08 Jun 2023

The trials and tribulations of supply contractors < Back

By Gym Marine

To be working with the industry’s leading shipyards is a desire of many service providers across the superyacht sector, but how can supply contractors ensure a shipyard is as delighted to be working with them? We spoke to Gym Marine about what it takes to be a welcome sight at the shipyard door.

The role of an owner’s supply contractor is very different to the role of an in-yard team, and each shipyard will have their own standards, guidelines, and expectations for supply contractors operating on the premises. “As an owner supply contractor, our contract may not even be directly with the shipyard,” says Ed Thomas, Managing Partner of Gym Marine Yachts & Interiors. “More often than not, we’re directly contracted by the interior designer for the project, the owner’s private office, or potentially another party like an interior outfitter. In every situation, we are there at the owner’s request and complying with the rules and regulations set out by the shipyard is essential to helping maintain good relationships,” explains Ed.

“Our day-to-day point of contact might be the captain, crewmember or other third party,” continues Ed, “and when we’re not in direct communication with the shipyard, their requirements for supply contractors to access the yard might not be communicated.” Having the necessary documentation in place is the first step - supplying ID for each member of the team that will be on site, evidencing the necessary insurance policies, and checking that you adhere to the social security requirements of the country you’ll be working in. “It’s a lot of admin and it takes a lot of practice to get it right!” says Ed. “We might only be on site for a day or two, but the size of the contract or scope of work is irrelevant. A risk assessment is usually required, as well.”

And getting that admin sorted in a timely and organised fashion can make a big difference to proceedings. “The worst possible scenario for everyone involved is that a supply contractor turns up at the yard on the morning of day one without this documentation,” advises Ed. “When
that happens, a mad rush ensues. It can be hugely problematic for the shipyard, the compliance department, the captain and often any crew onboard. Anything that delays someone getting through the gate and delays the work taking place, can have significant knock-on effects. And in this industry, delay equals cost.”

And shipyards have their own steps of protocol to run through. “Once at the shipyard, the suppliers will be briefed on the yard’s important safety rules, plus any unique regulations for the superyacht project they’ll be working on. In addition, cooperation and smooth communication are always appreciated,” comments Martin van Heulen, Head of Procurement at Damen Yachting.

Delays commencing work cut into the time allocated to complete the work onboard, which can really throw the schedule off. “Perhaps a crane has been organised to crane items aboard that morning, but if the supply contractor isn’t able to start until the afternoon, they could find that the crane is already booked out for the remainder of the day, and maybe the crane operator has a day’s holiday the next day. So then the contractor’s team needs to stay an extra day, extra hotel costs, changed flights, etc - you can see how it all starts to unravel,” explains Ed. For the shipyard, that could mean other works fall behind.

Constructing a yacht or completing a large-scale refit is a very delicate dance. Anything anyone can do to keep things on track is appreciated, but so are the smaller aspects of behaviour when
on-site at shipyard. “The little things make a difference,” says Ed. Examples include things like bringing your own PPE, having shoe covers, not taking photographs without permission (and never posting photos on social media), and not eating or drinking in the build shed. 
“Hard hats always go walkabout in a shipyard. We’ve been asked to bring safety glasses before, and long trousers are another essential. There will be tight rules on what footwear can and can’t be worn, too,” says Ed. “Often on the exterior decks you’ll need steel-toe-cap boots.
When you go from the dock onto the boat you’ll need to put shoe covers on, and usually it’s socks only for the interior spaces.” Something like shoe covers can become a valuable commodity in the shipyard, “It’s mad! Shoe covers, and hard hats, are like gold dust. The solution, bring your own,” advises Ed.

Shoe covers are such an essential staple that Lurssen set about creating their own. “They are very cool. They’re reusable and have grippy soles. If you spot someone in a pair of them at another shipyard, you know they’ve been pinched!” exclaims Ed.

All these aspects can have certain connotations, too: “When you turn up with everything needed to hand, it tells people this isn’t your first rodeo,” says Ed. “It shows them you know what you’re doing, you’re used to this, and that you’re going to get on with things accordingly and efficiently.”

On the flip side, let’s not forget how the shipyard can make the life of a supply contractor a little easier as well. “Various people from the shipyard will be involved with what a supply contractor is there to do, in some capacity,” Ed explains. “It might be a transport department, storage manager, or an interior manager that you need to liaise with. But having a clear understanding of who your shipyard point of contact is, and the contact details given to you for other shipyard personnel you may need to communicate with, and knowing who is signing off on your work, is important.”

Ed examples a scenario he and his team found themselves in during the early days of Gym Marine, “I wasn’t sure who from the shipyard was doing the sign-off and handover at the end of our installation,” begins Ed. “We’d finished at lunchtime on a Friday, but it took me two hours to ascertain who needed to inspect everything before we left and, by the time I’d done so, they’d gone for the day and were already on a plane to another project somewhere else!”

The final consideration for a supply contractor is their rubbish. Some shipyards will have their own cleaning and waste removal teams who take care of everything and will be very proactive in collecting and removing packaging so that it can be sorted for recycling, and supply contractors can help by collecting like-for-like materials together and consolidating waste for collection. “When that happens, it’s a dream. At other yards, contractors may find the onus is
on them to get any rubbish off the boat, and that can sometimes be difficult depending whereabouts on the build you’re working, and the obstacles that may be in your way,” explains Ed.

Ed advises that half the battle is simply knowing how a shipyard works. Whether you’re there to plumb in the spa, integrate the AV/IT, or install the gym, it can be a daunting environment but doing your homework will help ensure a hassle-free experience for everyone involved

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