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A Guide to Getting Work Done on your Boat in Thailand

By Sue Richards last modified Sep 17, 2015 01:43 PM

Published: 2012-01-31 15:33:51
Topics: Cruising Information
Countries: Malaysia , Singapore , Thailand

So your boat has done a few miles, seen a few years and looks a bit worse for wear. The next hop may be a long one and now is the time to do a bit of work. Projects have piled up and been put off. You have decided that Thailand would be a good place to haul out and get some serious work done as yards are reported to be good, prices cheap and you might even have a chance to take a holiday ashore while the boat is out of the water.

Several cruisers who are either based in Thailand or have spent lengthy periods there having work done on their boats, have contributed their tips and advice for those considering getting work done in SE Asia.

Facilities

Phuket has long been recognised as one of the best places in SE Asia to refit and all things considered this would be pretty close to the truth. There are a number of facilities to haul-out and more being developed.

First among these facilities for regular cruising boats would be the Phuket Boat Lagoon, which is also the longest established location. As a consequence industries and businesses have concentrated here and many specialists have opened shop over the years. Some have also prospered to the extent that prices have followed demand. While many people will argue Phuket is not the bargain it once was (indeed it is the dearest place in Thailand) compared to Australia, the US and Europe it is still excellent value for money.

Many specialist services are available in a central location, local labour is reasonably priced, there are some skilled people about and if the issue is hi-tech then some very competent (generally expat) specialists are available, but don’t come cheap. Many big-brand marine equipment companies have authorised agents here, and there are many others represented, if a little less professionally at times.

For a full list of yards in Phuket, see here.

Cost

Everyone wants a bargain, however in the main you can expect the lift, re-launch and hardstand to cost about the same as anywhere.

What is cheap is the labour. There are many operators who will take your bottom back to basic, fill and fair as needed and do a good job of it, for a very good price.

Expat John Champion comments, “one example of the low cost of labour benefitting the customer is that rarely will you see a work facility so clean. Troops of workers incessantly sweep and clean every trace of industry from the area and a clean yard is a really good start to being a good yard”.

However, low cost labour can also mean low-skilled in the boat business (as mentioned above in facilities). Doug Winkler found this out when having major work done on his yacht in Phuket. He says, “Thai workers do not understand yachts. To them they are an innate object and they do not understand the end use let alone the complicated construction. Thai workers are good at hiding errors --you find them later--but they work hard when supervised and if you do so, you end up with a good result. Supervise and survive, leave them un-supervised and you get what they think is right, not what you left them doing.”

Walter Page who spent over a year in Thailand, neatly summarises his experience, “I will not say that the experience was an easy one because of the language, but all said and done the Contractor did his best, which was very good and on time, and that was acceptable to me. After all, you can not expect a Palm Beach paint job for twenty percent of the cost of one. There are others in Boat Lagoon who are monitored by Australian overseers that quote Australian prices, but their work is not Palm Beach quality either.”

Products

Thailand, like most countries, has a taxation program. In many instances (like most others) it is bereft of logic, sense or reason and defies any effort of investigation and understanding. Import duty is part of a tax programme and Thailand charges this duty. The amount varies between classifications. For example, electrical and mechanical components attract 10% duty, levied after freight has been added, 7% VAT (value-added tax) is then levied on the sum of these cumulative costs.

When you consider that VAT in most European countries is nearly 20%, perspective comes a little easier.

There is a VAT claim-back system in Thailand, but it is well structured from a revenue perspective (the Department of Revenue is the official name and in this regard is refreshingly honest and transparent) rather than from a buyer's perspective, that is. You can claim back VAT on purchases over a certain value, no question. However, to do so you have to present the items at the airport of departure with receipts and fill out a number of forms, all immediately prior to boarding. This is going to be difficult with your new generator, inverter or other item installed on your boat. Yacht-in-transit status is not much help because you need to be over a certain (huge) gross tonnage to qualify.

So bite the bullet and remember, autopilot is 3% duty, sonar and radar 1%, radio not much more, just don't try and get anything remotely "rubber" imported because this is one thing Thailand does a lot of and protects the market accordingly.

So why are products expensive?

Tax is only part of the story – freight is the other part. Virtually none of the gear travelling boats require is made in Thailand - it is all imported from somewhere else. In many cases it is made in China, imported to the country of distribution and re-exported to agents/representatives, incurring horrible freight and tax expenses, which the hapless consumer (us) must bear. Most local businesses will keep a certain amount of desirable stock on hand which has been priced (hopefully) on a consolidated freight cost.

So you want an item urgently that is not available. The freight charge may be more than the part is worth. On the other hand, freight and tax combined can kill you. Batteries, for example, have a 10% duty in Thailand, then a 10% luxury tax, then a 10% tariff on the duty, then 7% VAT; batteries are also heavy and the freight expense is cruel. Given the fact that real marine batteries are not available locally this may sound excessive, but Thai batteries (automotive) are available and the distinction has clearly not been made. Sea freight options may ease the pain somewhat if you have the time. Interesting that torch and such disposable batteries are dirt cheap.

Painting Work

Painting boats seems to be a popular industry in Phuket. High-end facilities are available, and there are a couple of big sheds that can do the whole job under cover. These are well patronised by high worth vessels and the job is not cheap - as is correct for top quality. On the other hand, there are numerous locally owned companies who will paint your boat on the hardstand in the open to a greater or lesser extent. It is common to see a boat lifted and a temporary structure of poles, scaffold, plastic or canvas quickly take shape and cover the site.

So for a reasonable fee you can largely take the weather out of the picture, save on hardstand fees and have a better chance of achieving your impossible, unrealistic, Western-derived schedule. So if you are prepared to get involved in the job and deal with some language barriers and cultural differences, the Phuket paint job may be for you.

John Champion comments, “I have seen plenty of first-class jobs for great prices. One 43-footer re-sprayed for 100,000 Baht (say $3000 US at the time) represented exceptional value; I will be seeking this guy in the future”.

There can also be a great deal of frustration too, especially if the make-shift tent you thought you ordered to protect your boat while being painted, fails to materialise.

Electrical Work

Have a look at the municipal wiring in Phuket. This is a real work of art. With such examples of electrical excellence is it any wonder there are bad jobs on boats? By no means is this confined to Thailand, but many an owner, lured by attractive build costs, has taken delivery of the vessel to discover that every wire, cable and connection on board is black, unlabelled and well, haphazard. There's another inherent issue here, hazard, which is clearly the case. Try and get this fixed under warranty. Involvement at some level is the only option.

Other Work

Many cruisers with boats suffering from Osmosis use the cost-effective method of taking the hard in Phuket, strip back to fibre and leave it over the wet season. No need to wash the hull incessantly, about three million litres of rain will do the job for you and a couple of months in the dry season will do the rest before re-coating. This is fairly popular and seems very logical.

Pitfalls

Nothing is as scary as seeing a few local guys with power tools get on a boat to work unsupervised. Stories abound about this: "I only left them for five minutes and there was a new hole in the boat," seems to be a favourite. That's not to say there are no competent Thai shipwrights here, there are, but making sure you have one is the issue. Use the established Western-run companies and you will have a better chance and will be dealing with someone who has at least the same cultural idea of expectations. If something does go wrong, there is a better chance of coming to an arrangement. However, such things come at a western price.

Most of the complaints reported to noonsite seem to hinge on insufficient supervision of relatively unskilled workers. In the main, this comes down to the difficulties in communication due to the language barrier (for those who don’t speak Thai). Cruisers advise if working with a local contractor to arrange regular daily short meetings with a translator so that you can nip any issues in the bud and resolve minor problems before they become major issues.

“We have met some cruisers that know they may have issues dealing with the Thais and others that leave the yacht to go home or travel whilst the work is being done. In this case they employ people that specialise in managing projects and maintaining relationships and hence quality work is obtained as a result.”
Gary Haynes

“In Phuket it is absolutely common to take a MINIMUM of 50% longer and 50% more money than initially advised. The tales are legion, unbelievable but true. If you choose the lowest price contractor – have realistic expectations”.
John Champion

Be realistic when calculating the expected length of time to do a job. There are many factors that can affect the timeframe including weather, the decisions to do extra work along the way and delays in getting hold of products and bits required to do the job. Cruisers have commented that in Boat Lagoon, refits tend to take longer than owners hope for.

Cultural differences

Speaking of cultural differences and language barriers, there are a few things to consider.

First if you want a good job then don't expect them to work alone. Thais are a gregarious people and like to have company. Putting somebody on a job alone is paramount to a punishment detail. It happens but not so much. Consider, this person will stop for lunch (and other reasons) normally for an hour, but if working alone will have no one to eat with and may have to travel in order to find another to masticate comfortably with. This could eat into the day and it may not be worth coming back at 1500 to do some more work before finishing time. This is impeccable local logic and would be accepted as basic common sense by most; so you have a half day's work for insisting that the job is a one-man affair.

If the job is a fixed price, it means the work will take twice as long.

There are many idiosyncrasies to the Thai culture and it’s advisable to speak with cruisers who have lived in Thailand for some time on how best to communicate with your workers without causing offence. Alternatively, employ a middle-man who can keep the work on track for you and liaise with the workers in Thai.

Summary

Phuket is a great place to get a refit, paint job and various other work done, but like all locations and boatyards throughout the world some vigilance from the owner or someone responsible, is needed. Labour is affordable, quality can be had and products can be sourced at a not-too onerous price in many cases. You will not match the online prices from the US, but if you wish to jump through the fiery hoops of import and take a punt you can buy these items and have them sent direct to your boat.

Consider the times you have paid top dollar for a job and had a mediocre or worse experience. At least in Phuket you will pay a mediocre price and may get a first-class result.

“If you are a Westerner undertaking a major refit in an Asian country, do not speak the language, and are most likely paying a fraction of the cost you would pay back home, then a reasonable amount of give and take is necessary. It is also important to treat people with respect and a degree of trust. While there will certainly be challenges, frustrations and miscommunications, this is part of the experience and projects are usually finished to everyone’s satisfaction”.
David and Robyn Peile, SV Maajhi Re

“One thing people say after a short time in the yard is "I wish that I had come spent a week here talking to people before making my decision on who to employ for my job". It is fair to say that every contractor will do his best, however his knowledge of how the end product should be and the "proper results" may be miles apart, but with all the best intentions. As a result, you end up having to educate your contractor while speaking a different language. A lot of jobs get done three times before it is right”.
Tigs and Walter, SV Marnie

Adapted from a report by John Champion with input from Bob Mott, Doug Winkler, Gary Haynes, Robyn and David Peile and Rigs and Walter of SV Marnie.

bbalan
bbalan says:
Sep 17, 2015 04:44 AM

Things have changed in Phuket in the last few years. Be sure to read updated information like this 2015 report: http://www.noonsite.com/Countries/Thailand/visit-thailand-for-fun-avoid-thailand-for-boat-work