Superyachts Return Home for Upgrades

While the newbuilding market in superyacht construction was severely hit by the recession, the refit activity stayed at a constant pace, and even experienced some growth.

Several Dutch superyacht builders successfully took on refit projects to weather the dry spell in newbuild orders. The amount of new orders for superyachts has almost halved since the top year of 2008, but with size increasing, the turnover has remained fairly constant. In the size bracket of 40 to 60 metres, not many newbuilds have been built, as there was an oversupply on the second-hand market. This created an opportunity for refit shipyards, as there is rarely an owner who buys a pre-owned superyacht without wishing to apply a personal touch to it after a season of sailing. Maritime Holland spoke to two Dutch shipyards successfully claimed a portion of this predominantly Mediterranean and North-American market.

When Volharding Shipyards moved its production to Turkey and China in 2008, it left one of the Netherlands’ largest covered drydocks unused, in the seaport of Harlingen. The facilities were taken over by a new Dutch superyacht builder called Icon Yachts, which started up production of a series of 60-metre motoryachts in 2006. Based on a standard technical platform, including engine room and crew quarters, owners were given free rein in interior and exterior design. Three of these vessels were built, but when the slowdown in new orders came, Icon Yachts started to actively pursue refit and conversion projects. This was so successful that it has now become one of the core activities of the yard.


What makes it worthwhile to bring a yacht over from the Mediterranean all the way to the Netherlands for a refit? Jen Wartena, CEO of Icon Yachts: “For a short two-week refit, we can’t compete, as it takes already two weeks of sailing to get here and back to the Med, unless the owner has planned to cruise in Northern Europe anyway, which we see increasing every year. However, for a longer refit, we make up for the travelling time and cost due to the fact that we are better organised and hence cost-effective. Part of this is the Dutch way of doing business, which is straightforward and trustworthy. But a large part of this is also due to the subcontractor network in the Netherlands. Most of the yachts coming in for a refit at Icon Yachts were also originally built in the Netherlands. In many cases, it’s the same companies doing upgrades to the systems they installed before, often even with the same people. This avoids a lot of time ‘learning the vessel’. For a large refit, which includes for example interior remodelling and electrical work, it is practical that we have all the major contractors available at a short distance from the yard.

Icon Yachts is in the unique position that it has virtually no size restrictions, being based in a deep-water port and featuring a drydock of 150 metres long by 30 metres wide, which can be flooded with over seven metres of water. This was also the reason why one of their present customers chose the yard for the large-scale conversion of superyacht Legend. This vessel started life in 1974 at IHC Verschure (the Netherlands) as an ice-breaking ocean tug and was converted into superyacht Giant in 2000. The current refit includes a complete rebuild of the stern, the addition of a deckhouse with additional accommodation and the retrofitting of a fully certified helicopter deck with refuelling facilities, along with a lot of teakdecking and paintwork. Being already an icebreaker, the vessel will explore the most remote areas of the world, including the polar regions. Legend is a fully certified SOLAS passenger vessel for up to 36 passengers, and will have two enclosed lifeboats, two tenders, two jetskis, two snowmobiles, a submarine and two helicopters, of which one is dedicated for rescue services. Because of her large draught of 6.3 metres, Icon Yachts’ drydock in Harlingen was the only superyacht facility in the Netherlands where this refit could take place.

Favoured by crew

Refit yards in the Netherlands also compete with their Spanish, French and Italian counterparts when it concerns the well-being of the yachts’ crew during the refit. The captains often have a close bond with the owners and a strong influence on the choice of shipyard. Wartena: “Harlingen is a small town and we don’t have a Mediterranean climate, but apparently the crews like it a lot here. The clean, quiet and organised way of working and living is a nice change from the everyday hustle-and-bustle in the Mediterranean and Caribbean. And on weekends, Amsterdam is only a little more than an hour away.” While Icon Yachts still actively pursues and welcomes newbuild orders, they are equally focussed on the refit market. With many 80-metre plus yachts delivered in the Netherlands and Northern Germany in recent years, and few facilities able to handle them in terms of size, organisation and workmanship, the yard is in an excellent position. The yard has currently five refit projects in the shed, and several new ones about to kick off.

A shipyard which has focused on refits of superyachts since 1939 already is Balk Shipyard, located in the small fishing town Urk on the IJsselmeer. The yard was founded by Sijbrand Balk in 1798 in Elburg, and is still family-owned and -operated. The seventh generation is now at the helm, with Daan Balk leading the yard since 1998. In 2004, the shipyard was relocated from Elburg to Urk. The shipyard has built several newbuilds, both sailing and motoryachts, but is perhaps most known for its refits and conversions.


A recent rebuild which gained a lot of attention was the bow lengthening of superyacht Seven Sins, originally built by Heesen Yachts in 2005. The owner was very satisfied with the yacht, but for intensive charter use, the crew accommodation lacked some space. To give optimal service, a crew of eight would be better than a crew of six. Most refits concern the lengthening of the stern, which is the logical choice as the ship is more parallel in that area. Seven Sins needed more space in the bow however, leading to a rather unique project.
Balk Shipyard worked together with the original designer, Frank Laupman of Omega Architects, and the original naval architect, Perry van Oossanen, to make the lengthening a success both visually and in terms of performance. Just adding a slice of two metres was not possible, as the bow has too much shape. Instead, an entire new bow section of 16.7 metres was built at the shipyard (while the yacht was still in operation), including a bulbous bow optimised using CFD computations. The as-built hull does not always correspond exactly with the initial 3D model of the naval architect, and for this reason, Balk Shipyard usually contracts Lido 2D 3D (Bolsward, the Netherlands) a few months before the refit to carry out a complete laser scan of the hull shape.

Equipment such as the anchors and bow thruster was reused, but the entire interior accommodation was rebuilt, including an extra cabin and a larger crew mess. It was the owner’s wish that the new accommodation should (voluntarily) comply with the stringent space requirements of the MCA Large Yacht Code III for a total of eight crew, and this was achieved. Due to the addition of the bulbous bow, the fuel consumption at cruising speed was reduced by 15 per cent, the top speed increased by 1.5 knots, and according to the owner, the yacht’s seakeeping performance in waves has significantly improved. During the seven-month refit, Seven Sins also passed its ten-year special survey and had new generators installed, as well as an upgraded exhaust system for the main engines. Due to the meticulous design of the hull lines and a new paint job, the yacht looks as if it was always meant to be like this, and sure looks a lot more balanced than before the refit. Balk Shipyard is currently working on a deckhouse extension on an ice-breaker and a complete rebuild of a 31-metre motoryacht.

Size matters

While it is undeniable that newbuild superyachts have grown in size over the past decade (from 40 to 50 metres to 60 to 100 metres), it is often overlooked that some existing yachts have also been growing in size. Superyacht owners often have a special bond with their yachts, and a lengthening and thorough refit gives them the upgrade needed to sail another ten years with the same yacht, rather than moving up in size. The Dutch superyacht refit industry is well positioned for this. Apart from Icon Yachts and Balk Shipyard featured in this article, other yards offering refit services for superyachts include Royal Huisman, Feadship, Moonen, Acico Yachts, Amels, Vitters Shipyards, Heesen Yachts and Holland Jachtbouw. They all rely strongly on the Dutch support infrastructure of designers, naval architects, interior builders, electrical contractors, HVAC installers and many more.

Bruno Bouckaert

This article was previously published in Maritime Holland edition #2 – 2016.