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Satun, Phithak (PSS) Shipyard: Reports from Cruisers

By Sue Richards — last modified Jun 12, 2018 06:02 PM

Published: 2018-06-06 00:00:00
Countries: Thailand

Terry Low says:
Jun 11, 2018 09:42 AM

I hauled out my Najad 390 at PSS In February 2018. 
There were many negative reports circulating in the cruising community prior to my haul out so I decided to visit the yard before I committed to a lift out there. 
My previous experiences at the yard were positive. Whilst its primary function is the haul out and servicing of the huge Thai and Malaysian fishing fleet, the yard also caters for yachts with special yacht cradles available for fin keeled boats. 
On my visit, I spoke with Julie, Un and Michael and felt reassured about the haul out and I booked to lift on the next appropriate tide. When I had hauled out there in previous times, the yard was chock full of both fishing boats and yachts. This year, there were a handful of yachts and just a few fishing boats. 
The lack of yachts was largely due to the negative reports doing the rounds amongst the yachting community and the purpose of this review is to report my experience there fairly. 
My haul out needs this year were fairly simple but my experience at the yard was a positive one. I was in the yard just for 8 days which was my target. 
The work was done to a good standard and whilst I never enjoy the boatyard experience, it was as good as it can be. 
So I would like to say that PSS is certainly welcoming private yachts and I would recommend the yard to anyone thinking of going there. They carry out good work and are competitively priced in the region. 
Ignore the rumours, they are simply false. I would not hesitate to lift out there again in the future.

PSS SHIPYARD, Satun, Thailand
8 Months in 2017

During 2017 TIGER LILLY spent 8 months in the PSS Shipyard at Chebilang, Thailand. We were attracted to PSS by the enthusiastic endorsement of many of their former yacht customers whom we met as we cruised up the Malay Peninsula. Before committing to the yard we made an advance planning trip from Langkawi over to Satun / Chebilang on the ferry to meet the staff and tour the facility. The then manager Jia had built a strong positive reputation for PSS among the International yachting community, and we were favorably impressed with him. After our visit to Satun, Jia came to Langkawi and surveyed TIGER LILLY together with Tom and discussed in detail the projects we planned to accomplish.

Tom’s experience with planning/executing ship overhauls and maintenance availability’s while in the US Navy, and working as the Port Captain of a large commercial heavy-marine construction company after Navy retirement, taught him that much of the success in any major marine maintenance or overhaul project depended on two prerequisites: Work Package Definition (with exacting technical specifications and procedures); and Logistics Planning (thorough identification and pre-ordering of all the needed tools, supplies, materials, and consumables necessary to complete the work). Fifty years of maintaining ships, tugs, barges, crew boats, and yachts all over the world has taught him that if the advance planning is not thorough and accurate, then the vessel owner is subject to the vagaries and vicissitudes of shipyard profit maximization; and there is little chance for success or efficiency under these conditions.

Jia impressed us as a person we could work with. He was smart, enthusiastic, educated, of strong character, responsive, and as the yard owner’s son / heir he had some skin in the game. The PSS yard was adequate facility-wise (they use a marine railway / side-spur system), and the machine and welding shops are basic but sufficient for most yacht work. The majority of the work done at PSS is the repair of large heavy wooden fishing trawlers, which has little in common with the much more sophisticated and complex work of yacht repair. The major shortcomings our pre-planning trip to PSS identified were two-fold: communications and logistics. Jia was the only person at PSS who could speak English proficiently and who had an understanding of his international yacht customers and their boats, and the location of the yard in a small Muslim fishing village in remote southern Thailand put it at the very end of a long and circuitous logistics path. (Read that limited choices, expensive, and lengthy delays.) Additionally the Thai Customs / Import system is difficult, bureaucratically complex, and expensive for bringing in goods from off shore. It was apparent to us that we would have to plan this haul-out very carefully, and very thoroughly.

With Jia’s strong concurrence we drew up fixed-price specifications for all the major projects we anticipated. Jia told us that most of the past problems he experienced with yacht repair work at PSS were as a result of a lack of understanding of the project, and the associated costs, by his customers; from his side of the table he welcomed a well-defined project. Since our critical path project was a PU deck paint job, we were leery of weather and logistics delays, and the added expense those delays would incur. We structured our written agreement with PSS such that we paid the hard stand rates and apartment rental for the two months that PSS quoted us, and after that we would not be charged. This kept our costs within projections, but (as expected) there were significant delays - which we did not pay for. Before TIGER LILLY came up the marine railway at PSS we had email confirmation of our Project Agreements; and before the close of business on our first day in the yard we had signatures on printed-out versions of those same Agreements. For TIGER LILLY this is just basic boatyard procedure.

The entire management system of PSS’s yacht business was centered around Jia; not a nut or a bolt were ordered without Jia’s direct involvement. Tragically, at the six week point in our overhaul 34 year-old Jia was struck down with a near-fatal and permanently debilitating stroke. With severe brain damage, it is unlikely that this lovely man will ever get out of his sick bed... Jia’s family was heartbroken, the yard staff was paralyzed, and the then current half a dozen International yacht customers were suddenly stranded. The whole operation was rudderless. Jia’s Dad, the owner of PSS, was of course personally devastated, his son could no longer talk or move; Jia was the future of PSS, and that future no longer existed...

Jia’s Aunties Oh and Aor were brought in for a few hours a week to talk with the yachties and communicate their needs and concerns to the PSS workers. However both of these professional ladies had extensive business interests of their own, and after some months of floundering around, the decision was made (drifted into?) to permanently replace Jia with the Yard Foreman Un. Un had become the Yard Foreman because his father had had that position before he recently passed away; around PSS (and much of Thailand in general) these valuable jobs are passed down within a family regardless of qualifications. One year before Un found himself to be the General Manager of PSS he was working on the marine railway as a laborer... He has a workable vocabulary of self-taught basic English, some understanding of basic yacht repair (he was raised in the shipyard), he can send and receive email, he is a pleasant person, and he has absolutely zero capability as a manager or leader. To assist Un with project management an itinerant Fijian deck hand was hired. Michael is an intelligent, personable young man, with fluent English skills, but he has only a cursory knowledge of yacht systems and repair procedures - more times than not we saw him get it wrong when it came to advising PSS customers. In 8 months at PSS we never saw either of these “managers” write anything down - and they needed to be reminded on a daily basis of our requirements. The current PSS “management team” of Un and Michael is reactive (never proactive), seldom admit corporate responsibility for their mistakes (and never personal responsibility), inefficient, technically deficient concerning yacht repair, and on multiple occasions we have called Un on price-gouging.

We tell other yachties that we got good Second World yacht services done at PSS for Third World prices. That end was achieved only because we had detailed written technical specifications, signed / agreed to by PSS, and to their credit PSS stood by those agreements even after Jia went down. We became the superintendent for all work done on TIGER LILLY. We did all of our own QA. We were adamant about only paying for supplies we personally ordered and signed for. We examined every single line-item of each invoice before we paid it. (The accounting and office staff is inefficient, refuse to speak English even though they know some, and have an open disdain for the international customers.) In eight months we seldom took a day off.

Not withstanding the above described problems with the PSS “management team”, many of the problems we observed encountered at PSS by the yacht customers were clearly self-induced. Few of the yachties we met there had any sort of technical or marine project management experience or expertise. They arrived unprepared for the task before them, and the results were predictable. Of course there is no fault in being a former “office worker”, but then there is little advantage when these unrelated skills are brought to the waterfront environment...

Bottom Line: Although we are close personal friends with the family who owns PSS, we do not recommend PSS for any work other than do-it-yourself projects. Their haul-out rates are on a par (or higher) than other yards in the region, their shop skills are moderate (except for the paint contractor Goi who is unacceptable), and their project management and QA skills are non-existent. If you choose PSS for a do-it-yourself haul-out, there is a significant cost and availability advantage to having Duty-Free supplies from Langkawi aboard when you arrive.

Hope this helps clear up a lot of obvious misconceptions regarding the CURRENT state of the PSS Shipyard.

Tom & Lilly
S/V Tiger Lilly
Trincomalee, Sri Lanka

Sade says:

Jan 27, 2018 08:15 AM

I would like to endorse what hvVega said about PSS at Chebilang, Satun. I have brought my boat (Sade) here for two biennial haul outs and one other visit - which involved fabrication and installation of SS davits for my RIB - and I will keep coming back because I believe PSS is excellent value for money. Sure, it can be dirty and dusty with servicing the fishing fleet (its bread and butter work) but I can put up with that. Yes, Jia and Julie's absence has been a blow, but it is also great to see Un and Michael step up to fill that huge hole. 
I have just had Sade hauled out for a bottom clean, topside polishing, upgrades to two aft cabins and some mechanical and electrical repairs. The work was carried out and completed ahead of the 10 days (4/1/18 - 14/1/18) that I told Un and Michael that I had to spare. 
Things are much quieter here compared to the same time two years ago. The benefit of course is that I had access to the best trades and there was zero waiting time. I am disappointed to hear some negative comments from various sources, but thought I would share my most recent experience so you can all make a better informed decision where you go for your next haul out. 
Make sure you obtain a letter of confirmation of your boat being at PSS for repairs from the office before you clear in with Customs, to avoid a 800B fee from Customs. Hang on to a copy as Customs will try the same at Clearing Out and do avoid going in during weekends and public hols, as they charge a hefty 1000B compared to 200B. 
Happy and safe sailing, 
Ed

hvVega says:
Aug 15, 2017 08:02 AM

We have been using PSS shipyard in Satun, Thailand for several years now. The prices are reasonable and we have always been quite pleased with the team and their work. That said, they recently suffered many problems when their young dynamic manager Jia had a severe stroke. This threw the yard into temporary chaos which has since been more or less solved. 
Most of the problems people experience stem from communication difficulties. When we were last there Michael, whose English and Thai are superb, was a great help - although he was usually up to his ears sandblasting a yacht whose owners were never satisfied. 
We have seen some wonderful first class work come out of PSS, just have a look at what was done on superyacht Cariad for an example. There are two levels of workers there, with different skill and pay scales, so you must decide which you need for your jobs. Obviously the ones who turn out five star work are more expensive. Asking the fishing boat workers, who are less expensive, for fine yacht work rarely pays off to satisfaction. The machine shop does lovely work, although they do attend to the commercial fishing boats, who are usually well known repeat customers, first. That said, by giving them the jobs you need doing early you will most likely not even notice the difference. 
We like the place and the friends we have there, so, if you do decide to haul out at PSS do not be surprised if you find Vega high and dry in the midst of our annual haul out. 
Others have commented on the toilets and showers as well as the apartments that are available. 
The river entrance may look daunting but is actually quite OK if you faithfully follow the way points. Be sure to go in on the tail of a raising tide... just in case!

Jun 20, 2017 04:39 PM

Posted on behalf of SY Kiwi Blue: 

We were in PSS Shipyard from late January until mid-May 2017 for a sand blasting job that should take a maximum period of 6 weeks. We were there for 3.5 months. 
Work was promised but always delayed and every morning you had to compete with other yachties to get people working on your yacht. 

The management situation in the yard has changed dramatically since Jia had a stroke. There is hardly any qualified labour available so quite a few jobs had to be done twice which adds to the length of stay in the yard. The commercial fishing boats have priority and they bring their own maintenance crew. We were on a side track for 3 weeks without any work done because of the priority of the fishing boats. 

When you come in for a small antifoul job, you might be OK, but for sandblasting or another big job we would not recommend this yard. 

Gert and Mies Harbers 
Kiwi Blue

January 2015

Time for a haulout and much-needed maintenance, SY Totem researched the options and due to a combination of timing, opportunity, and economy chose to haul Totem at the Phithak Shipyard and Services in Satun in Thailand. Out of the water for the first time since early 2008 they reported on all stages of their haulout experience on their blog:

Hauling in Thailand: part 1- a new bottom

Hauling in Thailand: part 2- through hull replacement

Hauling in Thailand: part 3- lessons learned

 

David Montgomery says:
Sep 05, 2013 11:23 AM

I have been bringing my boat here for 7 years and over that time the quality of the workmanship has increased many fold from the yard attractting large yachts for full reconstruction mainly by the recently retire Captain Des. Lots of good workmen as long as you give them adequate instruction, diagrams and encouragement. Good luck make sure you keep a daily log of events poeple work on the boat, if they guys get taken off the boat for other urgent work make sure you document it as sometime things are missed in the paper work system its in Thai so you have a devil sorting it out, We asked for a Bill fortnightly and got it on time. Engineering shop is very good, but they like to line up the motors and shafts in the water like they do in a fishing boat. Good luck

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