Coronavirus has revolutionized everyone’s lives. What’s the situation of shipyards in Europe?
Let’s make the point with 10 journalists from ten different countries of the Best of Boats Award. For Italy speaks the jury member Giacomo Giulietti, collaborator of Barche a Motore.
Italy was the first western country to have to deal seriously with the coronavirus. On 26 March, the squeeze became even greater with the suspension of all non-essential activities. At the moment the lockdown is imposed until April 13. But it is likely this date will not be the end of the restrictions.
No events, no production, no service. Even in the shipyards they are trying to prepare for the post corona days. Three testimonies may illustrate this situation – from Pardo Yachts and the boat niche producer Tuccoli to Nautica Feltrinelli, distributor of Frauscher Boats in Italy.
Gigi Servidati, president of Cantiere del Pardo, owner of the Pardo Yachts brand, claims that the shipyard has adopted the restraining measures and the precaution measures of the government and the Ministry of Health. Following the Cura Italia decree of 22 March 2020, Cantiere del Pardo stopped the regular activity until 13 April 2020 to preserve the health and safety of the employees.
“The extraordinary interruption of regular operations is of a temporary nature and therefore will not interfere with the scheduled deliveries of vessels already completed.” Servidati assures. He is confident about the company’s strength: “As soon as this difficult moment is over, we will resume our work immediately and with more energy than before.”
Paolo Sanguettola, director of Tuccoli, said his shipyard had immediately implemented all measures ordered by government decrees and the Ministry of Health. “Until Friday, March 20, the operational staff dedicated to the construction of the boats and assembly have worked regularly with the precautions.”
Following the Cura Italia decree, now also the Tuccoli production has undergone a temporary stop until Easter Monday. In the meantime, the smart working for office workers, logistics, after sales and the technical office continues. “Their work from home is even more effective at this stage”. Not being sure if thanks to the forced stop of production “some nice surprises” might pop up, Sanguettola expresses what he did not lose his sense of humour: “Per aspera ad astra!”
Mauro Feltrinelli, CEO of Nautica Feltrinelli, is distributor of Frauscher motorboats in Italy. He says: “We receive daily phone calls requesting information on the situation. We want to reassure everyone: We are all well.” The staff stayed at work as long as the situation allowed it, to prepare for the summer season.
This is past now: “We are closely following the development of events and carefully observing the safety instructions and procedures of the authorities”, Mauro Feltrinelli states. He adds: “Europe is going through a difficult situation, but we are sure that we will be able to start again thanks to everyone’s cooperation.”
In Poland, the workbench of boating industry in Europe and production country for many international boats brands, the Corona Virus did not affect the everyday life for a long time. As for Tuesday, 7th April, the production in the main Polish shipyards went on normal or very close to normal. Of course, additional hygiene measures were applied and it takes little longer, but production is going as planned.
Until then there were no serious issues with payments delays or delivery, as for subcontractors. The main challenges are the parts and components suppliers from other countries. No, not from China, as everybody would expect: The Beneteau Group closed their factories in France, Mercury had closed its production site in Fond du Lac in the US. So very soon there may be a problem with engines delivery.
No drastic change in the customers’ interest
The situation has changed by the beginning of April, when the Polish government introduced further restrictions such as physical distancing in the public, shops and work places. Parks, beaches and other public recreation spaces are closed.
From beginning of April, the Delphia shipyard, now part of the Beneteau Group, has suspended the production. Soon afterwards, also Ostroda Yacht, one of the main Beneteau shipyards, has halted the production. As for today, apart from the Beneteau production sites, only Mirage Boats and Viking have currently suspend the boat production.
Francis Lapp, CEO of Sunreef Yachts, states that facing the pandemic, the emphasis on information, hygiene and disinfection of rooms had become a priority for the multihull shipyard. Employees who can work remotely work from home. Production takes place in regularly disinfected rooms.
The challenges are basically production topics and maintaining the desired performance. “We are not stopping the construction of a new shipyard, we are simply doing everything much more carefully. Optimism does not abandon us”, the Sunreef manager is optimistically. “We do not observe drastic changes in the interest in the product. We have just signed a contract to build a 100-foot unit.”
Shops closed, Marinas open, no boating allowed
Marine shops are – of course – closed, but still work in on-line mode. The charter companies are preparing more disinfection fluids and gloves and they hope to start a more or less normal season from middle of April or beginning of May.
As the dealers of Jeanneau and Cranchi in Poland state, there are no delays with the delivery of small boats – which are all built in Poland. A challenge are boats from France and Italy, as the borders are closed. These boats are ready or almost ready to be delivered to the customer, but it is impossible to get them from factories, dealers confirm.
As in all other countries, the Dutch water sports industry does not escape the far-reaching consequences of Covid-19. In the Netherlands the well-known general measures such as keeping a minimum distance from each other, no gathering, closed schools plus DIY stores and so on apply.
For the time being, these measures apply until April 28th, but there is a good chance that they will be extended. Events attracting more than 100 visitors are forbidden until June 1 anyway. Travelling is also difficult because 90 % of the regular flights are suspended.
Most marinas are open, however under strict conditions. For example, the reception of Marina Seaport IJmuiden is closed and payments only can be done with the “Blue Water app”. Marina Muiderzand also introduced limited physical contacts. Cash payments are not possible – and only one shower & toilet unit is accessible, which is kept clean more often and even more carefully.
Dutch yachties who are currently sailing around the world seem to have a harder time. Especially in the Caribbean numerous Dutch sailing yachts try to find safe havens but are nowhere welcome. This is difficult and also dangerous with an approaching hurricane season.
Shipyards continue activities
At Sichterman Yachts, for example, work continues, but it is temporarily not possible to pay a visit the shipyard. The staff works from home as much as possible. Only production experts from the immediate vicinity of the shipyard are currently working. Reginald Timmermans states: “There are currently more important matters to talk about than yachting. For Sichterman, the health of our employees has top priority.“
He goes into detail: “Our craftsmen in Friesland as well as our team across Europe has taken the necessary measures in order to ensure everyone’s safety.” His approach: “Even in these times we are creating a yachting experience that brings pleasured joy, for better days. Together we will overcome this situation.”
At Saffier Yachts in IJmuiden the work also continues, but under very strict conditions. We talked to Dennis Hennevanger, co-owner of the family shipyard: “Recently we delivered a Saffier Se 33 UD at the Loosdrecht lakes. And the yard is full with all kinds of Saffier models ready to launch.” Most important: “All are healthy, and we have taken maximum precaution at the yard taking different shifts and working with a 2 meter distance on the boats, disinfecting hands after each job.”
With relatively low official number of infected people Finland’s government had ruled limitations to the personal movement. So the greater Helsinki area – where the most of Corona infected people are – is isolated from the rest of the country until 19th of April. Only cargo and work related border crossing is allowed. Schools are closed until 13th May, restaurants and bar won’t open before end of May.
Drop in new sales seen since February
For the boating sector the effects of the pandemic are yet minor. The boating season hasn’t started yet, so 99% of boats are still at winter storages or at manufacturers respectively dealers stock. All the main boat manufacturers are working and committed to the existing deliveries before summer, however some delays are possible.
Dealers and manufacturers have seen the drop in new sales and orders after February. So many companies are expecting layoffs or early factory closing before the normal summer holiday break –which is in June in Finland. And there is hope to start again normally in August.
Many manufacturers, dealers and winter docks have announced that they work strictly behind closed doors, so no others than the own personnel are allowed to be on the premises.
Janne Mäkelä, Brand Manager of Bella Boats, gave some insights on the current development: “After a busy start of the year, we saw a surprisingly healthy March when it comes to the sales and deliveries to the end-customers.” But he sees a drop in interest, new sales and dealer orders as well. So Bella Boats, part of the Nimbus Group, had been adjusting the stock and production. “At the moment we are maintaining production and are able to fulfill deliveries for April and May”, Mäkelä says, “but after that we just have to wait and see how things are evolving day by day.”
Covid-19 shakes boat industry in Slovenia
The boating industry of Slovenia is, due to outbreak of Covid-19, like many other industries completely or partially affected. Shortly after the disappearance of public life in Slovenia, contradictory information came from the shipyards abroad – ranging from smoothly continuing production up to a complete halt of work.
Slovenia is the home of three large shipyards with international importance: Greenline Yachts, Elan Yachts and Seascape. Some smaller companies mainly manufacture custom-made boats, boat parts and equipment.
The delivery of Greenline boats will be in time at least until April. After that it depends on the supply chain or possible restrictions decreed by the new government. Vladimir Zinchenko, owner and CEO of SVP Yachts, the builder of Greenline Yachts, says: “Our vision for Greenline cannot be stopped by a virus. We stay positive, but take the situation very serious.”
Thus talks with all customers who have ordered a boat have been done. “We are happy to see that everyone stays optimistic and is looking forward to receive their boat in summer even if it might come with a slight delay.” Zinchenko states.
Elan Yachts has halted all activities by mid March
At Elan Yachts, boat builders since 1949, has stopped all activities preventively as of March 16. For the safety and health of the employees this remains at least until April 14. “Even before the complete closure, we have put in place measures to ensure the safest working environment”, Elan Yachts has reported in a statement, “such as provision of protective equipment and disinfectant soaps, changed work regime taking into account distance between people, work from home, adjusted arrival to work.”
AUSTRIA, stand-still in public life, precautions in boat production
Austria has one of the strictest regulations for being in the public. Basically, the public life stands still. In Austria the marinas are generally closed, so the owners cannot access their boats. The Corona lockdown has some effects on boating industry as well. Production at the Frauscher boatyard is currently on a reduced scale. With two separate production teams to maintain the required hygiene standards, the boat building is carried out in two shifts. The sales and office team works in home office.
At Silent Yachts two of four production facilities are currently producing normally. In Italy, the work on the boats is scheduled to be resumed from April 14th. For the Cannes Yachting Festival 2020 two new launches are planned, and the new boats are so far on schedule. If there are further delays in the supply chains, Silent CEO Michael Köhler says, the launches might have to be postponed. Lost orders as such are not expected, but of course delayed deliveries.
The luxury manufacturer Marian Boats is continuing to build under strict conditions, explains junior boss Alex Marian. “Every employee must wear gloves and keep a large distance from each other. In addition, all doors, tables, tools etc. are disinfected every day. We are all healthy and have not yet been affected by the crisis so badly.”
New boat presentations must be postponed though. “The current main problem is that we can’t have direct contact with our customers. Test drives and boat presentations are unfortunately not possible under these circumstances”, says Marian.
The main goal of the small shipyard for this year will be to reduce costs. This includes cutting staff by 20 percent. Alex Marian also sees something positive from the current situation: “Many customers cannot or do not want to go on holiday this summer. They stay at home, and they want to take a boat trip on the lake.”
SAY Carbon Yachts produces in Germany’s Allgäu region, but Karl Wagner, CEO and the mastermind behind the SAY brand, originates from Salzburg in Austria. “In Wangen we produce normally“, he says, “the designer works from home office.”
The world launch of the SAY 42, planned for the Palma Boat Show 2020, is postponed. Karl Wagner is currently expecting a slight decline in sales, as some customers are waiting for test runs, where “it is not yet known when these will be possible again“.
Germany has one of the higher rates of Corona infections in Europa, but still relatively low mortality rates. The public life in the federally organized country is relatively normal – even with social distancing, closed schools and a close-down of harbours and sailing clubs. In contrast to most German car manufacturers, the series boat manufacturers in this country continue to operate their boats. And this not only applies to Hanse Yachts in Greifswald and Bavaria in Giebelstadt, but also to smaller manufacturers.
Production at Bavaria Yachts at the headquarters in Giebelstadt is still running “completely normally”, explains company spokesman Marcus Schlichting. “Of course, under the appropriate precautions to avoid exposing our employees to unnecessary risk.”
The ability to deliver has not suffered so far, after all Bavaria Yachts as a large company has the corresponding capacities. “This week alone about 15 boats will leave the shipyard. And we are very confident that we will continue to be able to deliver all ordered boats on schedule”, they say. According to the shipyard, the development of new models is also on schedule “and we will continue to pursue this schedule“, the spokesman said.
“Like every company in these difficult times, we naturally reassess the situation almost every day and derive possible scenarios from this in order to prepare ourselves for possible future conditions. At the moment, our focus is on continuing to supply our customers on time.” In case of doubt, the following therefore applies: Delivery capability first.
Hanse Yachts still produces in three countries
“All four production cities of HanseYachts are still busy producing” the company reported on March 25th on the website, which was not updated since then. Apart from Greifswald, the shipyard group also produces at its own factory in Poland and at the French Multihull subsidiary Privilege. “Even in France, where the highest restrictions are imposed by the state, production is still going on.”
Nevertheless, the Corona crisis has a direct impact on the pace of production even without closure. “We can already foresee, however, that we will not be able to keep the current very high production speed running as planned. We will continue to produce, but with slower belts”, says Jens Gerhardt.
Unfortunately, there was a lack of employees in all plants, mainly because the schools are closed and the children have to be looked after. Or because the borders to Poland have been closed and border crossers can no longer come to work.
“We are now sold out until the end of June and are therefore happy to accept new orders for the summer”, says the Hanse CEO. However, if boats are completed after 1 July 2020, this means that HanseYachts AG’s turnover will fall into the next fiscal year. The corporation has therefore had to retract its forecasts for the current fiscal year.
In Budenheim am Rhein, the family-owned company Europe Marine produces American-inspired motorboats, so far at full capacity. Protective measures with disinfection and minimum distance are a matter of course. “Our production continues to run normally, of course also with distance, as there is no case in the company or in the private environment”, says Sybille Nürnberger.
As long as the exceptional economic situation caused by the corona crisis does not last longer than three months, there will be no changes at Europe Marine, she says. “We are neither dependent on supply chains, but remain deliverable through our large warehouse with Viper Powerboats and Auster.”
B1 Yachts and Aqualine
In the boat manufactory in Werder, where brands B1 Yachts and Aqualine are manufactured, sports and family boats are still produced. The order situation up to the year 2021 is very good, said company CEO Frank Schaper.
The “safety first” rule applies to the operational procedures in production: each fitter has his own boat for dismantling in order to prevent the transmission of infection as far as possible. For the time being, fine agreements with customers in production are currently not possible – for health protection. Recently, the materials warehouse has been expanded to cope with any supply bottlenecks so that boat production can continue.
“An important task at the moment is to work with suppliers and partners to secure the supply chain of materials for construction”, he says. It is now an advantage to be relatively small: “As a small manufacturer you have short supply chains with relatively few suppliers.”
Boat building in the Germany’s Corona focal point
Hellwig Boote produces boats in the extreme west of Germany, in the Heinsberg district, where the corona virus spread particularly early and particularly strongly. Around 100 motorboats up to 5.80 m in length leave the production halls, which are located around 50 kilometres from Düsseldorf, every year.
“We try to pay attention to the distances between people. Hand hygiene is controlled and disinfectants are used”, says Managing Director Michael Hammermeister. Nevertheless, at the moment a quarter of the 16-member workforce is absent.
But that is not the only thing that affects scheduling. “Deliveries from Italy, France and Poland arrive too late or not at all. We will not be able to keep our delivery dates.” Nevertheless, niche producer Michael Hammermeister is rather unconcerned: “At the moment our turnover will only shift and probably not decrease.”
Boating business is still going well in Denmark, not as good as before the Corona crisis though. The harbours are open and people are working on their boats for the spring. Talking to a lot of people from boat industry for smaller boats, people are generally still positive.
The Danish boat yachts X-Yachts, Luffe Yachts and Faurby Yachts are going fine. All three companies have a lot to do. Also smaller boatyards with refit jobs are doing well.
For X-Yachts, Denmark’s biggest shipyard for leisure boats, CEO Kræn Nielsen states: “In an unusual time like this, we are still working and preparing our boats for handover to our clients – however, in the deepest respect for the precautions.”
The supply situation works effectively, so “our production runs unaffectedly”, says Nielsen. The X-Yachts sales department at the yard as well as the global dealer network is working. “The yard harbour is being filled with boats as in all previous years. We are working ahead of schedule and have prepared and rigged numerous boats for hand-over.” the CEO adds.
The Ukraine ordered very strict quarantine rules to the public: no flights, no trains, no public transportations, only private cars are allowed for transportation. People should generally stay at home. No bazaar, no theatres, no café – at least until April 24.
So, all marines are closed as well, with no water life at all. Boat producers in the Ukraine – such as Brig, Grand, Adventure, UMS Boats, to name the most known brands – are working as usual.
Two weeks ago official Covid-19 numbers in Russia were still quite low. Since then the situation has significantly changed, and a country-wide “self-isolation recess”, announced on March 28th, will last till April 30. The general quarantine rules are: gatherings more than 50 people are not allowed, 14 days of social distancing is a must for those arriving from abroad.
Marinas and yacht harbours in full service
Until two weeks ago, directly before the government’s announcement, marinas and shipyards continued their normal work. “We had no administrative orders from the city government”, says Ilya Miri, manager of Royal Yacht Club in Moscow. “The season hasn’t started yet, the marina is empty.” Other marinas carried on, too, as Yuriy Kharlamov, CEO of the Moscow Yacht Port, confirmed. One change applies so far: “We have switched over part of the staff on furlough.”
The yachting port Imeritinskiy in Sochi on the Black Sea was also fully operational. “At this time we are traditionally getting ready for the summer season“, comments harbourmaster Oleg Kuptsov, and all activities had been run in a normal mode.
Boat production as usual
Russian shipyards also seemed to be unaffected and optimistic before the lockdown. “We continue normal operation. and all our stuff are supplied with additional personal protection equipment and antiseptics”, says Anton Kozhinov, head of the North Silver shipyard in Saint Petersburg. “We have sufficient stock of component parts but if the restrictions are active more than two months we will have problems related to the deliveries from Europe, namely from Italy.”
The sales are healthy: “We have sold almost all the boats built for the coming season and are currently accepting orders for selected models to be built in September and even October. However, the prospects seem unclear given that our European dealers, especially in Scandinavia, experience troubles due to cancelled boat shows.”
“Our production is active”, claimed Kirill Slepov, director of Velvette Marine in Kazan, asked directly before the government rules. “Yet we feel shortage of component parts due to broken supply chain. Our suppliers from China and Italy would not issue invoices, say nothing in particular, and apparently stall for time. We have to source parts from other suppliers and our purchase department is overloaded.”