Editorial March 2008 Issue

The Do-It-Yourself Dilemma

Every time we revisit our bottom paint test I have nightmares. One recurring theme is that my boat needs a haulout soon, but the only boatyard around is a plush affair with a swimming pool, sauna, and waterfront restaurant. I need to pay an annual membership fee to be able to use the yard, and even for members, the haulout rates are astronomical. The yard’s exorbitant labor rates for various jobs

Bottom Paint
How not to bottom paint: no protective clothing ... and no boatyard. In Bali, In-donesia, careening on a sandbank is a cheap, but dirty alternative.
are boldly posted on the office wall, along with a policy that forbids any do-it-yourself repair work. I must buy my paint from the boatyard at 50 percent more than I would pay at the local chandlery.

When I lived in Miami, I used to haul my boat at Bojeans Boatyard, one of the last do-it-yourself boatyards on the Miami River. It had a rock-gravel parking lot and hard-stand area, a side yard where old rigging and spars accumulated, and a small store where you could buy painting and maintenance supplies. It lacked the comforts and amenities of high-priced yards, but it was a boatyard, not a resort. And if I had a question, the owner Bob, or his wife Jean (thus, the name, Bojeans), or one of the many old-timers who worked for them knew the answer.

Such mom-and-pop boatyards and marinas are rare these days. Around the country—and the Caribbean—they are being swallowed up by chains faster than you can say "condominium." Those boatyards that aren’t going upscale are being flattened to make way for townhomes or condos. While we can lament this loss, one can hardly blame the owners for selling out. The boatyard/marina business is not glamorous. Owners face sky-rocketing property taxes and insurance rates. Complying with new environmental regulations adds significantly to overhead. The hours are long, and unless you have an irrepressible need to be around broken boats, the payoff is hardly worth the effort.

As a result, the chance of a boat owner finding an affordable do-it-yourself boatyard is becoming less likely with each passing year. The ironic thing is that in many places where we are limited to using the yard’s staff or a short list of outside contractors, there is dire need for skilled workers. So, not only are we paying through the nose to have our boats fixed, but the people doing the work lack the expertise we expect for that price.

The "brain drain" from the marine service industry is very real, and its impact is growing as boat systems become more sophisticated. It is so serious in some states that the local marine industry councils are funding apprenticeship programs and specialized curricula through vocational schools. In some cases, state and local governments are also contributing to these programs.

Similarly, the National Marine Manufacturing Association and American Boat and Yacht Council are expanding their certification programs. Granted, a certificate does not guarantee proficiency. Some of the best pros don’t have a single shoulder patch. But if I’m going to pay big money for someone to work on my boat, you can bet I’ll do it at a place that is more interested in developing a skilled workforce than in building pools and saunas.

Darrell Nicholson

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