The secret to successfully launching a new build yacht


Superyachts are a business and staff are the most important cog in the wheel, according to Tim Clarke, managing director, Quay Crew. He explains how they can play a key role in new builds.

Creating a new build yacht is an exciting project for an owner but the process can be fraught with additional costs, time and frustration, writes Tim Clarke. Especially if performed incorrectly with the wrong team or the wrong yard for the project.

Successful new build projects feature key some trends which come up consistently. Similarly, among challenging new builds there are also some consistent behaviours.

Over the few years, I have seen various projects launched to a huge fanfare in the yachting press. The yachts look beautiful, everyone involved tells everyone else what an incredible project it was, how clever their design is etc.

Yet the result, in terms of owner enjoyment, which is surely the most important factor, doesn’t match up to the hype and promises made when the deal was signed off. There are variety of reasons for this, some of which I am going to touch upon below.

1. Communication

When I spoke to experienced superyacht captain Chris Andreasson, who among other roles has been build captain for Feadship superyachts Fountainhead and Callisto, he said: “Most organisations stand or fall on the basis of good or bad communication and in the event of a new build project this is never more important. If you rush, you will fail.

The end user wants a yacht for many reasons and it’s vital that these reasons are understood early in the process and that notes are taken and verified. Many owners will be deeply involved in the process and this can make the overall build much simpler, naturally with a few caveats to that statement.”

Those owners who step back will still expect their requests to be fulfilled and will rightly question why if there are differences between their expectations and what is delivered. This is why it is essential that even with a hands-off owner there is still great communication.

Andreasson continued: “Take notes, verify, agree and double check before signing off. Mistakes made through a lack of communication can be both hugely expensive and emotionally draining for all involved, leading to a dissatisfied owner and a break down in relationships.

“A build is always busy, often draining at times and can be stressful juggling all the moving parts; but overall, it should be hugely rewarding. When the owner is finally onboard with their guests and everyone is in awe of what has been achieved, on time, on budget and with all expectations met, then you know that you managed the communications well.”

2. Who is representing you?

It is essential that, as early as possible in the project, you hire an independent team to oversee the project for you. Ideally, I would hire them prior to signing any contracts with a yard. This team could be several independent contractors or a company, but they need to be new build specialists who have done this before.

I also think it is essential you have a captain in this team who has run a similar-sized yacht and there’s nothing to say that couldn’t be your existing captain. Why is this so important? You need someone who can take an analytical look at design versus usage and owner expectations who

knows and understands how a yacht works. They must be able to give you honest feedback and say if something isn’t going to work.

Another captain I spoke to, who wishes to remain anonymous due to his current position, told me independent consultants have a place throughout the entire build process, dependent on their subject of expertise. This captain has overseen two new builds both of which won prestigious design awards.

“Ultimately, the project team needs the ability to commission experts in a specific field, as yachts are ever more complex and technical. If managed correctly, having the core team in place early on should only be a benefit. Involvement in the design and specification stage will only benefit everyone’s achievement at the time of delivery so long as the owners design brief and vision are respected.”

Whilst it is tempting to not employ these specialists because the costs are significant, it can be a false economy if you don’t. It will likely have an impact on the success of the project further down the line. This independent team will also have your best interests at heart from day one. You may assume everyone else has, but seldom is that the case. Finally, you need continuity so ensure the entire team is contracted for the entire project.

3. Hiring the wrong captain

This is slightly controversial, but there are a lot of pretty average captains out there in the industry. If you have owned yachts for a long time you have probably had the misfortune of hiring one of them. Being a good captain requires having a lot of very different skillsets and many lack the full armoury.

A new build project requires a completely different skillset over the regular day-to-day running of a superyacht. Build captain versus operational captain is a very different job. Many operational captains adjust very well to these new demands, but at the same time many don’t.

I would want a captain with new build experience. However, if your existing captain doesn’t have new build experience that shouldn’t be a deal breaker as long as they tick the other boxes.

While the following essential skills and personality traits aren’t exhaustive, they are a great start when looking for the right captain:

• Excellent organisational skills. An obvious one but an absolute must. Having foresight and being able to plan ahead is very beneficial

• Analytical mindset with very good attention to detail. Small mistakes can have significant ramifications further down the line

• Humility. A new build project is far too much for one person to manage. A captain needs to be humble enough to ask for help and advice as required from his/her team. Whilst they will have some knowledge of most things, they need to be able to defer to the expertise of others, whether that is the consulting team or a chief stew regarding setting up the pantry. If they think or tell you they can do it himself that should sound an alarm

• Project management. There are so many moving parts you need someone who can see the bigger picture and understand everything that is going on and keeps tabs on everything

• Excellent man manager. Whilst there are few requirements for man management skills for the vast majority of a build, at the end they are essential as a large number of people join a very stressful environment in a very short space of time

• Resilient. This will be very pressurised at times and the Captain must remain focused and not the type to get flustered

• Communication skills. Verbal and written. Being great with Excel helps too. Heads of departments (HODs) will have significant responsibilities before launch and the captain needs to be explicit in communicating this. This also means not hiding away in an office but having an open door for HODs and crew.

4. Hiring captain and crew late in the process

Far too often people try to save money on a new build project by not hiring people until they deem it absolutely necessary. Captains maybe stay on the old yacht until just before the new yacht launches or are assigned responsibility to oversee the new build and the existing yacht – either way it is stretching things too thinly.

Whilst some yards behave ethically, some will try to take advantage of the situation and cut corners if there isn’t someone on site representing you. When you are employing hundreds of contractors consistently cutting corners can make a big difference to the margin at the end of a project.

With a new build there is also a huge amount to be done, which might not be immediately apparent. Hiring crew early doors, specifically the head of departments, means all of this can be completed in a timely and professional manner. Nothing particularly groundbreaking here, but far too many yachts recruit everyone in a huge rush nearing project end and get very mixed results.

The second captain summed it up: “Captain and crew arriving just before launch is a false economy and a disservice to the vessel. Operationally, the yacht and crew will be on the back foot from the start in every aspect. Operational procedures and regulatory requirements could have been rushed over and a long way from what would be considered accurate or fit for purpose. Couple this with the endless warranty issues any new build experiences in the first 12 months of operation and an Owners desire to use their new toy, the only person who ultimately suffers is the end-user.” 

Whilst only a shallow dive into successfully delivering a new build project, hopefully this provides some insight. If there is anything you wish to discuss further feel to email Tim at [email protected]


Four key points to consider for new builds

  • Communication is vital to any new build project and launch
  • Hire an independent team to represent you and oversee the project from start to finish
  • Ensure you select the right captain for the project
  • Hire that captain and all crew as early in the project as possible.


About the author: Tim Clarke

From 2006 to 2007 Tim was spent two years as a deckhand on charter yachts, MY Sai Ram and MY Leander. After leaving yachting, Tim moved to London for a career in recruitment. Tim worked predominantly in the finance and accounting sector supplying senior staff to clients including Barclays, HSBC and Goldman Sachs.

Quay Crew was set up in 2013 to provide a different recruitment service to yachts. Tim looks after the captain roles whilst managing the team which is now eight strong. One of the things Tim says he loves is offering career and mentoring advice to captains and senior deck officers. As you now know he also enjoys writing yachting related blogs which attempt to educate and guide crew in their chosen career.

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