What are the limits of a Yacht Designer?

Discussion in 'Education' started by FirthofForth, Aug 6, 2014.

  1. jehardiman
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    jehardiman Senior Member

    Last edited: Aug 8, 2014
  2. FirthofForth
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    FirthofForth Junior Member

    Thanks very much again Eric for your very helpful insights. The competitive dynamic hadn't even crossed my mind.

    And Jehardiman, as for your post and link to The UK Recreational Craft Regulations 2004, (UK implementation of the EU Recreational Craft Directive) that was very very helpful! There's clearly a lot to get right. It instantly reminded me of the industry I currently work in where we do a lot of dancing around EU directives and their associated UK statutory implementations :).

    Though it seemed that for boats less than 12 metres the manufacturer could carry out the obligations of the directive without the involvement of a Notified Body?
    Or did I misinterpret that? At any rate clearly one had better get it right or face a 3 month Jail term and a large fine!

    Can you educate me as to what the equivalent piece of legislation is for commercial craft regulations?

    Taking into account Eric's reference to the competitive dynamic and your reference to stringent regulations, strongly supports Eric's recommendation of working under the protectorate of an existing design firm led by N.As.
     
  3. Ad Hoc
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    Ad Hoc Naval Architect

    Indeed....but i sadly come across this far too often. The client is "persuaded" by the salesmanship of the "designer"....the squeaky wheel gets the oil. I prefer to my designs and past experience do my talking...whereas others let their mouths do so.....and sadly they end up getting the contract. And to rub salt into the wounds..."we" often hear some 6-12 months later via the usual "grape vine" that said contract is a mess, over weight, under speed etc etc.

    There are "designers" out there very willing to sell their soul along with their designs, to get a contract. Being qualified and experienced etc often does not cut it in the mind of the client...being pampered and their ego massaged works just as well to them :(

    It is Classification and Statutory regs. For a vessel to obtain its PO (Permit to Operate) It needs all the boxes ticked of full Class & Flag compliance.
     
  4. PAR
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    PAR Yacht Designer/Builder

    There are two side of the equation to consider on this John, at least in regard to how you'd handle any particular client. First, you have to be able to cope with them, which often means hand holding and nurse maiding them through the process. Some clients need a nose ring, while others can grasp the "issues" and follow along pretty well. The ability to recognize what your client needs, is often a key initial ingredient in the relationship. I recently had a very demanding client and was warned by other builders about this fellow, who was perceived as a "problem". They were right, but charge backs and frank conversations, have helped keep him in line, for the most part. This isn't his first custom build and I think someone let him walk all over them previously, so he thinks this is how it should be - you know - the customer is always right. I don't buy into this mentality and insist, I'm always right and this is the reason they came to a professional in the first place. Of course, I do try to address their concerns and wishes, but I also spend as much time trying to talk them out of some "feature" or desire, explaining why it shouldn't be incorporated. I don't think this is selling so much as striving to get them the end result they vision and producing a viable, appropriate craft.

    The other side of this coin is the expertise end and there's no substitute for a lack of it. I agree it's a mixed bag in regard to designers abilities, but most do seem to be honest about what they can perform, usually avoiding commercial and classification situations. Hoop jumping is this vain isn't anything new, though getting worse in recent decades.

    I think there's a place for both and that most clients do know which is which, in terms of an NA or yacht designer's offerings. Established NA offices will always have something coming in, if it's just yet another 80' aluminum "bill boat" with some customization for their needs. Full up pleasure commissions aren't all that common for a yacht designer in comparison, though they may have a much higher stock plan sale figure, at the end of the year.

    The way I see it is much like land based building contractors. You have the basic "BC" contractor that builds single family homes, often simply tract or stock plan offerings, with the occasional custom and they're limited to 4 stories. Then their are the SC contractors, who will build a 15 story office building. These can be directly compared to a yacht designer and an NA. No one would ask a yacht designer to pen up a 500' freighter, (my biggest vessel was 150') on the other hand, no client looking for a 18' semi-custom sloop, is willing to pay a reasonable fee to an NA, though a modified stock plan from a yacht designer might do.
     
  5. FirthofForth
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    FirthofForth Junior Member

    Hi Par. Thanks very much for that great analogy you provided of the domestic building project versus the office building project. Thanks also to Ad Hoc for answering my question on commercial craft regulations.

    Par, this statement you made greatly intrigued me:
    Was this the same scenario with your 150' vessel?

    Eric in his last post also seems to allude to a price differential when he said in relation to a designer hiring an N.A that
    This goes to the heart of my initial post, on determining limits.

    Notwithstanding the comments people have made on the individual competency of the non N.A independent designer, the implication almost seems to be that there is a turning point where the N.A's fine engineering expertise are no longer cost efficient for the additional safety re-assurance or design efficiency returns they provide?? Do some clients take the view that their little estuarine yacht or fishing vessel might be 10% slower, 5% less stable, and 20% heavier, but hey it cost them 50% less, and is otherwise great?

    Surely then the inverse is also true?

    So is this price differential the single biggest factor allowing an independent non N.A yacht designer to co-exist in the same market space as a Naval Architect? As Eric pointed out, they are considered a competitor. How much cheaper typically in percentage terms is an independent designer than an N.A? Is anyone brave enough to compare exact monetary figures?

    Also I would imagine that if I was an N.A running my own design firm, that I would want to avoid stocking the firm with fully qualified N.As where possible, and instead try to maximise the number of competent in house designers I had? The employment costs to a business must be much less? Anyone want to comment in that regard?
     
  6. DCockey
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    DCockey Senior Member

    Not everyone with a degree in naval architecture has more expertise and knowledge about boat design than everyone without a degree in naval architecture.

    From the very little I've seen what someone charges to design a boat/yacht does not depend directly on whether they have a degree in naval architecture, but much more on their reputation, experience, how their business is set up, and the types of boats they typically design.
     
  7. PAR
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    PAR Yacht Designer/Builder

    We're delving into a very subjective area, in competency and pricing, either of which really can be quantified easily.

    An established NA's office will have a much higher overhead than a guy running DelftShip off his laptop, from his kitchen table. In the same vain, the "designer" might not have a plotter, wide format printer, large flat bed scanner or the ability to over see a project from conceptual drawings, through selection of a builder, to overseeing launch day procedures and trials.

    This isn't a matter of competency, though certainly experience and also can dramatically impact services pricing.

    The 150' vessel I mentioned was priced through a few firms and I just got it, though I don't know specifically why, maybe simply people skills, but likely more then that. It was a large project and I did hire help with some of the details, but I also oversaw the project's build, nurse maiding the clients through the process.
     
  8. Ad Hoc
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    Ad Hoc Naval Architect

    Hmmmm...i seem to be coming across my far share of them lately. In my field there are many that grab the attention of the client by making unrealistic claims...there is little one can do except to try and educate the client. But once the "claim" is hard wired into their brain...and just like on this forum... people run with claims without listening to reason, because the claim is more impressive than the facts and has a life of its own.

    One project we missed out on earlier this year simply because the client decided to go with a designer that was claiming a much higher speed speed with an engine that was a "fixed" in the SOR that was not possible. The client was about to sign with us when said 'designer' popped up and claimed some 8knots faster. The yard I was working with couldn't believe it it either, as it was clearly impossible. Yet the client, as i noted, went for the higher claim, wowed by their "prowess"!!....the squeaky wheel gets the oil. We've had to walk away from (or lost out) to several contracts recently, with such clearly unrealistic claims/offers by others, just to get the contract.

    Since once they get the contract and reality sets it, more for the 'designer' than client....by the time the boat is nearly finished or just attempting its sea trials is woahfully under speed, they know the client wont say keep the boat...although it is a very real possibility. The client ends up with a very very cheap boat....the yard has lost money, the designer has egg on their face. But, yard has kept their work force for another year, even if at a loss...


    Indeed.
     
  9. FirthofForth
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    FirthofForth Junior Member

    Thanks PAR and Ad Hoc for your contributions. Very helpful.

    Is it possible that some clients are actually very aware, and deliberately facilitate this game to ensure that they end up with, to quote Ad Hoc:
     
  10. PAR
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    PAR Yacht Designer/Builder

    The difficult client I mentioned in post 34 tried this John and I got beat on the first two attempts, but then I realized what he was up to and reeled him in quickly, literally calling his bluff, suggesting I'd make this a spec build, changing the rig and other details his was insistent about. I was then able to get back a tad more of my initial "loses" with charge backs, which were carefully justified and explained, again to keep him at bay. He didn't like it, but also had to admit, that it was what he wanted and not part of the original quote.

    I'm sorry you've gotten a runaround recently with whom ever that "designer" was (I'll bet I can guess). These types tend to play to an ever diminishing audience. Typically once word gets out about their "talents". There's an NA in this country that's made a name for himself as a no nonsense, down to basics approach type of guy, with designs to match. He sold plans like hot cakes, with wild claims about fuel efficiency, but once a few where built, reality set in to the masses, even though anyone with rudimentary hydrodynamics understanding could easily see, the shapes and masses he employes in his designs, can't possible get anything close to the efficiency figures he's claim on his site.

    As a rule I still think these types are self-eliminating and few and far between, though I'm sorry you've run into more then a far share.
     
  11. Eric Sponberg
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    Eric Sponberg Senior Member

    FirthofForth, You raise a number of issues. I think a lot of clients say they don't care about performance, and practically ALL clients say they don't have a lot of money (If ever I write a book about yacht design, it would be titled "I want to build a boat, but I don't have any money." I hear this almost every week, literally!) First, clients really do care about performance in that they may not want it to be the fastest boat, but they certainly don't want it to be the slowest, either. This goes for both power and sail designs. Actually, performance is design priority no. 1, if only to keep the boat from performing badly. A badly performing boat will not redeem itself by other cleverness in design. Hence the dictum. And, most clients are not clever enough to balance the performance of design claims of one design firm against another. They really are governed mostly by price: If one designer's price is 10% or 50% lower than another, they will, more often than not, go with the cheaper designer, and usually to the detriment of the resulting boat's performance or quality of design and construction. And that's if it gets built. I have designed a number of boats in which the client still doesn't have enough money to build it.

    The bigger design firms will have a task force of in-house degreed naval architects along with a smattering of designers. They can justify their costs because they can command the types of clients that are willing to pay for them. They have succeeded in developing their design businesses to full maturity, and from there they depend upon supply and demand--when the clients are many, they expand the personnel, and when the clients dwindle, they cut back, just like any other well-run company.

    At the other end of the spectrum are people like me, the sole employee of my company. And there is every mix of people and companies in between. You expand to the point where your desires as a professional are satisfied (what kinds of boats do you want to design, and how many people--employees--do you want to play nursemaid to?). Remember, the bigger your firm, the less you as the owner will do actual boat design--you will instead be meeting clients and travelling a lot just to keep the hungry N.A.s and designers in your company fed. And the tasks of doing the accounting, paying taxes and providing fringe benefits will swamp you. In all, it still comes down to supply and demand--do you have designs that people want and are they willing to pay for them?

    As to fees, I think you'll see them vary all over the place. For larger design firms, you'll see a range of prices charged out for various tasks. Designers may be chargeable at ±US$80/hour these days, but that the principal of the firm may charge out up to US$200/hour. Independent boat designers working on their own may be commanding pay of ±US$25/hour (this is a bit of a guess on my part--I haven't charged that little in decades). You charge whatever you feel comfortable charging--you find out soon enough if you're in the right ballpark. If you miss a commission because the owner says you're too expensive, then you lower your rate the next time. If the client says your price is reasonable, then it's time to raise your rates.

    But not all of boat design is chargeable on an hourly basis. Only the bigger design firms can charge time-on-task (which includes a percentage for overhead) and clients seem willing to pay for that. It is really hard to NOT make a profit for time-on-task work, if you can get it. Most clients are not willing to pay for open-ended designs--they want to know what their maximum out-of-pocket expenses are going to be. Remember, they are working on a budget just like most people do in their daily lives (and funnily, when it comes to boats, they really do seem to not have enough money!) Therefore, most times, for people like me (single, independent naval architects) we generally charge a fixed price for a whole boat design, and we manage our time accordingly trying to maximize creating the design detail in the minimum amount of hours. And, all of the design fee gets paid by the finish of the boat design. If, at the end of the design, we are earning US$30-$40/hour, we are not doing a very good job--or the client has been really demanding with design iterations. If, on the other hand, we are earning US100/hour, we're doing a pretty good job. And I will say my hourly rates for short term work are much higher than that.

    Those are some insights, I hope they help. Remember, the above is for the here and now--in one year or five years, the numbers will all change. Prices go up over time.

    Eric
     
  12. FirthofForth
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    FirthofForth Junior Member

    Thanks again Eric for yet another great post. Full of info. Thanks also to David - post 36 (who I accidentally omitted to thank first time around - sorry for that), and AdHoc and Par.

    I recognise that I musn't stray too far from the thread topic, but the topic of personal integrity has been raised in several posts. As it clearly is an issue in the world of designers, I'd like to ask:

    1. How common is it for a client to migrate a project to another party if they're having issues like those mentioned?
    2. Why doesn't the incompetent / dishonest designer end up in a court room for miselling?
    3. Does the world of N.A and boat design have "model contracts" or industry guidelines, to help encourage best practice and protect both parties? If so where can I find them?

    These problems though presumably relate to education or lack of, on the part of the designer? I appreciate the point that a designer isn't a Naval Architect but surely he needs to know a reasonable amount about Naval Architecture to design a boat? A big problem with a lot of the correspondence/distance learning design courses that I've reviewed is that I can't find a single one connected to an academic institution of Naval Architecture. There doesn't even seem to be one headed by a qualified N.A. So how can they then advise about what is good or bad design?? Perhaps I'm missing something here? Please fill me in, because I know that course accreditation by RINA or DETC is not the same thing.

    Consequently, considering the above, and this will sound harsh and controversial (to use a British expression, "let's call a spade a spade"), but are any of these certificates one gets from these design schools worth the paper they're written on? Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that they don't teach a lot of useful information. I've seen the curriculums. But a lot of it does seem to adopt a strategy of recommending text books. Is there any reason why I couldn't become an equally competent designer from reading a lot of textbooks on Naval Architecture, strongly familiarising myself with regulations, doing some tutorials in Rhino, Freeship and others, and drawing up a detailed portfolio? I can do that myself without spending thousands of dollars.

    For a certificate to actually mean something it really needs to carry some weight. That weight to my mind is largely determined by a) Evidence of academic endorsement and b) How it is perceived in the industry. Why should a design firm respect that certificate any more than the determined self taught student? Or is it just to show the client?? I know this is controversial, but I feel I really need to get to the bottom of this one.
     
    Last edited: Aug 10, 2014
  13. Eric Sponberg
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    Eric Sponberg Senior Member

    FirthofForth: I happen to be sitting here at my computer on a late Sunday afternoon, which is what naval architects do, sometimes. Or more correctly, if you are self-employed, you tend to work more hours than a 9-to-5er. Food does not get bought and put on the table unless you send out invoices, and the invoices can't get sent out until the job reaches a milestone or gets done!

    It is not unknown for a client to give up on his chosen designer and go with another one, who, most likely, will be more expensive (because the client chose the cheapest one to begin with). And then, the next designer will probably have to start from scratch again because the first designer will not allow his work to be released to anyone else. It is probably more often the case that the client will just give up and chock it all off to a bad experience.

    It is also not unknown for a client to sue his designer if he screws up. But what is the client going to get out of it: lots of expensive legal fees, and very little money out of the designer. A designer or naval architect is liable only to the amount of the design fee for the plans that he produced. If he is protected by a properly set up corporation, the assets of the corporation may be held up by the courts as collateral against the complaint. But what is the corporation worth? The amount of money in the bank (which gets spent really quickly on food and rent) and the furniture and files in the office. The bigger design offices do not own their own offices--they rent them, so that there is not any big asset that can be attached in a lawsuit. And this is why designers and naval architects also don't carry professional liability insurance because, as I stated in one of my responses above, it gives you deep pockets. Clients and their lawyers go after the deep pockets--so why in the world would you want to give yourself deep pockets? You are asking to get sued.

    I am sure there are model contracts available on the internet for consulting engineers and designers. I keep mine pretty close to the chest, although I have in the past compared mine with other designers and naval architects so that we all operate pretty much the same way.

    Again, your thinking comes back to the competency of the designer--the more competent ones will command a better clientele than the less competent ones.

    And no university offering a degreed program in naval architecture and marine engineering is ever going to align itself with an organization that offers yacht and small craft design as a certificated trade school program. They are two entirely different worlds. I do know that The Landing School is associated with the College of the Atlantic so that you can get an associates degree (two years of study) in conjunction with you boat building or boat design certificate. Most trade schools like The Landing School and Westlawn are accredited by independent accrediting organizations that review the curricula and set standards for grading and compliance. If the school does not have accreditation by some independent organization, then you should take a pretty dim view of its quality and usefulness, and whether it is good to spend money to go there.

    Yes, the certificates do mean something. I think the industry and the public have a pretty good opinion of someone who actually completes the coursework. So those graduates are going to stand head and shoulders above the self-taught designer, in my opinion. You have to realize that going through the discipline of the coursework causes you to focus your study on understanding the principles involved in design. In the correspondence courses, you get to confer with your adviser on any question or topic you may have. At The Landing School, you get to hear and confer with guest speakers, you get input from all the boat building instructors and students, plus you go out on field trips to design offices and builders to see how the industry really works. Finally, there is a 2-4 week period during the year where you actually get to go work in an office or at a boat builder. I know this because I served on the advisory board of The Landing School design program for 7 years, so I know the school pretty intimately. In the end, you get a lot of extra benefits by going through the coursework, conferring with the other students and instructors, and getting a much clearing understanding of the design and building practices much more so than if you just teach yourself. Going through the coursework makes you a much better designer, and the public and the industry knows this.

    That's the last lecture for today. I am off to Ft. Lauderdale tomorrow to go look a a big broken boat. Back on Tuesday.

    Eric
     
  14. FirthofForth
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    FirthofForth Junior Member

    Hi Eric. Many thanks again for yet another great post with a wealth of information. I greatly appreciate the time you've taken to answer all of my questions, especially on a Sunday of all days! I sincerely hope you'll publish that book, as I'm certain that many would derrive immense benefit from it. Best of luck with that big broken boat, though I'm sure you won't be needing it!

    A big thanks also to everyone else who posted, especially Jehardiman, Ad Hoc, and PAR who were consistent in-depth contributors. Even those who responded with the briefest of insights have been a great help. You've all really helped me to better understand the industry, and I know that there will many others like me who come along at a later date and derrive the same benefit from this thread as I have.

    I think it's fair to say that the original post has now been throughly answered, so I'll be printing out and filing this thread for future reference!

    Have a great week ahead!
     

  15. Ad Hoc
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    Ad Hoc Naval Architect

    My replies will be slightly different to those of Eric, since Eric works in a different field to me. All my work is commercial.

    1) It is not uncommon. I have picked up some work from just this, finishing off others work that was incomplete or just outright hopeless.

    2) Who says it doesn’t happen?...i know it does, but it is all behind closed doors as such and the name of the designer/yard and the case and settlement etc is all confidential. This information is not available to the general public who are unaware of designer XX or YY being sued or worse.

    3) Yes they do as Eric notes you can find them on the web. But once you have gone through this process once or twice you end up tweaking them yourself to your own needs; often with the help of a lawyer if it is a big project. Since each contract is tailored slightly differently.

    I think Eric’s summary of to be self taught or not is a good summary. The discipline and focus, no matter where one studies, is an important part of the course. But as previously noted, if you wish to get into “real NA” the companies that you begin to work for to gain your experience will not allow you to sign off on design work/dwgs; as you will not be “qualified”. You can of course do this if you’re a one man band.
     
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