Guide: Diary of a Superyacht Project
Burgess Technical Services takes us through the steps in building up a Superyacht.
When you consider the scale and complexity of today’s custom-build superyachts, it is a wonder they ever make it off the drawing board. A one hundred and fifty million dollar superyacht may start with a single vision, but it will require a huge team working on countless details to make that vision a reality. In terms of the engineering challenge alone, think Formula 1 racing car meets private luxury residence meets space station. There will be designers, lawyers, naval architects, marine engineers, noise and vibration specialists, interior designers and decorators, audiovisual and communications specialists and security advisors to name but a few of the players. To get it right takes professionalism and teamwork combined with the highest level of expertise and obsessional detail. For a client who is considering embarking on such a project, it’s essential to have their own dedicated team working on their behalf and coordinating every aspect of the planning and build process.
“Building a large superyacht could well be one of the biggest and most expensive projects that our clients ever undertake in their personal lives,” says Burgess Group Sales Director Tim Wiltshire. “It is a huge challenge and a significant investment from a financial and time perspective. Yet pulling a team together to achieve their dreams can also turn into one of the most rewarding experiences of their lives and many of our clients find they enjoy the process so much they’ll be planning their next new-build project before their current yacht has even been delivered.”
The Burgess Technical Services team talk YACHT STYLE through the critical steps involved.
Step 1 – The Vision
Those embarking on a new build project will already have a good idea of what they want, and Ray Steele, Burgess Technical Services Director, urges clients to work with a technical team from the beginning. “We go through a series of thought processes to ensure the whole team is clear about the vision. We will reality-check your wish list. For example, if you want to keep your yacht in a particular harbor, is the water deep enough and is there space to maneuver? If you want to cruise longer distances, can additional fuel be carried? We give the client confidence that their ideas are feasible.”
Design drives progress in engineering: innovative design and coming up with something that has not been done before on a superyacht is one of the most exciting aspects of the industry. But ultimately the client’s technical team has to be sure the shipyard can build the yacht the designer imagines and the client falls in love with.
Step 2 – The Choice
How and where will the yacht be built? Clients can choose a bespoke fully custom build, or a faster-track, semi-custom option, which offers some customisable elements on a proven hull and engineering package. “Every client has different priorities,” notes Sean Bianchi, senior naval architect. “Some want the perceived quality of a Northern European yard, and don’t mind paying a premium. Other projects are more price-sensitive and where time is of the essence, a semi-custom project can be very attractive.”
The client’s technical team will help them choose a construction route and shortlist a number of yards to tender for the project. “Pricing against a design concept is tricky, and no two quotes will be the same,” cautions Bianchi. “You need to watch the technical details to ensure you are comparing like with like, and it takes experience to see where a shipyard is making adequate preparations for extra requirements further into the build, or what they may have left out.”
Step 3 – The Contract
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.
As such this is the best opportunity to improve the specification of the build, enhance the performance of the yacht and meet the owner’s expectations, while minimizing the risk of issues arising later in the project and avoiding costly post-contract changes. “At contract negotiation, we can make the biggest difference to a project for the least cost,” asserts Ray Steele. “We might spend up to a year in this phase, having detailed technical meetings with Classification Society and Flag authorities and the shipyard.
“Yacht construction contracts are complex, with specifications on structural quality, materials, performance, engineering, safety, Classification, Registration and regulatory compliance. Because we understand these technical aspects, we can see the grey areas and implications of specific contract terms.”
The build specifications form the basis of the contract and should be subject to rigorous assessment and interrogation before they are signed off. In terms of looking after the client’s interests, it is a process of continuous risk assessment. The BTS team keep every plan and drawing up to date for the client, recording approvals and tracking changes to the specification or special clauses in the contract. It is an auditable history of the key project decisions from the bid stage onwards.
Step 4 – The Design
With the contract signed, the design process intensifies. “Design can be 12 months ahead of build,” says Ray Steele. “Ideally no steel is cut until detailed plans are approved by the client and by the relevant regulatory authorities.”
Naval architect Rory Boyle describes this process as “a spiral, where each rotation brings you closer to the final design. Each round is more detailed and reduces the risk of problems down the line.” The Project Support team logs all drawings, so each modification can be technically verified and tracked.
“The worst delays come as a result of late changes,” says Neville Harrison, senior marine engineer. “In order to minimize this risk, we work in parallel with the designers, integrating the systems for water, electrical, and so forth, into the design. We take care of the infrastructure so that it doesn’t impact on the aesthetics. We also consider the whole-life implications of design. Can that two and half tonnes electric motor be replaced in years to come without cutting a hole in the hull? Is it going to take a climbing-qualified crew eight days to clean the boat? These considerations can save the client significant operating costs and problems.”
Step 5 – The Build
Typically 12 to 18 months after contract, the first steel is cut and the focus moves to the shipyard.
Any deviation from the contracted build specification must be technically verified. At this point a team (who can be permanently on-site) working on behalf of the owner can add significant value when negotiating change orders or variations to the specification and will be able to advise on what is a reasonable change or cost.
“One of our key roles at this stage is ensuring each step of the build is carried out to the quality projected in the contract, and required by the client,” says naval architect Ed Beckett. “We ensure that the kilometers of cabling and ducting hidden behind the luxury interior finish are correctly installed and will operate as designed, minimising noise, vibration and the risk of failure.”
Throughout, the client receives regular (usually monthly) progress reports with photos, drawings and technical notes, an update on approvals or variations and an owner’s ‘decision list’ for action. These reports create a documentary record of the project for quality assurance purposes.
Step 6 – The Trials
After two or more years in the shed, the yacht is finally seaworthy. The soft launch will be a discreet affair, followed by harbor/shipyard trials and owner’s sea trials before the official delivery date. For marine engineer Nathan Durley-Boot, this is an exciting time. “This is our first chance to test the yacht’s power systems, as well as testing for noise and vibration, highlighting any defects and coming up with solutions.”
These sea trials are also of critical importance for testing the sophisticated electronic systems on board, from navigation right through to entertainment. The main systems are tested and certified on installation and then in the later stages of the build the team works with the yacht’s captain and crew as they familiarise themselves with the systems. Defects can sometimes appear during sea trials and anything that can’t be resolved before the delivery date will go onto a warranty list. Essentially, however, by the time the teams have put the yacht through two sets of sea trials, they should have a finished product.
Step 7 – The Delivery
At delivery, the operational phase of the yacht’s life begins, and the technical team hands over to the captain, crew and yacht management team. “At the end of an intense three, four or five year project, we have to be able to recommend that the client accepts the yacht,” says Ray Steele. “We have comprehensive documentation and an auditable decision trail to back up our recommendation, but it is still a major responsibility.”
Step 8 – The Guarantee
A robust warranty is the final step in de-risking the project for the client. Shipyards usually warrant build quality and finish for 12 months from handover, though it is possible to extend this. Then there are owner-supplied items, such as tenders, jetskis, galley equipment, grand pianos…
During the build the team checks the warranties provided on each piece of equipment and the warranty must also reflect the fact some equipment might be delivered to the shipyard several months before it goes into use. On the rare occasion there is a dispute, the painstaking documentation throughout the project proves vital. The team’s priority is to get the problem fixed as soon as possible, protecting the owner’s interests and ensuring their ongoing enjoyment of the yacht. After all, that is what this is all about.
About Burgess Technical Services
Burgess Technical Services (BTS) was formed in 2001 and has successfully project managed the construction of more superyachts from 40m to 180m than any other company. Working on behalf of owners, the in-house team of technical project managers, naval architects, marine and electrical engineers has supervised projects in 23 shipyards across three continents. Excluding projects under development, current projects in build have a total value in excess of EU1.5 billion, and include three Passenger Yacht Code compliant yachts.
Founded in 1975 and now with 12 offices worldwide, Burgess is the global superyacht leader specializing in yachts over 30m. Renowned for its professional yachting services, the company leverages its expertise to guide clients through every aspect of the yachting experience, including sale and purchase, charter, operational management, crew services and new build advisory services.
This article was originally published in Yacht Style