Recommendations of good boatyards often come from friends, other members of your sailing club, neighbours on your moorings and surveyors that you have previously engaged for advice.
While all of these sources will certainly provide useful information on what might (or might not) be a suitable yard to choose, it’s also important to analyse your own requirements each time you haul the vessel ashore.
Understanding the Boatyard Business
The choice of boatyard depends a great deal on the type – and extent – of the work that you plan on carrying out while the boat is ashore. If this is predominately routine maintenance on a fairly typical boat you will have a wide choice. However, the more complex or unusual the boat, and the more work you plan to do while it is laid up, the more it pays to shop around.
A key reason for this is that some boatyards only permit their own employees to carry out any work that’s done in the yard. On the face of it, this is not an unreasonable requirement for a business that makes as much of its income from boat repair as from storage of boats ashore. Why should they allow other operators a share of their repair business?
However, many yards do allow external contractors to work on boats stored on the premises, provided they satisfy the yard’s policy for third party contractors. At the very least these are likely to need to show evidence of professional liability insurance – which any responsible tradesman should have in any case – and may in some cases also be asked to pay a daily amount for working in the yard.
If you’re able to find a yard that has specialist skills that match the work that you need to have carried out that will clearly help to inform your choice of yard. Many of this type of yard have an excellent reputation locally – and sometimes even nationally – for their work, for instance on wooden boats, teak decks, fibreglass repairs and so on.
Choosing the Right Boatyard: Open Boatyards
A third category of boatyard is run on a different business model, in which the only services provided by the yard itself are launch, recovery and storage. Many of these boat yards have independent businesses operating on site that offer a wide range of specialist services and also allow non-resident companies to work on boats in the yard without incurring a financial penalty.
This gives boat owners free rein to choose who they want to work on each aspect of their vessel, allowing them, for instance, to act freely on recommendations from other boat owners. There’s also an argument that there’s more of a free market in this type of yard, which encourages more competitive pricing and a higher standard of service.
Even if you’re planning to do all the work on the boat yourself, it’s important to check that this is allowed at the yard of your choice, including any restrictions on hours or days of the week worked. Although this is rarely an issue in the UK, there are yards elsewhere, where work is only permitted to be carried out by the yard’s personnel, which has the potential to raise costs significantly. Potentially, it’s possible for an unscrupulous operator to effectively hold an owner to ransom part-way through a programme of work.
The Right Boatyard: The Best Price
It’s worth looking beyond the headline advertised prices, as there is potential to make significant savings on all types of boatyard charges. The easiest way is to avoid the times at which they are busiest. For most marine trades this is the spring and early summer, when many businesses are operating flat-out for a period of several months, even in a recession. On the other hand, autumn and the weeks before Christmas are usually a quiet time and it’s often possible to obtain useful discounts on work undertaken during this period.
However, any potential savings need to be factored against the fact that this is not the cheapest time to have your boat hauled ashore – the best deals for this are generally to be had in mid-summer. To many people that’s the wrong time to have your boat out of commission, however, it’s not as simple as that, especially if you tend to do much of the maintenance on the vessel yourself. Rather than suffer hard winter days working on her, when there’s precious little daylight and dry weather, you can achieve two or three times as much in a day in late April, May or June, when the nights are much shorter.
The Right Boatyard: The Best Location
While some owners are lucky enough to live a stone’s throw from where they keep their boats, that’s not universally true. It’s important not to assume that the criteria that you apply in choosing a sailing base are equally valid for determining where to lay the boat up ashore. For instance, there may be harbours with suitable boatyards much closer to where you live that you’ve discounted for a host of possible reasons, including limited tidal access, lack of picturesque destinations nearby for weekend cruising, or simply distance from sufficiently open water to provide good sailing.
However, none of these need be a deal-breaker for hauling the boat ashore and, if you’re working on the boat yourself, every hour cut off the trip to get to the boat for maintenance while she’s ashore starts to add significantly to what can be achieved each day.
See also: 5 Top Winter Yacht Projects and Top 10 Boat Laying Up and Winterisation Tips