Is it true that Italian shipbuilders build their yachts with passion?

It would not be correct to generalize the answer to Italian shipbuilders because we have not observed others’ works. But during our Sanlorenzo experience, we have closely witnessed this “passion” in very few subcontractors’ workers, and they were all at the personal level. We have met some extremely passionate workers that are truly in love with their jobs, others counting remaining minutes for the work day.

At the administration level of Sanlorenzo, we can definitely state that there is an astonishing passion for 2 elements:

#1: Money
#2: Always choosing the quickest path to reach Passion #1

Other than that, talking about devotion and excitement would be a myth…

Will there be a Quality Control team in charge of my project?

Sorry, but No!
It would be in fact common sense to assume that extensive Quality Control practices should exist for these multi-million projects; However, this would be one of the deadliest assumptions you might choose to adopt!As much as they don’t want to admit, the Sanlorenzo shipyard does NOT have a quality control department.Almost all of the production processes are subcontracted and the existence of a quality control system totally depends on the philosophy of subcontractors. During our 2 year experience at Sanlorenzo, we can easily assert that we have NOT met anybody who claimed to be in charge of QC. It was clear that the quality of works highly depended on the mercy of workers doing it.If you decide to hire surveyors (do not even think otherwise!), you will quickly discover that the shipyard will attempt to rely on your surveyors’ observations to correct the defects and attempt to hold them responsible for unnoticed ones.For our project, a project manager has been assigned. However, we quickly found out that he was also in charge of 5 other new builds.
Leaving his negative personality traits aside (an aggressive troublemaker supported by the Vice President of the division), he came nowhere near contributing to the works on our project with 5 more other boats he had to look after. He consistently fought us making many bizarre, unfounded decisions and claims such that, unofficially he has won the title of “Project Damager“. He was making daily visits to our boat for a short time, chatting with workers and leaving for the next one.Generally speaking, Italians are extremely ambitious people and senior management of Sanlorenzo is making an excellent use of these weaknesses by showing them the carrot and make them work day and night.
End result: Costs are reduced, but quality suffers.To lessen the gravity of such organizational deficiencies, it is critically important for you to add two important clauses to your contract covering below areas and enforce their conformance to the maximum extent:1) Your surveyor’s reports and observations should in no way substitute the Quality Control system of the shipyard (even though non existent!)2) The shipyard will nominate a highly qualified and dedicated project manager throughout the production of your boat. If you find it necessary, you should also reserve the right to ask the shipyard to replace the project manager with another one.

How long will it take the shipyard to build my boat?

The duration of the construction of your boat will mainly depend on a few factors:
-First of all, it will depend on the waiting line and how busy the production schedule of the shipyard is.
-Second, it will depend on the complexity of your project. The more gadgets you add, the more time they will need.
-Third, it will depend on how meticulous you are. If you have a sharp eye and attention for detail, an unforgettable and never ending adventure is awaiting you!For our project, the estimated construction period of 13 months was foreseen and stipulated in our contract at the time of our order. It took the shipyard 24 MONTHS to complete the project!It is widespread practice at Sanlorenzo to schedule most deliveries for the beginning of summer. Don’t think that they “want” you to take the boat and enjoy the boating season, but they rather “need” you to do so.
The shipyard is trying hard to concentrate deliveries around the beginning of summer for good reason:
It is the best time of year in which owners are usually desperate to take their boats and cruise away.You might immediately wonder “what are you talking about? In what ways this could be beneficial to the shipyard and detrimental to the owners?“.You’re right. At first glance, it looks like a win-win situation. But we learned the hard way that handing over the yacht at the beginning of season is actually a well planned unilateral WIN-LOSE situation in favour of the shipyard. And here is why:For many years, Sanlorenzo has gotten into the habit of delivering UNFINISHED yachts to its owners. As ridiculous as it may sound, this is a general practise at Sanlorenzo and they are a firm believer of this philosophy.
The reason why they schedule most deliveries for the beginning of season is darn simple: They want you to be desperate to take an unfinished boat and go away to “enjoy” your summer. They will promise you that all unfinished works will be completed and all defects will be fixed “under warranty” at the end of season when you come back. We have seen many yachts sailing away without ceilings, audio/video systems, or even failed generators! We have even witnessed boats that came back 4 times within a period of 2 months!During your summer, you will “enjoy” many problems due to the pre-delivery rush and lack of shipyard tests. You will instruct your crew to deal with and solve most of them at your expense just to avoid frustration. For other defects, you will have to wait until the season ends and you head back towards the shipyard. This is where your “enjoyment” of the boat will gain a new dimension: hassle time with the shipyard!Whether you have paid your outstanding balance in full or managed to negotiate a tiny holdback before handover, you will quickly find out that your boat has plummeted long ago in their priority list. You will feel less pain if you quickly confront the truth that you just fell into their hands.Your crew will be stuck at the dock for weeks waiting to get things fixed. Because their subcontractors are now engaged in other projects, you will have to wait for them to become available to sort your boring issues. Who knows when it will happen? The moment you paid your outstanding balance, you lost all of your leverage.

For our project, we negotiated a unique contract where close to 35% of the balance was going to be paid at delivery. Even with such an important leverage, we had a very hard time getting the shipyard to finish the boat and fix defects (a jaw-dropping total amount of approx. 2500 defects spotted by our surveyors, only 1/10 were correctly fixed by the shipyard!). The only tool we had was not to accept the boat as per our contract, and we used it to the fullest extent. That is how we got them to fix some (not all though!) of their stuff-ups…

My privacy is very important. Does the shipyard have strict confidentiality rules? 

Yes, but only on paper…
In various stages of our project, we have been casually taken onboard many other yachts in production to check out some of their features. Details of their owners (name, profession, nationality etc) have not been formally disclosed to us in writing, but we have been told many details and family stories about them.It would certainly be a good idea to insert a comprehensive confidentiality clause into your contract, but clearly do not expect conformity. You will know who your neighbors are and vice versa. Apart from that, the shipyard uses that as a marketing tool.Our neighbors: Owner of X perfumes from France, a Mexican architect who took an unfinished boat in a rush to show it off in Monaco Grand Prix, and a Dutch owner who put his barely finished boat on display at Cannes boat show.If you are concerned about your privacy, it would actually make more sense to change the name of your boat after delivery.

Should I use their in-house design team or hire an architect?

Strictly speaking, it would be a way better idea to hire a professional architect, preferably one specializing in boat interior design. The in-house team of the shipyard tends to stick around the same concepts. They love to repeat the ideas they have applied on other boats and you will more or less end up getting a clone (similar design, colors, materials, fabrics, appliances etc). If you want a unique interior design for your boat, you will have to push really hard:

First, you will have to break through their habit of always picking the easy path. They always resist anything that is new but if it works well, you will notice that they will immediately take credit for it.

Second, you will have to learn to deal with “this is not in line with the Sanlorenzo concept” statement. When you hear this, you should immediately understand that it is another way of saying “it’s too complicated and will cost more, we do not want to do it”.

Third, you will end up getting a lot of wasted spaces (which serve as extremely valuable storage areas in boating) because converting them to storage would mean extra work and cost. A boat is constructed within boundaries of the restricting shape of the hull and superstructure. There will always be a shortage of storage, so it is highly critical that all available spaces are put to good use.

A professional architect can turn all of the above points in your favor. Keep in mind that the shipyard’s number-one target is to deliver the boat and get paid. On the other hand, you will be spending years onboard (or perhaps the rest of your life) and have to live with all the restrictions. At the end, you will probably regret not having hired an interior designer (like we did!).

To give an example: for our boat, we have ordered an aerial staircase from the lower deck all the way to the upper deck and paid close to 90.000€ for this option. We ended up with half of the aerial staircase converted to regular staircases because the shipyard decided to use the lower deck under stairs area to fit an electrical switchbox. We have never been warned about this change and it was an unpleasant surprise for us. Apparently they hoped it would remain unnoticed (?!). That is why we strongly suggest you hire a qualified architect and professional surveyors, right from the first day. Otherwise, be prepared for lots of surprises!

Should I assign my captain to supervise the project or hire surveyors?

This decision is completely up to you. However, the only way to spot these hidden stuff-ups is actually to hire qualified and experienced surveyors. You will be very surprised about the number of unfinished/faulty items that a qualified surveyor will notice (Our surveyors report included approximately 3000 points throughout the boat!). As we have previously indicated, Sanlorenzo’s philosophy and “secret” to its success is delivering shiny designer furnitures with lots of stuff-ups underneath hatches and covers. When you enter one of their boats, you will be amazed with the design and style. This a true fact and if that is your main concern, then we strongly suggest you purchase a Sanlorenzo. However, if you are interested in real quality and true engineering throughout the boat, then we suggest you start building some immunity for empty promises (at each opportunity, they will claim that they are the bestshipyard in the world after Dutch and German shipyards)…

Will I need a lawyer for the contract stage?

If you want to stay away from unpleasant surprises, it would be very wise to let a lawyer draft/edit a contract for you.
Believe it or not, Sanlorenzo’s version of the new-build contract does not contain a single clause that speaks for the client, yet surprisingly many of their customers sign the contract as is!Sanlorenzo is using a well known method for this end:  They are literally “swearing to god” that the contract is only a formality to “provide sight to authorities” when needed, that it will sit in their archive, and that they will make you their happiest human being in the world by building a dream boat as per your wishes. When things start to go south, you will quickly notice that this contract of yours “sitting in the archive” will stands up and start to talk for itself.There is one universal rule in this industry, perhaps more important than others. “Verba volant scripta manent” or “Words fly, writings remain”. Never ever overestimate promises and always request confirmation of all verbal discussions in writing.Here are some suggestions that will ensure your peace of mind during the painful process of building a new boat:

  • To start with, request a sample agreement. Read through the agreement carefully and cross out clauses that you consider to be unacceptable.
  • Find a skilled UK based lawyer experienced in maritime law and ask your lawyer to add all sorts of clauses that will protect you to the maximum extent against the most common problems (ie parts substitution, surveyor inspections, build quality, lack of supervision, delays, defects, warranty works etc).
  • Make sure to add as many possible clauses in your favor as possible, because you will have to let go some of them during negotiations.
  • Avoid non-written communication. Try to handle the communication via email so as to leave a trail.
  • Push hard to get your terms accepted. Tell them that you would easily walk out of the deal should they not accept your conditions. You will be surprised to see how much they will bend to get your business.
  • In the meantime, try to keep them busy with your requests. Ask lots of questions, request plenty of documents and data. The more they will invest time to your case prior to the contract stage, the more they will be ready to compromise.
  • NEVER EVER accept the ITALIAN jurisdiction as the governing law! You will be a foreign entity in the eyes of italian, thus do not expect a fair trial. Italian courts almost always favor local companies. Besides, shipyards may develop special relations with officers of the courthouses in their jurisdiction. Chances are, they have acquaintances with most of them. You will have to waste your time and money finding workarounds. Sad but true, our experiences showed that it is extremely hard to get a judgment against an Italian company in Italy. Our recommendation for governing law would be the ENGLISH law.
  • Avoid an arbitration clause in the agreement since it would imply a shorcut for the shipyard in case of conflict. We suggest you let regular court proceedings handle your case as opposed to arbitration. You will find out that you will have much more leverage this way. It will be a lenghty and exhaustive procedure compared to the arbitration process and the boat will risk being tied up at shipyard’s cost during this whole period of litigation (meaning years), a nightmare for the shipyard.
  • Do not forget that in any part of the world lawsuits are somewhat synonym with gambling. Rulings depends on many factors which might be outside your control.
  • Always keep in mind that no matter which party wins or looses, one sure thing is that lawyers always win!

Coming soon:

How does the furniture and appliance selections process works?

Will the equipment and furnitures onboard be well protected until delivery?

Should I trade-in my old boat for a new one or sell it separately?

Does the shipyard provide aftersales support?

Will they provide me with a construction schedule?

Could there be delays in the delivery date?

How many times do I have to visit the shipyard to make sure that everything goes smooth?

What will be the terms for stage payments?

Will my boat be fully insured during its construction?

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