Yards in the Gulf, Great Lakes and Northwest are, overall, in better shape now than they were a year ago. They are benefiting from operators that have been kicking tires for a couple of years that are finally starting to exercise options and sign new contracts.
In our soon-to-be-released annual WorkBoat Construction Survey, we list 564 vessels. While this represents an increase of only 30 from last year, it is good news for shipyards. Why? Any increase (no matter how small) after what this sector has been through is a big step forward.
Just take a look at the strength of the order books and the fact that many yards, especially in the Gulf with Austal, Ingalls, BAE, Trinity Offshore, Bollinger, and VT Halter, are looking to hire skilled fitters, welders, CNC operators and others.
Great Lakes yards are also more upbeat these days, thanks to new construction, new facilities and strong winter layup work.
The Lake Carriers Association estimates that major U.S.-flag operators will spend more than $75 million getting 56 vessels ready for shipping to resume in March.
“This year, for the first time in a long time, we’ve got a bunch of winter work,” said Joe Starck, president of the Great Lakes Group, parent of Great Lakes Shipyard, Cleveland. His yard is adding a temporary shed to build one of two ASD tugs for SEACOR. An existing shop will accommodate the other 92’, 4,640-hp vessel. The two tugs fill the order book for a yard the size of GLS, said Starck.
I visited GLS this summer, when they were busy with a pair of since-delivered Great Lakes research vessels. My visit coincided with the dedication of a new 770-ton Marine Travelift. GLS has more than doubled its staff, adding 40 people to the shipyard, including 30 hourly workers.
I also visited Donjon Shipbuilding & Repair in Erie, Pa., this summer. Now, with a few months under their belts, the new owners from Hillside, N.J., Donjon Marine, are bullish on the shipyard business.
Dare we say “backlogs?”
You can read more on Great Lakes and other yards in the March cover story due out soon.