heated? Nobody wants to wait all day to go for a swim! Elsewhere, domestic hot water is circulated around the yacht at 65°C (in order to prevent Legionella), but are there thermostatic mixers on the taps to prevent owners or their grandchildren scalding themselves? We ensure such details are explicitly stated. These things might be picked up later, but then they will require a change order, effectively an alteration to the contract carrying a risk of cost and delay to the schedule.
If you need just one reason for employing Burgess Technical Services pre-contract, it is this: we leave nothing to chance – on time, on budget and on spec starts here.
All shipyards subcontract a range of services and to a multitude of vendors, so an owner approved makers list is an essential safeguard. If you are commissioning a bespoke staircase, you need to know who will be building it. Would you sleep well knowing the sprinkler system or the anchor chain was supplied by an unknown supplier? What exactly is ‘yard standard’?
» We made over 250 pre-contract changes to the technical specification… and there was barely a change order during the entire build process. «
The yard might object that they have never had a warranty issue with the item, but the warranty period may only be 12 months and we want owners to enjoy their yachts for years. We work closely with our colleagues in the Burgess Yacht Management division, who have firsthand experience of long-term yacht performance. If something is difficult to maintain, inefficient or unreliable, our yacht managers will know.
Nor are we afraid of uncomfortable pre-contract conversations. The yard will be eager to sign, and the owner keen to get started, so it is not easy to say to a client: ‘you need to spend more, on something you can’t see, in order to get the on board experience you expect.’ Or to the yard: ‘first we want to discuss and agree the model test programme before the testing is actually carried out ’. Luckily we have a strong team of in-house engineers and specialists with decades of experience to justify our requests.
To manage quality you have to measure it, so we will specify many performance indicators. What penalties apply if noise or vibration exceed the agreed levels, or if speed and range fall short? Our on-site team will monitor quality during construction, so we specify rights of access and inspection as well as manufacturing standards.