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.

Here is a link to a .pdf of the article or click on the photo of the cover to the left.



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.

ProfessionalBoatBuilder4KKMI’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.

ProfessionalBoatBuilder7Kaplan 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 101 America‘s Cup, and 2003 the yard hosted USA 76 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.

ProfessionalBoatBuilder3From 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.


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.

ProfessionalBoatBuilder9KKMI 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