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Visit Thailand for Fun - Avoid Thailand for Boat Work

By SV Migration — last modified May 31, 2017 02:15 PM

Published: 2015-08-10 23:00:00
Countries: Thailand

In 2012, we sailed from New Zealand to Thailand in order to do a complete refit of our 1969 Cross 46 trimaran "Migration".

The work we planned was extensive (re-fiberglassing the topsides, painting the entire boat, varnishing the interior) and we knew we couldn’t do it ourselves in a reasonable period of time. Besides, we have both spent too many hours sanding and fairing old trimarans and wanted someone else to hold the sander for a change.

We travelled over 6,000 miles because we thought we would save a lot of money. Migration was in Thailand for 2 ½ years. Though Thailand is a fantastic place as a sailing destination for tourism, we have to say that going there for our refit was one of the worst decisions we ever made.

Extensive research on the internet and recommendations from friends indicated that work in Phuket was inexpensive and of good quality. Generally, it is neither. Prices over the last 5 years have skyrocketed as the number of boats in the area has increased, due in part to the piracy problems going to the Med. Contractors are overextended and many workers are inexperienced.

QUALITY

The biggest problem, however, is that the Thai definition of quality is not what most cruising boat owners desire. The marinas are overflowing with the very expensive yachts of local ex-pats who are looking for a shiny boat, not one that can take them across an ocean. The contractors have a great deal of work from these local boats and their workers are used to jobs with little or no oversight from the owners.

If you find someone who recommends the work in Phuket, it is important to ask how much time they actually spent watching that work happen. There is a strong correlation between how satisfied owners are and how little time they spend actually watching or supervising the work. Those who leave the keys with a contractor and head off for land travel are usually happy because everything looks shiny and new upon their return. But you must work alongside the workers every day to understand the inconsistency in quality. Excellent workmanship will be followed by terrible workmanship within minutes. Mistakes are covered over and the attitude prevails that more paint or filler or epoxy can fix anything as long as it looks good in the end. The concept that strength and longevity is paramount to a cruising yacht is difficult to make understood. The true quality of a paint job, or fiberglass repair, or new teak deck is not how it looks when the job is done, but how it looks and fares after 10 years of voyaging.

During our time in Thailand we became friends with many locals, both Thai and ex-pats. The stories we heard from ex-pats who have lived there for 10 or 20 years confirm the problems we encountered with Thai workmanship.

LANGUAGE

The language problem is not to be underestimated. Thai is a tonal language and fairly difficult to speak so that you are understood. The alphabet has 44 consonants and 15 vowels. We never mastered reading. Most Thais do not speak English. Your contractor will speak English but most of his workers will not. And your contractor will not be there every day. Even if he says he will. Really.

CONTRACTORS

We are not saying that good contractors and workers cannot to be found. However, in Phuket, the ONLY recommendations we have are for the following:

  • Painting: Oh Coatings
  • Woodwork: Yachts Repair (Marly, near Yacht Haven)
  • Metalwork: Tu-Ton (located behind East Marine)
  • Fiberglass: We found no one with an excellent understanding of fiberglassing except Precision Shipwright Services, but you will be paying First World prices (or more). We hired Precision to make a new rudder for us (vacuum-bagged glass over foam) and the result was excellent. However, the cost was more than a new rudder in the USA even though we provided the rudder shaft and the fiberglass.

It’s important to note that we worked with at least 13 contractors and the majority of them were recommended to us. A good recommendation is not a guarantee that the contractor will be up to the job.

For information on contractors we do not recommend, go to our blog where we have included a description of work carried out and photographs - http://brucebalan.com/migrations/BoatworkInThailand.htm

OTHER SERVICES

Do not have any mechanical work done. We cannot stress this enough. We have yet to meet anyone who was satisfied with engine or alternator work, or who did not end up in a worse situation than when they started. We know of four boats that left Phuket and ended up with serious engine issues shortly after having work done. Electronics work also seems to be of low quality.

PARTS AND MATERIALS

Local epoxy is reasonably priced. AME Chandlery provides fiberglass at a good price also. Teak, as you would expect, is cheap compared to the rest of the world.

The cost of imported parts and materials is extremely high. It is not uncommon to find mark-ups of 50% to 100%. Paint prices are very high as well.

It is difficult and expensive to import items. Thailand has high tariffs and a VAT of 7%. There is NO Yacht In Transit exemption. Customs are extremely bureaucratic and are notorious for making things difficult. You can ship items to duty-free Langkawi in Malaysia, about 125 NM Southeast, and sail there to pick them up. If your boat is not in a condition to sail, you can often find another boat to bring the goods to you -- though you may have to wait a while.

HARDSTAND

Hardstand is expensive as well. Though we expected to pay less, we were paying 50% more in Thailand than we were in NZ. That said, the Ao Po Grand Marina hard stand was one of the best yards we have ever been in. This is due in a great part to Derrick, the manager, who was fantastic. The facilities are excellent and the yard crew took great care hauling and launching our boat. There are cheaper yards (G&T or Phuket Premier, for example) but the unfathomably popular Boat Lagoon is about 30% more expensive than 
Ao Po Grand Marina.

We are not writing this simply because we had a bad and expensive experience. In the end, our boat looks beautiful and will probably outlast us. However, if we had stayed in New Zealand, the result would have been a better, less-stressful refit that would have taken one third of the time and therefore cost less.  We are writing because we wish someone had told us what we now know before we came to Thailand.

DO VISIT THAILAND

All that said, do go to Thailand. It is a fantastic country and surely has the best food in the world. People are extremely friendly. One never tires of the gorgeous views in Phang Nga Bay. Even after 2 years of problems and stress we realize that we really like the country… as long as we are not doing boat work or dealing with the Thai people in any business transaction.

We will be publishing a full account of our refit with photos and costs on our blog as soon as we have time to write it up. For now, our advice is, do not go to Phuket to have work done on your boat. And, if for some reason you must do boat work in Phuket, we highly recommend that you constantly monitor the work so that you know what is underneath your teak deck or glossy paint. We also highly recommend that you go to Thailand to enjoy the people, scenery, and most especially, the food.

Bruce Balan & Alene D. Rice
July 2015
s/v Migration
http://migrations.brucebalan.com

Update: A 2-year status report on our refit can be found at http://brucebalan.com/migrations/BoatworkInThailand-2YearsOn.htm

See also: Getting work done on your boat whilst long distance cruising: Cruisers Tips

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buster
buster says:
May 29, 2017 01:19 AM

It's a false economy to have most yacht work done in Phuket. Labor costs initially appear cheap but when you consider the time and quality of the end result, it is no bargain. Costs for marine gear and equipment are excessive, compared to prices in most other countries.

Engine work is especially hit-and-miss. Once the contractor has removed parts from your engine, some will provide you a quotation for a ridiculous amount and hold your parts as ransom until you agree. If you refuse to accept the quotation & they do return your parts, parts may be missing or damaged. I experienced this with a local mechanic who poses as a Perkins dealer.

You must personally supervise the workers for most work as the business owner will seldom be around. If you do not speak Thai, you will have an extremely difficult time.

There is little recourse for foreigners who receive sustandard work and/or receive outrageous billings from contractors. It appears that the local contractor can charge whatever he pleases and hold your parts as ransom. If work is completed and the contractor is not paid whatever he demands, your boat will not be allowed to leave Thai waters. The local police, incl tourist police, have little interest helping foreigners in these matters. They state it's a "civil case" and suggest you seek the assistance of a lawyer. If the police do get involved, they typically tend to assist the local contractor in his shenanigans.

Phuket contractors charge, at times, rates approaching western world levels while paying their workers a pittance. It is not uncomon to see charges of 1,000 Baht/hr hour (approx $30) for a Thai worker who’s receiving only $10-$15/day.

The official rate for yacht parts mailed into Thailand is 10% duty plus 7% VAT but once your parts arrive, customs will, many times, demand duty far in excess of this amount.

bbalan
bbalan says:
Mar 06, 2016 12:27 PM

I've now added most of our quotes and invoices, as well as extensive information about the work we did. These can be found at the link on http://brucebalan.com/migrations/BoatworkInThailand.htm
Hope this information will be useful.
Bruce Balan
s/v Migration

corlfoot
corlfoot says:
Dec 06, 2015 09:40 PM

After having read the the above article and the posted comments, I agree that it accurately reflects the reality of outfitting, repairing, or importing spares into Thailand. I have just completed a new engine install which required modifying the engine beds from 20° > 15°. This would be a difficult installation regardless of where it was done. We chose Boat Lagoon because it is hub central for contractors and chandleries. Although it is more expensive than either Al Po or Yacht Haven, the convince of having everything nearby offsets the marina's extra cost. I was able to contract the labor and supervise it. As things would be unacceptable, it was simple to send them back to the general contractor without delays. Many times I would send the Thai workers and their failures back to the shop to repair and start over again. The mechanical expertise of most Thai workers is very limited. It requires constant supervision from the owner at all times that they are working. If the owner leaves them for the shortest time, mistakes will be made. If you are going to have any kind of mechanical work done, you must be in attendance and verify that each and every part is being repaired and replaced. If you are not willing to do this - don't have it done in Thailand. That's the sad mechanical situation in Phuket. Most Thai contractors send their workers out with a hammer, screwdriver, chisel and angle grinder and call them qualified. The only qualifications are on-the-job training and learning from previous mistakes. If you contract services through Precision Marine Services, you are on the highest rung of the ladder at Boat Lagoon and will pay the highest prices. Supervision will still be required on the mechanical side. The electrical side of things gets a little brighter. There are several electrical shops, in Boat Lagoon, that can do acceptable work: OCTOPUS ELECTRICAL is one of them; AME is another. Once again, it will be the owners of the enterprises that will be knowledgable: Their labores less so but some are good. You will have to check and verify every aspect of the work being done.

Woodworking and Painting are skills in which certain Thai Contractors excel. Nai and Toe, owners of Phuket Interior Woodworking, proved world class carpentry and teak decks. Additionally, they can fiberglass, paint and reccomend competent contractors. Khun Nai is an honest, meticulous business women that will supervise her workers to the standard of excellence she demands. Her husband, Toe, is the Master Carpenter that supervises and contracts the work. This shop works on excellence and schedule. You provide ideas, drawings and coordinate this with their artistic input. The outcome will astound the most discerning and demanding. Once the work and price is agreed upon, one can confidently walk away and know that it will be done is standards of excellence not found in most developed countries.

San Boat Works is another family owned enterprise that does excellent work. Khun San is a Master Painter that employs his extended family to achieve mirror glass finishes. We had our boat Awlgripped by San. He applied four coats of different colored primer and faired each between coats: six men working three weeks on fairing; three coats of Awlgrip and the hull reflected it surroundings. Also, Nai & Toe provide a most excellent paint job.

I contracted AME for the engine removal, engine bed modification and new Beta 50 installation. I have never regretted this decision. Wiwat, is the owner of AME and has extensive mechanical, engineering and electrical knowledge. He was a former Chief Engineer in the Merchant Marine Service. He has an amazing amount of knowledge and expertise in marine matters. In addition to owning one of the most comprehensive chandleries at Boat Lagoon, he has his own workshop and tentacles that reach out to every available workshop in Phuket. All this being said, it doesn't always equate to satisfaction but that which isn't acceptable will be rectified until the customer is satisfied. It may take time and patience but the customer will get the results he demands. Wiwat is an honest, fair businessman that will go out of his way to see that the job is done correctly. Unfortunately, in dealing with AME, the Thai labors and sub-contractors need constant supervision. They don't speak English and, left alone, will produce shoddy results. It's up to the customer to supervise and reject this type of workmanship. Wiwat is always available for consultation and translation. If the boat is at Boat Lagoon, he'll be there within a short time. I acknowledge that I am a demanding meticulous individual. This was difficult on my Thai workers and caused me so much stress that, at times, I was besides myself. However, I never compromised on the idea of excellence. As a result, from April 2015 to September, I supervised the job from first arrival in the morning to quitting time in the evening. It's not enjoyable to be there supervising and directing the labor force and, at times, sending everyone away to correct errors in workmanship. The important thing is to never let your emotions cause the Thais to "lose face".

There are many Canvas Shops in Phuket. Perhaps, one of the best is CANVASS CREATIONS just within Boat Lagoon. It's owned by a Kiwi that does excellent work. I've seen many different shops put up their work on yachts and nothing compares to his workmanship: Prices reflect the quality of craftsmanship.

Chandleries: AME is a first choice for prices but East Marine will carry brand name parts. The fact that they are outrageously priced means little when you need it "now".

Final thoughts: if you aren't willing to be constantly in charge of your repairs, do not have it done in Thailand. The contractors will promise "excellent results" but only deliver what you demand. Never pay a Thai contractor more than their initial materials cost and then adjust amounts accordingly. It's the only way you can have "quality control" over the repairs. In dealing with AME, I was never presented with an novice until everything was finished. We are still on-the-hard at Boat Lagoon. Sea Trials will take place in mid-January 2016: AME has guaranteed the work done.

Sue Richards
Sue Richards says:
Sep 11, 2015 02:44 PM

Posted on behalf of Mark Taylor:

My boat has been in Phuket having maintenance carried out on her for the last 9 months. I have had both excellent and not quite so good results from the companies available there, and would like to pass on our experience for the benefit of other yachties:

The major work has been carried out by Solidair. They are a company that specialises in project management and Yacht repair. Under the leadership of Mia Gillow and ably supported by Foreman Ron, and secretary Pookie, the service that they provide has been excellent. Not only the high standard of her work, but also the general support that she gives. Their contact telephone number is : 888255415/ 0817473373.

For any upholstery work that needs doing - including making a very comfortable mattress, contact Kung on 0897317246 - Highly recommended.

For electrical work carried out by Mr. Tick from Octopusasia, highly recommended - Tel. 076 273379/ 0897884609

For woodwork - sanding and then varnishing, Phuket Inter. Woodwork Co. are also highly recommended. Tel : 081-970 2687 - Mrs. Nai.

For Volvo engine work, YSE marine have been good – 076238665.

Mark Taylor

Kenmontgomery
Kenmontgomery says:
Sep 10, 2015 12:06 AM

We have just completed an 11 month refit on our 58'sailboat at Boat lagoon Phuket and agree with many of the comments posted about Phuket prices and quality of work but there have been some bright spots.

An outstanding bouquet goes to Nai and Toe of Phuket Inter Woodwork for the excellent service and assistance. Another goes to Tu Ton Stainless Steel - the man is a magician with his excellent workmanship. AME gets one for their technical repair knowledge. The owner Wiwat is an ex chief engineer and I [also and ex chief engineer] highly recommend him for being able to solve challenging problems.The last goes to Narin Kanboh canvas whose premises are just outside of Boat Lagoon entrance.

Buckets...there are so many.

We used quite a number of contractors. Rigging seems to be a challenge and I wouldn't recommend getting anything AT ALL done at Phuket. The service we had was possibly the worst I have ever come across [and I make that statement after owning a company that has built more than 200 ships]. Incompetence is too light a word and dangerous is more suited. The eye splice in our Dyneema mainsail halyard worked free "whilst moored at a berth". We had been up and down the mast using the headsail and spinnaker halyards on numerous occasions and thankfully had not used the mainsail halyard. Our new boom and vang was a catalogue of errors that was solved by error and trial, the stackpack was the wrong length, the new rigging wire was slack. I could go on about rigging. We ended up completing it ourselves as we had no confidence with the rigger's capability.

For engine work - be very careful. YSE are good and professional but other work we had done by other engine/mechanical contractors and from feedback from the other yachties the general quality is very very poor.

We had an electrical rewire done by an electrical contractor [Octopus] at Boat lagoon and were pleased with the service. The owner is an Australian and is very knowledgeable and helpful.

It's easy to confuse cheap with quality when it comes to food. I reckon we ate out more than 200 times and I rate only 3 places as offering value for money, the rest were pricey and of poor quality. Chicken rice at 80Baht is possible and it's OK, but it's not quality, it is cheap and you can't live on that. The Irish Bars were mostly good and so was Sam's steakhouse, but you pay and it's not cheap.

In conclusion: I think if you choose your contractors carefully and stand over them 8 hours a day then it's possible to get a reasonable standard of work done, but there is a lost opportunity cost with this method. How much is your time worth? Also you can't see everything and often shoddy work gets hidden in the melee.

Ken

helena
helena says:
Aug 13, 2015 01:11 AM

Yes its true Thailand has a lot of repair contractors who don't know what they are doing.It is all in here on noonsite about the dangers of having youre boat refit in Phuket I guess the boat from newzealand was just another boat who had problems and frustrations with there refit but had they read the Thailand reports from us other boats before they arrived they would have been fully informed.
The work in Thailand looks good at the end of the job.The problems are what is underneath the job.
I finally gave up using any thai contractors for any jobs related to paint,varnish and mechanical.Its not that you cant get good contractors its that they charge way more than I can afford.
There is no value in Phuket .haul outs for a typical 40 footer are about 700 usd for the lift round trip .
600 usd monthly storage rates.
If money is not a issue and you want to live in Thailand for a year while you wait for youre paint job and refits .rents are cheap for a apartment. nice places for 400 usd a month and long term car rentals are also affordable at 400 usd a month and you can have a great time while you are here. just hire the top notch contractors and keep a eye on youre project daily
If you want to use a lower notch contractor and work side by side with him you will get a decent job.But you need to work 8 to 5 every day or youre job will have majore issues..
Phuket is good yacht destination. you just need to do youre homework first. use langkawi duty free port for all youre boat products sent from usa or Australia.you can be sure that the cost will be double or triple here in Phuket for anything other than sand papers and tape.
I decided to post again on this subject because I agree 100 percent with the boat from newzealand .
good luck
helena

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