KKMI was featured in an article in Professional Boatbuilder. It was such a comprehensive article about all the measures that we have set into place to make sure that we are in compliance environmentally – we couldn’t have said it better ourselves.
Above – To meet KKMI’s strict environmental protocols, old paint must be removed from a boat’s bottom with vacuum sanders in a temporary shelter, and when applying new paint (shown here) crew are required to wear a respirator and a full Tyvek suit.
Text and photographs by Aaron Porter
Increasingly strict environmental and safety regulations come close behind fires, hurricanes, and luxury taxes in the list of worries that keep boat builders and yard operators up at night — and for good reason. IN the last three decades, amended air-quality regulations in most North American and European jurisdictions have required fundamental changes to construction methods and shop practices for builders in materials from wood or steel to advanced composites and have limited the options for boat propulsion in some places. During the same period, rules to safeguard water quality have reduced the active ingredients in antifouling paint, restricted the areas black and gray water may be discharged, and demanded containment and treatment of yard runoff from pressure washing and rain. More relaxed environmental and safety standards in developing countries are cited as determining factors in the relocation of some large boat manufacturers to South Africa and China, or the out-sourcing of construction and maintenance to yards in Central and South America.
Boatbuilders and materials suppliers in the U.S. complain that pending regulatory actions at state and federal levels leave them uncertain what standards they will have to meet in just a few years. They tend to look to California as the best indicator of the future regulatory landscape, and more often than not, they don’t like what they see.
In 1988, California was the first state to impose tighter air-quality regulations (see Professional BoatBuilder No. 25, page 8) with rule 1162, which drove composite boatbuilders in many states to explore low-styrene resins, elimination of acetone as a solvent, limited spraying, and adoption of closed-molding techniques. More recently, service yards and paint manufacturers everywhere have been scrambling for alternatives as they face the threat of a ban on copper antifouling paint in California waters that is bound to be copied in other jurisdictions (Washington State is already pursuing similar legislation). Other concerns about water quality include meeting regulations by various state and regional Water Resource Control Boards. over storm-water runoff, as well as satisfying hazardous-wast-disposal requirements and strict workplace health and safety standards. The practicality and efficacy of specific regulations aside, accepted industry wisdom says you don’t want to have to do business under California rules.
Contrary to that attitude, Keefe Kaplan Maritime INc. (KKMI) studied the state’s regulatory climate, embraced it,k and became a thriving San Francisco Bay Area business. In May 2012, I visited its service yards in Sausalito and Point Richmond to take a closer look.
KKMI’s yards seemed familiar enough: Travelifts, building sheds, shrouded paint bays, old engines, rigs, keels, a crane, jackstands, metal shop, wood shop, office, crew bustling about on myriad jobs. But I saw something that’s not common. Workers stopped often to pluck things from the ground – old tie wraps, cotter pins, bits of tape and plastic, all the detritus of repairwork – and they dropped them in the many waste barrels onsite. Picking up litter might not seem like a major breakthrough in running a clean boatyard, but I’d never seen it done so naturally and universally in any other yard I’ve visited, and it’s just one of the many measures, small and large, KKMI has taken to meet the letter and spirit of federal and state environmental regulations since opening the 6-acre (2.4 hectare) Point Richmond yard in May 1996.
I always thought I was going to be involved in marine sciences,” said co-ownder Paaul Kaplan as we toured the Point Richmond facility. He recalled sailing to the Galapagos with Sail and Inc. magazine founder Bernie Goldhirsh, who told the young Kaplan a career in marine biology would mean living “grant to grant.” After a detour into yacht brokerage in the early ’70’s (KKMI still represents Nautor’s Swan on the West Coast) and a lucrative business career in San Francisco, he has returned to his undergraduate interests, except now his water- and air-quality studies are good business as well as good science.
While reviewing the bafflingly complex regulations for boatyards, Kaplan realized the risk that noncompliance posed to any marine business. He also saw how easy it would be to think you were operating in compliance with provisions of, say, the Federal Clean Water Act, but in the absence of adequate inspectors to monitor all the permits in the bay, to find yourself subject to crippling fines and corrective actions if a violation were discovered. And discovery is becoming more likely. “We were such a small industry that no one was worried about us. Now, 40 years after the Clean Water Act we are being subjected to what other businesses were decades ago.” Kaplan said. In light of that history, KKMI’s policy is that the company is ultimately responsible for ensuring compliance with all regulations, and it is bad business to do otherwise.
Kaplan and business partner Ken Keefe, and accomplished sailor and yacht broker, were looking for a yard in the mid-1990s when the Point Richmond property became available. It was home to the smaller Sanford Wood boatyard then. They were relieved to find no legacy of toxic late-Victorian industry, since the industrial site had been around only since WWII – when the Santa Fe Channel was dredged out to 25′ (7.6m) to accommodate the victory ships built in the Kaiser Shipyards.
The dredged water depth quickly pigeonholed the yard as a big-boat facility. When it hosted five maxis during the September 1996 big-boat race series on San Francisco Bay, the reputation became even more ingrained. More big-boat action came as Oracle Racing ramped up its Golden Gate Yacht Club-based challenge for the 2002 America‘s Cup, and in 2003 the yard hosted USA 76 (see additional article) and Alinghi (winner of the 2002 cup) when they sailed a series on the bay. Kaplan said it’s nice to be known as a yard respected by some of the world’s most serious sailors, but the size association isn’t always useful. They have to work to attract smaller-boat clients.
The average boat length at KKMI is 42′(12.8m) and increasing. With an eye on the business and market demographics, KKMI can only get so big, because the bay is pretty small for anything larger than 80′ (24.4m) and boats large enough to head offshore tend to be serviced in Mexico or Seattle at rates KKMI can’t easily match. This leaves the roughly 20,000 boats berthed in the bay, half of them at municipal marinas, which means slip fees at private marinas can’t rise much higher than their municipal competition. (Much of KKMI’s limited slip space is tailored to the deep-draft boats other marinas can’t accommodate.)
Regardless of boat sizes, the fleet is aging, Kaplan said, and “the service needs for those boats is only going to get greater and greater.” Betting on that trend, KKMI opened a second, smaller yard on a 68,000-sq-ft (6,317m2) property leased from Clipper Yacht Harbor in nearby Sausalito. Before choosing the Point Richmond site, the partners had looked at the property back in 1994. When the service yard there didn’t renew its lease in 2009, KKMI jumped at the opportunity. “If someone had said the economy is going to go upside down, we’d still have done it.” Kaplan said.
The Sausalito yard is on a nice yacht harbor just 10 minutes from the St. Francis Yacht Club and closer to San Francisco proper, but it was built on infill in the 1940s. Since then, Kaplan said , the site has been steadily sinking, now at a rate of about 1/2″ (12.7mm) per year. As we walked the approach to the yard, Kaplan explained that the entire area floods on an extreme tide. True, a permitted yard had been operating there, but the case was an example of Kaplan’s rule that just because a facility is operating with permits doesn’t mean it couldn’t be found in violation. KKMI’s interpretation of the relevant standards as they had come to understand them from operations in Point Richmond revealed that the company could be held responsible for managing any runoff during a flood. In addition, the Sausalito site is in a microclimate with about twice the annual rainfall of Point Richmond.
The plan to address rain and floodwater runoff, as well as processing water from pressure washing and other yard operations, started with ragrading, and surfacing the entire site with concrete surrounded by 4′ (1.2m) reinforced-concrete walls on deep footings. The gated openings that allow traffic access are fitted for heavy drop boards, or flood gates, that stop water at the same height as the walls. On top of the wall a chain-link fence with curtains keeps yard dust from blowing into neighboring sites.
From outside, the yard looks moderately fortified. From inside, it appears that the crew of 16 is operating in an expansive empty wading pool. Nothing, Kaplan assured me, drains off this site directly to the bay or the sewer. “If you don’t sweep it up, it’s going to go somewhere. It used to go into the bay; now it goes in our filter system, and you have to shovel it out later [for disposal],” said Keefe, who oversees the Sausalito yard. “Everybody’s shocked because we have this closed system, how much stuff used to go into the bay. As they see it, it just becomes common sense, second nature to pick things up.”
If a truck drips oil in Sausalito yard, someone dumps sawdust on it , and the absorbed oil gets shoveled into hazardous-materials disposal.
Before any of the protocols and cultural changes I saw could come about, Kaplan and Keefe had to conceive of a facility that would take into account all the environmental limitations and still serve as a fully functioning boatyard, which includes noise, dust oil, solvents, resins, machined metal, biological wast, and toxic materials such as antifouling paint. “There are a lot of thing we’ve done that we just couldn’t go to a book and look up. We had to innovate.” Kaplan said.
TREATING WATER TWO WAYS
Processed water and storm water are subject to two different regulations. “We needed to come up with a way that we would not commingle the two [waters],” Kaplan said. It’s done by maintaining a designated concrete pad for pressure-washing that’s pitched toward a settling weir – a series of three chambers where smaller suspended solids are allowed to settle out – and a drain that feeds the waste wash water into an electrocoagulation system acquired from OilTrap Environmental (Tumwater, Washington). In the event of rain or flood, the drain for the pad will be switched so runoff water is directed to a separate storm-water-filtering system that accommodates runoff from the entire yard.
KKMI has learned to keep as many solids or contaminants as possible out of the wash water before it heads down the drain. A length of loose chain on the pad just upstream of the weir catches some fo the larger chunks of biological fouling knocked off by pressure-washing. Next, a grate keeps large materials out of the weir. Crews shovel accumulated solids from the chain and the weir to the hazardous-materials bin at the back of the pad. On the advice of a regulator, an oil-absorptive pad is now hung in the weir to remove some petroleum contaminants before they can get to the actual treatment system.
After the weir, the water runs through an underground pipe to the electro-coagulation treatment system housed in a shipping container on the other side of the yard. In the so-called ElectroPulse system, pH-adjusted wastewater passes between electrically charged plates in a series of 4″-diameter (102mm) tubes; the polarity of any suspended solids, heavy metals, and oils is altered, breaking them out of an emulsified state and making them cluster together. The electrical charge helps oxidize any metals, rendering them inert, and releases micro-bubbles in the water that help float the coagulants to the surface, where they are skimmed off in a separation tank. The resulting waste can usually be disposed of in a municipal landfill, while the water can be sent to the municipal sewer or be reused in a gray water system.
The accumulated storm water from the yard is treated by a separate Aquip system from StormwaterRX (Portland, Oregon). First, water runs through a weir system and then into a 1,000-gallon (3,785-1) settling tank, which is pumped by any of three pumps (redundancy is important, because this system cannot fail) to the rooftop Aquip container that houses a filter bed of gravel, alumina, charcoal, fine and coarse sand, and filter fabric. Water enters high in the tank, spills over a baffle, floods the surface of the filter bed, and settles down through it. The upper layers filter out particulate contaminants while microbes in the bed break down organic pollutants. Lower down, dissolved pollutants are removed. KKMI’s model can filter 6,600 gallons (24,983 l) per hour, or 110 gallons (416.4 l) per minute, which keeps up with most flows during rainstorms. The largest backup pump can actually exceed that rate during the heaviest theoretical downpours. But by the time such flows bypass the treatment system, the volume of rain already filling the treatment tank will likely have scoured the entire yard, leaving little in the way of residual particles behind. Kaplan said the treated water meets EPA benchmark toxin levels, although they have difficulty hitting the conductivity bench-mark, because seawater intrudes into the system through an underground pipe. Occasional maintenance is required to remove accumulated solids from the surface of the Aquip tank, and the filter-bed material must be replaced annually. Storm water from the Aquip system is clean enough to be discharged into the bay.
To reuse some of the processed water, the Sausalito yard is plumbed with a gray-water system so water cleaned by the ElectroPulse system can be employed for yard tasks not requiring potable water. “I’m really hoping we’re going to get to the point that eight months of the year our only water from the water district is final boat rinse and the toilets,” Keefe said.
Aquip and ElectroPulse systems cost about $125,000 apiece plus at least $125,000 for associated plumbing and external tanks. And that does not include the cost of the floodwater walls and gates, or the specialized Travelift that burns bio-diesel and runs vegetable oil in its hydraulics to eliminate contamination risk should a line break. The KKMI partners insist that such changes have to be worked into the business plan to be financially sustainable.
Keefe: “I like the challenge of conquering safety, health and environmental issues in the boatyard, and doing it with a value proposition and not violating the Clean Water Act.”
Kaplan: “Everybody fears these California regulations, but here we’re [meeting them] in arguably one of the most expensive physical environments and under very difficult market conditions. We finished our first year [in Sausalito] in the black, and we’re operating our business properly.”
A 2% environmental charge for all work done at the yard, Kaplan said, doesn’t come close to covering the development of the yard’s best management practices. An example was KKMI’s belief early on that wet-sanding was the best way to keep dust particles out of the air and meet emissions standards. The company concluded that with the volume of contaminated water wet-sanding created a bigger mess and ran afoul of the Clean Water Act. “The better solution is tarping and vacuum sanders,” Kaplan said. The company pays for the lesson, shares the knowledge with other yards, and hopes for a reciprocal savings down the road. “If we share what we learn, that’s the right message. Hopefully, somebody else figures out something we didn’t think about,” Kaplan said.
On top of the specific systems and major infrastructure investments required to meet safety and environmental standards, KKMI has found that regular small expenses will inevitably increase the cost of service. “Where the customer wasn’t paying before to have the boat tarped, now they are. That extra 15 minutes each way is going on the clock,” Kaplan said.
Consumable materials and safety equipment for workers also add costs. Some clients balk at the safety gear itemized on their bills. “It’s not unusual to expect to pay for at least two pairs of gloves for every day a guy works on your boat, because he’s going to stop to eat lunch,” Kaplan said. “This [yacth] is a luxury; if you have been fortunate enough in life to afford one, part of the cost is to be a good steward of the environment and to be willing to pay for the protection of the people who are working on that vessel for your family.”
At the same time, clients save on the expense of materials in ways they wouldn’t have in the past. “We’ve been very aggressive in the pricing of our materials,” Kaplan said. Markup is a thing of the past. “It’s too easy for clients to get on the Internet and see what they can pay for whatever it is and then hold that price over our heads.” It might seem that this change would be an incentive for KKMI to get out of the materials business. To the contrary, the company prides itself on the yard store in Richmond, with a database of over 30,000 individual stock-keeping units (SKUs) and prices that are competitive with the major marine supply stores.
Ralf Morgan in purchasing said, “We justify having an inventory that would make most accountants apoplectic.” It costs money to pull workers off a job while they wait for parts, or even for them to walk across more of the yard to get materials on hand. That’s why the store was moved into the large central service building shortly after Morgan completed a study of workers’ motions on the job. Eliminating seemingly minor inefficiencies provides some of the advantages Kaplan says allow KKMI to deliver quality work in fewer billable hours and to remain competitive while paying the environmental bill.
Efficiency at the Point Richmond yard carries to the mechanic’s shop, located on a converted 60′ (18.3m) lighter aboard ship (LASH) barge. Boats can be brought alongside and engines pulled by a crane on the barge roof and lowered directly into the shop.
The yard also realizes savings in the many temporary shelters that house large projects. A big Sunseeker, in for a yacht-quality paint job, was covered by a fabric-over-metal-frame building. One end of the shelter’s frame was welded to a surplus Travelift so the shelter could be driven anywhere on the property and set up to cover a project without moving the boat, erecting a new structure, or, in the case of the Sunseeker, maintaining a custom painting hall. More savings.
There’s an industry adage that any yard i just one lawsuit away from bankruptcy. While liability is difficult to dodge on the water, an important measure of a yard’s sustainability is how it has minimized its risks. A service yard owner cannot know the true condition or characteristics of every boat that comes in for repair, rebuild, or restoration. That’s especially true in a yard that caters to highly competitive racing sailors who push the envelope in performance and structural tolerances. The number of surplus bulb keels and a few TP52 (15.85m) hulls on the hard for service at the Point Richmond yard attest to KKMI being that sort of yard.
Keefe, who manages some fast ocean-racers and superyachts for their owners, said he doesn’t worry more about the strength and longevity of advanced-composite boats than about any other modern boats. But as a partner at KKMI he confirmed that he worries all the time about the reengineering of refitted vessels, regardless of their materials. He recalled that up until the late 1980s, engineers were seldom involved in refit work, and, given that overbuilding and uncomplicated application of wood, metal, and FRP materials were standard at the time, there was probably little need. But engineering has come to matter more, he said, “as you get different building materials, different cores, working at safety margins that are less and less.”
Keefe recalled examining an Aquamet keelbolt for a redesigned keel on a racing boat. The bolt had been overstressed such that its diameter had been reduced by 2mm, “like you take a piece of taffy candy and stretch it,” Keefe said. Avoiding that sort of potential disaster requires a broad knowledge of materials, build technologies, the quality of construction and engineering typical of various manufacturers and custom builders: even then, one can’t be too careful.
To protect the yard, KKMI has outside engineers sign off on all changes it makes to any boat, and strict record-keeping assure that materials specified are the materials installed. Kaplan said the yard relies on a number of good metal – and composites-testing labs to determine the characteristics of materials to be replaced or reengineered, ad to verify the specifics of some repair components.
Also working in the yard’s favor: employees average 24 years’ experience in the marine trades, working on a diverse range of vessels. This diminishes potential errors and increases the likelihood that someone even in the accounting office can recognize and correct any errors that do occur. Kaplan: “Our CFO [Cindy Revel] understands the repair business almost to the level of being a technician.” For instance, he said, she knows there’s a ratio of catalyst that needs to be billed to a composite construction job. If that ratio seems off, she reports it to the crew responsible for the job.
FINDING AND KEEPING GOOD HELP
Between the two yards, KKMI maintains a crew of 54; four years ago (pre-recession) it was 58 at Point Richmond alone. Work force has been a problem from day one Kaplan said “The Bay Area is an expensive place to live, so we’ve had a difficult time recruiting people from outside.” He noted there were few relevant training opportunities in California, and referred to IYRS and the Landing School (Newport, Rhode Island, and Arundel, Maine, respectively) as “the happy hunting ground” in past employee searches. The recession has limited KKMI’s need for new workers, although Kaplan is always looking.
“This recession has not provided what a lot of people expected,” Kaplan said. “As a result of companies needing to contract, they were going to be reducing their staff, which was going to expand the labor pool, and you would be able to hire good people. What we found was that the people that actually went out into that pool were not as qualified.” As a result, he’s been hiring new people very selectively.
That average of 24 years in the industry makes for an experienced crew whose talents KKMI appreciates. But as Kaplan noted, “the bad news is we have an aging work force.” Standard practices back when most of the crew started were different from KKMI’s new best practices. The employer must insist on kneepads, eye protection, gloves, and respirators until they become second nature, which can take a while as crew didn’t have those protections for their first 20 years on the job. That history manifests in injuries and illness. “As an employer, we get the legacy of those sins that weren’t committed on our watch, but must be paid for on our watch.” Kaplan said.
The company is cautious about apprenticeships. According to Kaplan, it’s hard to justify the expense of having a trainee on the shop floor. That said, he’s keen to have well-rounded builders who can tackle a range of projects. One young builder I spoke with said he’d been repairing a prepreg carbon hull in the morning and working on the plank-on-frame rebuild of a classic 1920s-vintage Bird Boat-class sloop in the afternoon. Attaining that diverse knowledge and those abilities often means picking up new skills on the job. Kaplan cited a recent cross-training opportunity for one of the paint crew to learn lamination skills by helping build the frames for that sloop.
“We’re cautious about [formal] training opportunities,” Kaplan said, noting that a pending four-day on-site training session with American Boat & Yacht Council instructors will cost KKMI about $5,000 per student when all expenses and lost labor are factored in. For that reason, he said they carefully pick candidates to train, weighing how committed the worker is to staying at the company and how motivated he or she will be to apply the lessons learned to future jobs.
In consideration of one-third of the work force who are Latino, training and safety seminars are delivered in Spanish and English. Kaplan said he relies on bilingual crew members as translators for some meetings and professional development seminars, but he conceded that it would be better to have some Spanish-language editions.
Reviewing the recorded details of my visit, I find a fairly comprehensive list of best practices in business and boat repair that any service yard would do well to follow. But in sharing these details, Kaplan and Keefe aren’t at risk of giving anything away. Their years of industry experience and business intelligence have taught them that there is no magic formula for a service yard to make money, and the few advantages you can open to find in the trade today are better won by changing the industry broadly as opposed to one yard individually.
Environmental respectability is on of those collective improvements in which KKMI has been a leader. Kaplan recalled the ceremony when the Point Richmond yard won the 2001 Small Industry of the Year award from the California Water Environment Association; “There were about 400 environmental regulators there, and when they announced that the small industry of the year was a boatyard, the laughter was deafening – they thought it was a joke.” In 2011 the Sausalito yard won the same accolade. “When they announced that a boat yard had won, there wasn’t a snicker,” Kaplan said. “In 10 years there was a profound change in the perspective that those regulators had about our industry.”
About the Author: Aaron Porter is the editor of Professional BoatBuilder.