Pulling off a successful refit can be a gratifying experience. A refit project gives you the opportunity to select the equipment you want and to become acquainted with the installations. You have the chance put your personal stamp on the boat’s aesthetics, from hull color to interior décor. And, for most of us, bringing a tired boat back to life can be rewarding. To pull it off, however, you need a clear understanding of the challenges and a solid game plan.
The Refit Triangle
It might sound like the Bermuda Triangle—and a boat entering a refit faces similar unknowns—but the “refit triangle” references a different set of issues. A successful refit must balance three components: time, quality and cost.
The tighter your financial constraints, the more flexible you need to be with time and/or quality. If time is short and you want high quality, then cost will go up. On the other hand, if quality and cost are paramount, flexibility on time will help. Allowing a boatyard, for example, to flex the schedule so that they can fill in slower times might result in a lower hourly rate and a better discount on materials. Keep in mind that when you push hard on one dimension of the triangle, something else will shift.
Put the Rocks in First
Imagine you have a few large rocks, a number of stones and a pile of sand. If you put the sand in a bucket first, then the stones, and then the rocks, you might find that they won’t all fit. If you put the rocks in first, then fill around them with stones, and finish by pouring the sand into the openings, you will have room to spare. The same principle applies to your refit. In this case the large rocks represent structural and safety issues. If you recently purchased the boat, the survey will have a list of findings and recommendations. That moisture in the cockpit sole might not seem like an important item, but left neglected it could spell big trouble in a few years. Your wish list for improvements should fall in place around the items that will deteriorate if left alone or impact reliability.
If you have owned the boat for a while, I highly recommend having a survey completed—not an insurance survey, but a condition survey as performed pre-purchase. A good survey will greatly reduce the unknowns and help you identify the tasks that belong in the bucket first.
Find the Critical Path
Once you have established the task list, break each task down into a few subcategories. If you plan to replace all seacocks, break that into three subtasks: remove all seacocks, install new seacocks, and connect hoses and bonding wires.
Next, for each task on your list, think through its relationship to other tasks. One pair of tasks might have a “finish-start” connection: Task B cannot start until task A has been completed. Another pair of tasks might require that one be completed before the other is finished, a “finish-finish” dependency.
Let’s say you plan to replace the seacocks and have the bottom peeled to correct a blister problem. In that scenario, the task “peel the bottom” should not start until the task “remove all seacocks” has been completed. Thinking through the various dependencies will greatly improve the scheduling accuracy.
Procure Materials Early
As you get rolling, the challenges start emerging. Your best efforts to plan and schedule effectively can fall apart quickly if materials are not on hand at the right time. If you delay task C, every task with a dependency on that task will also be delayed. If you are paying by the hour, starting and stopping on delayed tasks will drive up the cost.
Most companies keep smaller inventories than in the past, and parts procurement can require more time than expected. Despite inventory technology, the wrong parts arrive with surprising frequency. The windlass arrives on time, but they shipped 12V instead of 24V. The sunshade delivers on time but in a damaged crate. When your parts do arrive, open them and inspect immediately.
Look Out for the Creep
Your project triangle will distort quickly if the scope of the project expands—a common and mostly inevitable outcome known as “creep.” It works something like this: You plan on replacing the generator. When it’s removed, the workers discover that the shelf under it has become diesel saturated from a leak and will have to be replaced. Once the shelf is cut out, you find that the stern tube beneath it has been weeping and now would be the perfect time to repair it. Since you have to pull the shaft seal off anyway, why not upgrade to a dripless seal? You get the idea.
Most of those decisions will be perfectly valid and sensible, but they will also increase cost and add time. Your budget and time frame will dictate how much creep you can allow. Too often boat owners make the right choice but fail to ask about the cost and the time it will add to the delivery date.
Obey Hofstadter’s Law (Don’t worry, you will)
Douglas Hofstadter is a cognitive scientist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author who first introduced his productivity law in 1979. His law states: “It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.” In other words, people tend to underestimate how long a task will take them, even when they’re aware of this flaw.
Related studies have pointed out that we tend to be too optimistic when planning. We also know that the more steps you have in a project, the greater likelihood of complications and delays. These tendencies all fall under the term “planning fallacy,” and your refit will be no different. In most—if not all—cases, the total cost and finish date will exceed your estimate. The Denver International Airport opened 16 months late at a cost overrun of $2 billion. The Sydney Opera House, originally estimated to be completed in 1963 for $7 million, finally wrapped up 10 years behind schedule for $102 million.
How much more? That is impossible to predict, but I would not go into a refit project without a 50 percent reserve on cost and at least that much for the schedule. As the schedule drags out, many boat owners find themselves up against the date for a planned trip. A refit should be planned for the season before a trip. Departing directly from the yard on a trip invites trouble. Problems will crop up and it is better to have some time on the boat to have a good shakedown.
Before spending money on a refit, give some thought to the following questions:
> Is the boat a good candidate? The boat should have “good bones”—a combination of solid construction and a solid brand. No point in putting lipstick on a pig.
> How much of the total expense will be spent on restoration rather than improvement? Spending $30,000 replacing wet balsa core in the deck does not equal spending the same on new electronics. Ideally, one-third or less of the cost will be devoted to repairing structural problems.
> How long do you plan to keep the boat after the refit? Every $1,000 you spend on the refit will add something like $300 in value. That’s not a good equation if you sell a year or two later, but if you plan to keep her for five years or more, the refit can make economic sense [see “Refits,” October 2013].
With the right boat and a realistic game plan you will have set yourself up for a successful refit. Give yourself time after the refit for a good shakedown and a return visit to the yard that performed the work. You will have the gear you want installed the way you want and a boat ready for years of cruising.