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A Captain's Berth

Buying or Building Your Own Yacht is a Risky Venture that Requires Long Months of Investigation
Edward Kiersh
From the Print Edition:
Tom Selleck, Winter 95/96

(continued from page 5)

Amid all the conflicting claims of superior workmanship and performance, how does a buyer avoid the financial equivalent of Davy Jones' locker? Along with visiting yards and consulting with naval architects, buyers should consider the following recommendations from industry experts:

* Don't be misled by how long a company has been in business. An established boatbuilder might be known for excellence in the 60- to 90-foot range. Yet it could still be in virgin territory when it comes to the engineering specs of building a larger yacht in a different material.

* Equate boatbuilding with starting a new business. Do a Dun and Bradstreet report on the boatyards being considered for the project (even a well-known company could be experiencing financial problems). Also get client references from boatbuilders. Talking with previous customers will give you a sense about a firm's track record of meeting delivery dates, handling repairs, etc.

"When the instruments weren't working perfectly, Alden got to me," Florio recalls. "It wasn't 'No, you fix it and send us a bill.' They would've had a guy in a plane coming to me that day if I needed it."

* Be realistic about your design wish list and stick to it. Change orders cost money and delay construction. So profile your project early on, from the type of engineering and electronics to the number of staterooms. Then hold fast. Don't turn a $1 million boat into a $1.8 million project, which, according to Christensen's Ferguson, "becomes an $800,000 resale disaster."

* Ask about guarantees. They differ from builder to builder.

* Get a lawyer who specializes in marine contracts and deals. Besides fine-tuning such contractual guarantees as delivery date, noise and speed levels, he'll negotiate the complicated issue of "building a boat to class"--or having its specs certified by Lloyd's or another classification society. Bringing a society's surveyors to a yard inflates construction costs (and renowned yards are already known for building to certain standards). But certification may increase resale value. It is worth considering.

In the end, though, after consultations with experts run their course, reason often gives way to the purely romantic: speaking with craftsmen and watching projects evolve in the boatyards. For some buyers, accessibility to those yards means a site in New England or the Northwest. For others, Florida or a European locale is more alluring. That's the funny thing about a custom project: Choosing a builder may hinge on simple logistics.

After still more decision making, inevitable complications during construction, and the last installment payment, the big moment finally arrives--the buyer watches his boat splash into the water. He has survived a two- to three-year journey rife with challenges.

For many, it is worth it. "You have more than just a yacht," says Florio. "Building a boat is really a badge of honor. It says you've made it to a certain point in life."

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