BOAT WORK IN PHUKET, THAILAND

From March 2013 to March 2015 (with some time off for good behavior) we did an extensive refit of Migration in Phuket, Thailand (here is our task list). We would NEVER recommend anyone do extensive boat work in Thailand. 

COSTS: We were under the impression that work was inexpensive in Thailand. Not so. Here are our quotes, prices, and invoices.

CONTRACTORS: We sent a report to Noonsite (you can find it at the bottom of this page) with the few good contractors we worked with. Noonsite did not want to post negative reports, so these you will find below.

We are not alone in our assessment of boat work in Thailand. As we were there for over 2 years, we met many boats who came and went -- over a dozen. Our opinions are based both on the work we had done as well as the experiences of others. We also spoke with superyacht captains, many of  whom had spent several seasons in Thailand. One captain hired mostly Filipinos to work on his boat as he was tired of the poor quality from the Thai workers. He also related to us that a job to paint the foredeck was quoted at double the price he could have it done in Australia.

You will find reports of people who are happy with the work they had done in Thailand. One of the most important questions to ask is how much time these people actually spent working alongside their Thai contractors and workers. This graph displays the correlation between how much time one spends time working aboard and satisfaction with the work done.

Nearly everyone we met who was pleased with the work spent little to no time watching how the work was done. Even those who said they did would often only check in once a day for an hour or so. Those who were happiest with the results were the skippers who left to do land travel in Asia and returned after the work was finished. Using this method, you may be pleased with the result in the end but you will have no idea about the actual quality or longevity of the work.

One final comment: I'm providing these pages (including our invoices and quotes page) to share information, not to invite people to write to me saying what an idiot I am or that I should do it myself, or my expectations are too high, or there is also poor work in Columbia or Australia or in the US or wherever; or that I should compare the prices to some other country. I'm hoping to keep people from making the same extreme mistakes we did. Quite simply, we do not recommend having boatwork done in Thailand. If you think I'm full of it and want to go do boat work in Thailand, then go. Or if you just think I'm full of it, there is no need to tell me. Really. I'm moving on and have a whole wonderful life to enjoy.  However, if you have questions and I can be of help, I'm happy to do what I can. You can find a link for contact information on the home page of this website.


AVOID THESE CONTRACTORS AT ALL COSTS

(Note: The few contractors we do recommend can be found in the article below. We publish this information here because Noonsite would rather not include negative reviews in posts as they cannot ensure their accuracy).

Nhoon Carpenter (Witoon Wngpreecha)
Professional Carpentering (ProCarpentering, Mike Hjort)
Lekstar Canvas, Awnings, and Tents
Mr. Gig Boat Work Service (Mr. Gig Repair --- Mr.Wararob Punpuech)
Golf Boatworks (Golf)
Metal Pearl (Pop, Panyasak Phakpeetinan)
AME for metalwork (but they are fine as a chandlery)

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.


Nhoon Carpenter (Witoon Wngpreecha)

IN DEPTH REPORT ON NHOON HERE

We hired Nhoon based on a glowing recommendation from some friends who had work done the previous year. Though some of his work was excellent, much of it was infuriatingly poor. Of course, like all contractors, he does little of the work himself and has employees doing nearly everything. They spoke no English and we were constantly forced to monitor their work. Interior painting was of astonishingly poor quality. We ended up with areas looking worse than before they were painted. On some of our floorboards, the paint started to peel in just a few days. We were able to peel the new paint off the floorboard in a single sheet. Beneath it was was the original paint unsanded and unwashed -- dirt from our feet still visible. One disastrous experience involved our American maple batten headliner. Nhoon took a few pieces (the ones around the hatches) to his shop to varnish because they were water damaged. Six 2.2 meter battens were not returned and he denied he had them. Months of haggling led us to seek out his shop (actually that part was a fun adventure). With the help of a Thai friend, we spoke with his wife who later found the pieces in a dusty loft. Nhoon returned 5 and 1/2 pieces: one piece having been recently broken (the break was clean while the rest of the pieces were covered in dust). Perhaps it was an accident. Perhaps it was out of spite. It is hard to say as the Asian concept of 'saving face' is difficult for Westerners to understand. These are just a few examples of the many frustrations we experienced.


New technique: Quick-Remove Paint!


When painting, why bother to protect newly-varnished surfaces?


Nhoon insisted the repair on the base of the mizzen
mast was finished. But this piece wasn't even
epoxied in. Good thing we checked.


The missing headliner battens.


Nhoon

MORE ABOUT NHOON HERE

 

Professional Carpentering (ProCarpentering, Mike Hjort)
We hired Mike Hjort for a few jobs. One was to fix a companionway modification that Nhoon (above) did incorrectly. Unfortunately Mike's workers put resin and filler over the blue tape which was protecting the newly-painted boat. Obviously we couldn't paint over the tape as it would eventually absorb moisture and prevent a lasting finish. When we pointed this out to Mike, he reluctantly agreed to fix it. However, he said (and this is an accurate quote) "If you are going to be like that [meaning complaining about the blue tape], I don't want to work with you any more." Clearly, blue tape under resin filler was just fine in his book. He did say that it wasn't "very much" tape.


The dark line is the blue tape under
the resin and filler. Acceptable for
Mike Hjort, but not for us.

 

Lekstar Canvas, Awnings, and Tents
We purchased our huge tent from Lekstar. We thought we would only need it for 6 months and told them so. Thus, they thought they could get away with a tent that was shoddily constructed, although still very expensive. It collapsed with the first rainstorm of the season. Though they said the tent was guaranteed for 2 years when we purchased it, it was a constant battle to get them to return time and again to fix the tent. They would do the minimum required until the next storm bent another support. Finally, upon our insistence, they added new supports to the entire structure. We still had to hire another company to add wire stays to keep the tent up.


The result after the first rainstorm.


 

Mr. Gig Boat Work Service (Mr. Gig Repair, Mr. Wararob Punpuech)

IN DEPTH REPORT ON GIG HERE


Though Gig came with a good recommendation from another sailboat, he is a perfect example of what has gone wrong with the yacht service industry in Phuket. He was a carpenter by trade. Because he could speak English, he decided to become a contractor. If you speak English you can tell potential clients that you can do anything (painting, fiberglass, carpentry) and then hire someone who will do the actual work. We later realized he had little understanding of the jobs outlined in the contract. The short story is that he overextended himself and we broke an important rule and paid him more than we should have (never pay for more than the actual work that has been completed -- except for materials), and the foreman, though a very nice guy and a hard worker, had a poor understanding of fiberglass and LP systems. After the boat was primed and ready for topcoat, we realized that Gig and his workers did not have the skills to complete the job satisfactorily. Though we had paid him 90% of the job and only about 75% was complete, we told Gig he could walk away. We just wanted our materials back. Unfortunately, he had not paid the chandlery for the materials and left town with US$9,000 worth of our paint. What he was planning to do with all those gallons of red Awlcraft 2000, we don't know! Last we heard, he was in Bangkok and had burned many bridges in Phuket. However, if he should return, or if you run across him someplace else, we would not recommend that you hire him.

One final humorous note. How we knew that Gig and his foreman were clueless regarding LP systems was that they sanded the Awlgrip primer to a beautiful smooth finish with 600 grit paper. When I told him that this was incorrect -- Awlgrip recommends 320-400 -- he said "If you wanted me to follow all of the instructions from the paint company, I would have charged you more."


A perfect example of what happens with inexperienced
laborers who think they know better: this is the result
when silicone is used to fill deck holes before applying primer.


For Gig's crew, this was an acceptable piece of
marine ply to use on a hull repair. Fortunately, we
saw it in time to stop them.


Gig (left) and his foreman, Goi.

MORE ABOUT GIG HERE

Golf Boatworks (Golf)
We did not work with Golf ourselves but include him because of the experience of friends of ours. He did not complete the contracted work and disappeared with a large amount of their money. You can read more here.
 

Metal Pearl (Pop, Panyasak Phakpeetinan)
Though Pop comes across as knowledgeable and well-educated, his work is not of acceptable quality. He did a few jobs for us and his prices were high. We needed him to cut off one of the supports of the bow pulpit and weld on a new one so it would not interfere with the bow roller. The new support was correct and done well. However, his workers dragged the pulpit around on the asphalt below the boat thus scratching parts of the pulpit that had been in good shape. The owners of one boatyard will no longer allow him to work there because of problems with a job on a large catamaran. Once we discovered Tu-Ton metalworks (whom we recommend), we never worked with Pop again.


AME for metalwork (but they are fine as a chandlery)

AME is a very good chandlery and much less expensive than the well-known East Marine. However, every welding/machining job we sent them came back wrong. Some had to be sent back multiple times and some were so wrong they could not be made right. Nearly everything we have had done by them has rusted, demonstrating their use of inferior materials. We would NEVER recommend them for metalwork but would recommend their chandlery services. We were fortunate to find Tu-Ton metalworks to complete our projects.


We needed a new flange made for one of our opening ports. Did anyone ever check the holes before
they returned it to us? It was clearly impossible to install.


Likewise, no one ever checked that the hole
in this chainplate could actually accept the pin
it was designed for.


Everything came back covered in polishing compound
which took hours of labor, and a liter of turps, to clean.

 


 

NOONSITE REPORT: VISIT THAILAND FOR FUN -- AVOID THAILAND FOR BOAT WORK

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

(See top of the page for contractors to avoid)

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 markups 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 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 as soon as we have time to write it up. (This is now available here). 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

P.S. You can see a status report from 2017 here.


 

This site was last updated 04/07/17