Everything you need to know about commissioning a new yacht

Commissioning a yacht marks the start of the ownership adventure. It is also potentially stressful; a lot must happen before you are able to sail away. We look at how to make the most of the handover process and ensure a smooth start to your time on the water.

A new yacht emerging from the yard can be far from ready to go to sea. What happens between the build finishing and handover to the new owner – known as commissioning a new yacht – can make the difference between a great experience and a disappointing start to your time afloat. Knowing what is coming can help you be ready for this exciting time.

Commissioning a new yacht is a process

For the first-time yacht buyer, commissioning often takes longer than expected. Different yards have different approaches to commissioning, some handing part of the process over to a third party or local dealer. Others see it as something that extends from the build to the end of the yacht’s warranty year.

Adrian Jones, director of Rustler Yachts, aims to get to know new owners throughout the build process, long before the handover begins.

“First and foremost, commissioning should be fun for the owner. Typically, the yacht will have been in build with us for the best part of a year and during that time the owner will hopefully have been able to visit on several occasions; there should be no surprises about the build.

“We will have used the boat for a week ourselves to make sure everything works prior to handover. We always commission here in Falmouth and try to hand yachts over in a local marina, then suggest owners sail locally for a week or so, which is no real hardship!

A new yacht launch is an exciting time for owners. Photo: Didier Hillaire/GLY

“Customers have full access to the engineer specific to their boat for as long as they need. Typically, the actual handover days are split between an engineer showing the systems on the boat and taking the boat sailing. This is usually with myself, my colleague Nick, the sailmaker and sometimes the rigger.”

Spirit Yachts’ approach to new launches has developed over 20 years building custom and semi-custom yachts, explains commissioning manager Alastair Sutherland. “From the moment the yacht is launched we start the commissioning, checking off items as we go. Once the build team is happy, the rig is stepped, and the sails are on, that’s when the real process begins. For the next two weeks, we sail regularly and run her systems while on the dock.”

Real life testing

“When we are out on the water, we run everything as we believe the owner would while on board,” says Sutherland. “During this time we are tweaking and resolving any snags as we go along. Ideally, we also do an overnight passage prior to handover to give the yacht a thorough test. Once all the commissioning and testing is complete, we give the yacht a deep clean prior to handover with the new owner.

“The handover of the yacht is a three-day process with the owner, in person. The first day is a general overview of the yacht on the dock and a walk-through of all the systems. We try and keep it simple as it is harder to retain information when you are talking about things rather than physically using it.

Amel runs yacht systems afloat in a tank as part of the commissioning process. Photo: Amel Yachts

“We provide detailed manuals, which include all the practical information and systems drawings for how to operate and maintain the yacht safely and efficiently.

“On day two of the handover we take the owner out sailing with our sailmaking and rigging partners (OneSails and Evolution Rigging). Depending on the weather, we aim to use all the sails on board and run all the yacht’s systems while on the water. The final day is a run through of the navigation and communication systems, wrapping up any final queries, although we are on hand to support with any advice or logistics throughout ownership, not just immediately after handover.

“It’s an intensive, but hugely enjoyable three days for the owners and us as a team. It’s the culmination of the whole design and build process, as well as many years of owners having planned for their dream yacht in many cases.”

Amel, known for very fully equipped yachts, is also specific about how they ensure a yacht is thoroughly tested at the point of handover. Each hull is floated in a testing tank to run all the yacht’s systems as if at sea, adding an extra degree of testing before entering saltwater.

A crucial component

Getting the sail wardrobe choice and set up right for a new sailing yacht can be fundamental to delivering that memorable first sail.

Launch day is just the start of the commissioning process. Photo: Paul Wyeth

Paul Austin of Dolphin Sails is responsible for helping many owners commission their new yacht’s sails. “On a recent Oyster 565 commission I have actually been speaking to the owner for over two years, helping them decide what is right for the sailing they’ll be doing before making more specific choices about the finer details of their sails and covers. We always have separate meetings for sails and covers as it’s a lot to think about.

“Commissioning the yacht, we’ll be on board for a sail with the owner, and if we can we’ll also jump on board a few weeks later to go through any questions they have on the more technical details as they get used to her afloat.

“Fitting the sails on the boat with the owner can also be invaluable for them, along with – although it sounds obvious – how to set a reef well in a brand-new sail. It’s not rushed and we’re always keen to sail with the owner so they can get the most out of their yacht.”

Bending on new sails for the first time can be a slow process! Photo: Will Bruton

Final touches

The amount of kit needed to go sailing, from life rafts to equipping the galley, can be overwhelming. While some yachtbuilders provide options lists that extend even to cutlery, others do not. Third parties have set up to serve these needs, each specialising in different brands. One such company is Yacht Solutions, based in Bordeaux, who assist with commissioning many CNB and Lagoon yachts, working with the boatyard and new owners to ensure the yacht is ready to sail quickly.

“The process can be an unexpectedly very busy time for an owner, so bringing in a business like ours that has commissioned a lot of similar yachts and understands what is needed can be really helpful, particularly if you want to get sailing quickly,” explains Cedric Beaumont.

“Understanding the yacht very well is at the heart of what we do – knowing what works for specific models and what doesn’t.”

Handover time for a newly-commissioned Outremer catamaran. Photo: Robin Christol/GLY

The warranty year

Most new yachts are supplied with a year’s warranty, with some elements of the build guaranteed for longer, such as the structural strength of the hull. Keeping track of different third-party components and warranties involves ensuring all paperwork is organised at handover.

The degree to which yachtbuilders fulfil their warranty obligations is notoriously variable, with some going above and beyond to fix snags and others doing the minimum.
Understanding how far a warranty year extends geographically can also be important. For example, if something big like the engine goes wrong, will the builder help you on the other side of the world?

Tips for owners

Ben Nichols of Clipper Marine shares insider tips for own commissioning a production yacht:

  • Commissioning of a new Bavaria C42 takes one to two weeks, something larger like a C57 might take up to three weeks. It’s best we take care of this part of the process without the owner on board, there’s a lot to do above and below deck and we’re better able to help you once we have the yacht ready to sail!
  • Handover usually takes a full day. We will talk you though the systems and go for a sail. It’s a great idea to take notes and lots of videos. We also give handover notes with practical guidance on how to use your yacht. It’s well worth reading through these thoroughly early on.
  • Check your warranty terms. We have a ‘back to base’ warranty and you will deal with the salesperson that sold you the yacht. That means that if you are near us, we can help you directly, but if you are further away you will have to work with us for us to fix anything that isn’t working. We fit brands that have good international support networks, so if you are in Gran Canaria and your radio is not working, your warranty paperwork can be taken to the brand’s local dealer for service.
  • Most agents are currently dealing with unpredictable delivery times. We let owners know a date for commissioning and handover when the yacht is leaving the factory, usually giving them two to three weeks’ notice.

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