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January 4, 2011
Surviving the New Boat Commissioning Process
By John Torelli
When our Nordhavn trawler sales representative - Jeff Merrill told us the commissioning process for our new boat would take approximately 4-6 weeks after the boat arrived from the yard in China, I was already stressing on the eight month build cycle. It had taken us four years of research and some creative financing to reach this point of ordering our dream boat and we were not excited about this news. I kept asking myself what could possibly take 4-6 weeks to complete on a brand new boat that was checked out prior to leaving the yard. The simple answer is, a lot. After now surviving two new Nordhavn trawler commissioning’s, I can honestly say that with a little pre-planning, establishing realistic expectations and a few other secrets we discovered along the way, the process doesn’t have to be a long drawn out nightmare! As we start planning for our third trawler purchase and its required commissioning process, we thought it would be wise to dust off our “pre-commissioning check list” that has served us so well in the past to help us set realistic expectations. While not fool proof by any means these simple steps have allowed us to save a lot time, money and kept our stress levels at the lowest possible levels.
Establish realistic schedule expectations – If the dealer or builder estimates your commissioning process to take six or eight weeks, except it as it is, an estimate. Today’s boats with their complex systems take time to check out and troubleshoot problems. Remember, the whole intent behind the commissioning process is to run all systems through their paces and look for potential trouble before you head off on your own. If there are issues with the boat this is time you want them discovered and addressed. Whether it be a fluid leak that requires a simple bolt tightening or a partial system removal and replacement that may take days, now’s the time to fix it. Remember the crew and you are working to an estimate so try not to make serious or costly schedule commitments around the completion date. Most builders will provide you with a grace period after commissioning where there is no charge for leaving the boat docked at their facility. Use this window to firm up when to fly in family or crew to join you onboard. If you are hiring a captain to help you with training or delivery, negotiate a schedule window for his/her services. I remember one couple who hired a captain to provide them with training and delivery of the boat that they got stuck paying his daily rate while the boat sat tied to the dock waiting to finish the commissioning process. No one aboard was happy and the couple ended up spending thousand of dollars for a captain they could not use.
Don’t add - it may sound funny but there is a lot of merit with this statement. Adding items during commissioning is costly and timely. Most builders will charge you an hourly rate for anything added during the process and believe me it is not inexpensive. I honestly think they inflate the rate to discourage people from making changes or adding items. Understand everything you want when you order the boat and have as much of it installed at the factory. If you are going to add items possibly with a subcontractor, you may want to schedule them after you have taken delivery of the boat and during that small window the builder allows free dockage. We found that having all our interior work performed after the commissioning process worked well in that the designer had access to make measurements during commissioning then went off to make the carpets and window covers requiring only a day for installation. When he was done no one else came aboard to dirty things up.
Understand the process: Your best approach is to obtain a copy of the commissioning checklist and proposed schedule (if you can) then conduct weekly follow-ups with the supervisor. If you stay out of their way and let them do their job things will usually go smoother than being on the boat every day and trying to direct things yourself. We found that an initial visit when the boat arrives to meet with our sales representative and commissioning supervisor allows us the chance to perform a walkthrough and discuss the commissioning plan, then we would limit visits to once a week usually on a weekend when the crews are not working on the boat. We would take notes and email them to our sales representative to forward to the commissioning crew.
Training: as with any new boat there will be a shakedown cruise and time training onboard. Again this needs to be planned after commissioning so you know everything on the boat has been formally checked out. We had a scary experience on our first boat when our sales representative cleared the way for us to conduct an afternoon of training during the last week of commissioning. After a few hours of close quarters maneuvering the gear shifter was losing its responsiveness and we headed back to the slip. Just as we entered the busy harbor we lost the transmission became stuck in neutral. While we did finally make it safely to the slip with some help from vessel assist, it was an experience we could have done without. Only after we were securely tied to the dock did we realize that commissioning crew had failed to tighten all the screws to the Morse controls and the shifter lever came loose after a few hours of use.
Paperwork: make sure to have all your paperwork (final payment, insurance, off shore delivery, LLC, etc.). There is a lot of paperwork associated with taking delivery of a new boat and most of it is tied together one way or another. Off shore deliveries can take a full day by themselves and involve attorneys, delivery captains, sales representatives and documentation companies. If everyone is not on board with their paperwork at the right time you can end up wasting an entire day.
So there you have it, five simple but important steps to surviving a new boat commissioning. While these steps have proven effective for us in the past we recognize that with each purchase new opportunities will arise that will require our attention and patience. The key word is patience!
John Torelli is a former two-time Nordhavn owner. His experience in buying, owning, cruising in, and living aboard Nordhavns have led him to become a bit of an expert on the topics. He has conducted seminars, written numerous articles and even written a book (Life Is A Journey: Why Not Live It Aboard A Trawler) on the various aspects of boat ownership.