Mailport May 15, 1998 Issue

Mailport 05/15/98

Managing Boats
My wife and I were five weeks into our year-long sabbatical aboard Harpswell, our 47-foot Alden ketch, when we realized there are two classes of live-aboards cruising the ICW to Florida: those on professionally captained vessels, and everybody else.

The professional captains knew the best places to berth, the best repair yards, where to get the best equipment deals, etc. The professionals also appeared to get favorable treatment at the marinas and boatyards and, I suspect, better prices.

The more I talked to captains, the more I realized that the difference between them and us is our approach to managing our boats. We owners regard our boats as pleasurable recreation—our hobby. We view the world of marine suppliers, yacht brokers, marine insurance agents, sailmakers, gear manufacturers, marine retailers, boatyards and marinas and yard workers as our recreational companions.

Not so the professional captains. For them, maintaining and operating a boat is a business to be run by sound management policies. Why can’t owners follow the same principles and practices?

Before our sabbatical, I spent 10 years as a business school professor at a large university, and before that 23 years in the New York advertising agency business. Surely I could apply some simple management tools to the practice of boat management.

Competitive Bidding. Every business person understands the usefulness of the competitive bidding process. It starts with a detailed description of the work to be performed, the materials to be used, the minimum qualifications of the suppliers, and the timetable. Then solicit bids from at least three qualified suppliers. Be sure to build into your specifications a performance guarantee as to minimum acceptable quality and completion date. Penalties for non-performance and lateness should be specified as well.

Specify how disputes over quality standards shall be handled. A marine surveyor acceptable to both sides might be useful as an impartial arbiter.

I used the technique with three top notch sailmakers to purchase a new mainsail. Each loft submitted its bid independently, and then was offered an opportunity to counterbid after the bids were revealed. I ended up with a superbly built sail with all sorts of extras at a cost about 25% less than the going rate.

Materials Procurement. I spent a summer working in the purchasing department of a corporation while I was getting my engineering degree. Would a purchasing agent buy a pump at full list price when he could just as easily purchase it at a deep discount? Boat owners routinely contract to have equipment installed by boatyards and pay full list price plus labor when they could easily buy the equipment at one-third off list price at a marine retailer or by catalog. Then contract for labor only. Some yards add an extra charge of $5 to $10 per hour for owner-supplied gear, but you’ll still save money.

If the yard paints your boat bottom, why not ask them to quote a price with you supplying the paint? Most bottom paint is discounted 50%.

Seasonal Contracting. Many sailmakers promote their savings plans for off-season work. Boatyards encourage off-season work as a way for owners to avoid delays in spring launching. So why not ask your yard for an off-season discount so that you can use their slow period to your advantage?

T&M Jobs. Can you imagine any well-run business agreeing to an open-ended price on a contract? It doesn’t happen often. But boat owners do it all the time. We agree to pay time and materials for a job with no assurances of any upper financial limits. The owner assumes all the risk. We end up paying for the yard’s inexpertise and on-the-job-training at upwards of $55 per hour.

To be fair, there are some jobs that cannot be accurately estimated until the mechanic gets in there to look around. If you have enough financial clout with the yard, ask them to investigate at their cost with a guarantee that they will be awarded the job if the estimate is reasonable. Or, you can pay for an hour or two of a workman’s time to gather information for an accurate estimate. And while you’re at it, make sure to hold the yard to the estimated cost with, say, a 10% cushion for unforeseen circumstances.

A Businesslike Approach. Try to view your boat’s upkeep and operation in a dispassionate way. Use your professional or business skills and experience in managing your boat.

You might consider hiring a professional manager to handle your boat in the same way you would hire a manager to handle an assignment at your business firm. While a full-time professional captain is a luxury few of us can afford, a part-time manager may be the key to efficient and effective boat management.

James Parker
New York, New York

Your suggestion to retain a part-time manager is particularly apt. We know of an increasing number of persons performing such duties for owners. Responsibilities range from performing or arranging for commissioning and decommissioning on up to supervising major upgrades and deliveries. In our experience, these managers are anxious to save their owners money because it helps secure their relationship with the owner. We won’t go so far as to say that such managers pay for themselves. The owner will pay more for the sum of services performed when the manager’s fee is added, but we do believe that the work will be done on a more timely basis, often of better quality, and at a lot less stress on the owner.

303 Fabric Guard Endorsement
We read with interest your report on fabric waterproofers and couldn’t agree more with your findings (January 1, 1998). 303 Fabric Guard works great! Our experience shows that 303 covers from 50 to 100 square feet. So, it is also good on a dollar-per-square-foot basis, and especially at our $11.95 per 15.2-oz. spray can price.

Connie Grant
Columbia City, Indiana

Cordless Drill Tests
For me, the most timely and useful evaluations you have done are the ones on cordless drill drivers. In 1991, I was in the process of upgrading from small, underpowered drills and I bought the Skil Top Gun largely as a result of your article. I don’t know how I ever got anything done without that tool. It has worn out in the ensuing six years. Then I noticed your most recent article (October 15, 1997).

I’m in the market for the 12-volt Milwaukee when I can find it at the price you mentioned. Yesterday, I hefted one and liked it a lot, but was turned off by the $225 price. I saw a workman doing drywall, and he was using the DeWalt (16-volt I believe). He said he had tried them all and DeWalt was the best. At a store I saw a DeWalt and it was a beautiful tool. Its price was $260 for a 14.4-volt model. At Sears there was a 13.2-volt Industrial Craftsman for $130. Interestingly, this is the price you quote for the 12-volt model. I would really be interested in a comparison of these tools at the different voltages available. What do you get in the 16-volt model that you don’t get in the 12-volt? Probably only more power.

Everett MacAskill
Ridgecrest, California

A major consideration of mine in finding a cordless drill was the ability to charge their batteries from my inverter. Because of the modified sine wave most inverters produce, one can’t recharge batteries of tools generally higher than 9.6 volts. The 9.6-volt and below chargers produce low voltage at their contacts. Most 12-volt and higher battery/chargers have a high voltage output at their contacts which is usually clearly marked on the charger. Plugging one of these higher voltage chargers into an inverter blows out the circuit faster than your winch handle sinks.

Thus, I have both a Makita 9.6-volt drill that I can charge with either my Prowatt or my Heart inverter, and a DeWalt 12-volt drill that can only be charged using shorepower. It’s a point worth considering when buying one of these tools for your boat.

Eric Stephan
Gig Harbor, Washington

Where Credit Is Due...
To Master Lock: “I believe it is time I acknowledged the way in which Master Lock lived up to its lifetime warranty against failure, in the case of one of their products which I purchased to secure my 8-hp. Mercury outboard to the transom of my AY 23 sailboat. They promptly replaced the outboard motor lock, Model No. 430KA, and refunded my postage costs.”

Malcolm J. MacInnis
Antigonish, Nova Scotia

To Tidewater Products: “When I retired from dentistry, the folks at work bought me a wristwatch that would show me the time and the state of the tide, as well as give future tides. I was delighted with the gift, and relied on it when planning my sailing trips. I was disappointed when the watch failed to function several months later. I did not have the receipt, since this was a gift, but I sent it off to the manufacturer anyway. I was pleasantly surprised to receive a new watch from Tidewater Products, no questions asked.”

Harry W. Koerner, Jr., DMD
Hibernia, New Jersey

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