Updated: Oct 19
This article is about how a commissioning of a yacht is generally performed and why it is to be advised that the client and the dealer hires an independent yachting specialist for this job.
What is the general definition of commissioning?
Equipment commissioning is the process of ensuring that all systems and components are designed, installed, tested, operated, and maintained according to the established plan requirements. According to industry standards, the commissioning process is performed by specialists assigned by the buyer and the seller. Both parties check the new equipment and, in case defects or anomalies are found, the equipment is accepted by the client after correcting the defects and/or anomalies by the supplier.
But, before we go into details on the commissioning process, let's have a look how the yachting industry is organized with some inside information.
The Yachting Industry: The Business Models
In the Yachting Industry, there are generally 2 business models: - The Dealership: The most common business model for series production yachts is based on a dealer network which means: the customer buys the yacht from the dealer and the dealer buys the yacht from the factory. The dealer gets a discount and the margin for the dealer is for commercial activities and normally to cover the warranty. The dealer can only claim to the producer a small percentage of the order of the boat as a warranty claim. Examples of those brands are the Beneteau Group, Hanse, Fountaine Pajot, Bavaria, etc.
This is very different from the normal market where the manufacturer covers the warranty. As a customer you register your warranty form with the producer. Not in the yachting world.
- Direct Sales by the yard: The other business model is generally used by smaller yards and high-end brands, working directly with the customer. Examples of those brands are Contest, Amel, Oyster etc.
How is the commissioning performed for Boat builders using a Dealer Network
- Step 1: Hand-over between yard and dealer: When the yacht is ready to leave the factory, the dealer or his representative inspects the boat and signs-off for acceptance. At that point, the dealer becomes the owner of the yacht. Although the customer has already paid the dealer, the customer is not yet the owner of the yacht. In case corrections need to be done, based on the inspection by the dealer, the yard takes care of this.
Once the dealer signs-off the acceptancy form between him and the yard, the dealer will be responsible for most of the claims and warranty issues related to the boat afterwards.
- Step 2: Commissioning the boat: At that moment, the boat is not ready to sail but is like a kind of IKEA kit which needs to be finished and assembled: transport to the marina, stepping the mast, finishing the exterior and interior, testing the systems and put the boat into the water. This assembly stage is what is called in the yachting industry: commissioning a yacht. Some yards have their own commissioning teams, other use third parties (like we do) for this job. It is the dealer who decides and manages the commissioning process.
- Step 3: Hand-over between Dealer and Client: After Commissioning of the yacht, the boat is ready for the dealer to hand-over to the client. After explaining the boat and boat systems and a short sea trial, the dealer asks the customer to sign-off the acceptancy form. After signing-off, the client becomes the legal owner of his new baby. From that moment onwards, any defect the client faces will be covered by the warrant clauses.
How is the commissioning performed by Boat builders with direct sales?
- This is quite straightforward. When the boat is ready, the yard will invite the customer for the hand-over. - After explaining the ship and sea-trials, an acceptance form will be signed off by the client and, just like with a dealership, warranty comes into force.
It is all about Quality!
It is sad to conclude but boat yards in general do not have a high reputation when it comes to quality management and reporting. Quite often resulting in poor assemblies and production failures.
Unfortunately, and based on hundreds of testimonies, so many customers buying new boats are disappointed by the building quality and the support they get from the dealer afterwards.
Yards with Direct sales
Yards who are selling directly to clients and who are in the high price segment generally do extensive sea-trials and checks before the boat is handed over to the client. Because they are in a higher price segment, their support will be quite professional generally resulting in a satisfied customer base.
On the other hand, the client just must trust the yard as the client is generally not a yacht building specialist. Therefore, we always suggest to the owner hiring a commissioning consultant during the hand-over process. The consultant will look at details which the new owner will not see and ask the appropriate questions to the yard a normal boat owner will not even think about it. It is a good practice that the owner consultant is included in the yards’ commissioning process.
Example: A small yard, producing around 10 high quality yachts/year, delivered a yacht to one of our customers. We were not involved in the hand-over process. After about 6 months, the customer called us to come and have a look at some problems. The problems were with synthetic teak, navigation equipment, rigging and anchor set-up. The yard proposed to the client, to send the suppliers of the equipment to the boat to correct the items. It was under warranty by the suppliers. We advised our client not to accept this proposal but to sail the boat back to the yard (3 days sailing) for the yard to correct things. We were on board during the passage to the yard and found many more problems which the yard needed to correct. If you buy a car, the garage will not say to their customers: oh, this is a problem with your brakes. Please contact the brake manufacturer. But this is often how yards try to push clients accepting solutions which do not make sense.
Yards working with regional dealers
The process between acceptance by the dealer, the commissioning and the hand-over to the client is often very fractioned. Dealt with different people often not communicating with each other and most of the time no quality plan in place.
Also, the place of commissioning is often many thousand miles away from the factory making it even more difficult to have a quality and performance overview. At the end of the line, nobody is responsible for failures which makes it often complex for the dealers to deal with warranty issues afterwards.
That is the reason, there are so many complaints from new yacht owners about the support they get from their dealer.
The advice we give on those new yacht owners is also in this situation to hire a commission consulting supporting him during the hand-over process between dealer and client. All “to be fixed” elements will be reported to both parties. In the hand-over protocol, those non-conformities will be listed and to be corrected before the client takes possession of the yacht. This may sometimes be a difficult discussion because the dealer already accepted the boat from the yard, meaning all those costs for the corrections are in most cases at the cost of the dealer.
Example: during our commissioning support to an owner, we found a defective switch on a 12-volt inverter. After contacting the supplier, he confirmed the inverter needed to be exchanged. This under warranty, but the labor and transport was not included. Also, the lead time was 2 weeks, and the supplier needed an order form from the dealer before he could start the process. The dealer pushed the client to sign the acceptance form, without the notice of this repair. This was a long discussion but finally the dealer accepted. In case the client had accepted, the client could request a warranty intervention but the costs for labor and transport would have been on his charges.
Example: Supporting a customer during the commissioning process for a new catamaran, we detected not only a misalignment in the steering system, but also because of bad wiring of the steering cables, a very heavy steering making it almost impossible to steer the boat when sailing. This was a known problem by the yard as many catamarans of that type had this failure. The yard had no solution at that moment. To secure the interest of the client, we came to an agreement and fixed this in a written protocol that all costs related to the steering system, including haul-out and labor costs, would be covered by the dealer/yard.
Example: During commissioning at the yard (first step), we found out that all pumps for sea water were in fact pumps for fresh water. There is a big difference as freshwater pumps fail quickly using sea water. That may also result in flooding the boat. Of course, this could have been a mistake by the installer but could also have been a cost-saving issue. Like in any business, shortcuts are taken to safe costs but this could result in a major problem when at sea.
A good dealer really takes care of warranty issues and are very open to collaborate with the owner during the hand-over and commissioning process. It is in their own interest that they have minimum of warranty claims and a happy customer.
But, of course, there are exceptions. As a new boat owner, inform yourself about the reputation of a dealer before you sign a contract. Sometimes, you do not have the choice where you buy the boat as dealers normally have a region which they cover.
I think we made our point that buying a boat is not the same as buying a car. It is a complex process and, as most new boat owners will confirm, warranty in most cases is not straight forward.
Therefor it most important that, before the owner signs off the acceptance form, to become the legal owner, the new vessel should be thoroughly checked and corrected where necessary. Hiring a commissioning consultant during the hand-over process is always a good investment.
It is clear that buying a boat is not the same as buying a car
We offer a One-Stop Approach to Yacht Dealers in Europe
We are more and more demanded as a sub-contracter for dealers to organise the complete commissioning proces: from checks in the factory, the transport, the commissioning, support during the dealer hand over and based on the demand of the client, give him training and delivery support. Our many years of experience in the yachting world and the high tech industry is our base for a quality service by our yards and team members.