Shipyards across the U.S. have been working all year. But it hasn’t been business as usual during the coronavirus pandemic. Some yards closed for short periods to adjust to the problems Covid-19 created for them but reopened in short order, following strict CDC safety guidelines. And some yards continued working through the pandemic.

“We are very blessed to live in a community with a lower transmission rate. That coupled with our proactive approach to safety and working conditions here at the shop has kept our team on a great path forward,” said Micah D. Bowers, CEO of Inventech Marine Solutions/Life Proof Boats, Bremerton, Wash. “While this approach has proved to keep our team healthy, it has also proven to impact some production.”

The shipyard industry has had to adjust. Despite the virus, tugs, towboats, barges and other vessels are still in demand. Boats are under contract, under construction, and being delivered for both commercial and military customers on all coasts and the Great Lakes.

Ron Cleveringa, vice president, sales and marketing for Manitowoc, Wis.-based Burger Boat Co., said, “As Burger performs refit and repair services on passenger vessels, it was fortunate to be deemed an essential business by the state of Wisconsin. Burger immediately implemented Covid-19 precautions based on CDC and state guidelines throughout the shipyard. Overall, the impact of the pandemic on operations was kept to a minimum.”


In July, Burger launched a new $4 million 98'×32' passenger vessel for Chicago’s First Lady Cruises. Chicago’s Emerald Lady was scheduled for delivery on Aug. 12. The boat will immediately be placed into the rotation of the Chicago Architecture Foundation Center (CAFC) river cruise.

The steel-hulled vessel can carry up to 299 passengers and was designed by naval architect Mark Pudlo of Seacraft Design in Sturgeon Bay, Wis.

Burger has built two other passenger vessels for the company — Chicago’s Classic Lady and Chicago’s Leading Lady.

Cleveringa said having delivered the other two vessels gave the yard some advantages in building the new boat, but there were still some challenges. “It is easier in the sense that Burger has history to draw from. But, on the other hand, when regulations, equipment and machinery used on previous vessels changes, it requires our engineering team to modify bills of materials and change drawings or re-engineer systems to meet specification and regulatory compliance,” he said. “As anyone who has built a vessel knows, changes do not make the process easier. One thing that does make change easier, however, is experience.”

Main propulsion for Chicago’s Emerald Lady comes from twin Caterpillar C9.3 diesel engines, producing 375 hp at 1,800 rpm each, providing a sustainable option that lowers emissions. The Cats are connected to Michigan Wheel 38"x28", 4-bladed nibral propellers through ZF 360 marine gears with 2.48:1 reduction ratios. The propulsion package gives the new boat a running speed of 11 knots.

Ship’s service power is provided by two Caterpillar C4.4 gensets, sparking 75 kW of electrical power each.

While the yard is hunting for its next commercial newbuild, it has plenty of repair work and its yacht business to keep its workers busy in the months to come. “Burger’s outlook over the next year looks to be strong due to the diversification of commercial new construction, refit and repair work, and new yacht construction,” said Cleveringa. “When there is a decrease in one sector, there always seems to be an increase in another. It also appears that research vessel refit and repair activity should remain steady.”

Out west, Inventech Marine Solutions/Life Proof Boats is also dealing with the challenges presented by the pandemic. Inventech is the manufacturer of Life Proof vessels and FAST collar systems.

“You can’t have things going on as normal at a time like this,” said Bowers. However, he added that the shipyard is “conducting business accordingly.”

That included the delivery this year of a 46'×12' twin inboard diesel-powered waterjet full-cabin tour boat to Argosy Cruises, Seattle. The boat is Coast Guard approved for 38 passengers and two crew for partially exposed service.

Main propulsion comes from twin Cummins QSB6.7 diesel engines, producing 480 hp each. The mains connect to HamiltonJet HJ292 waterjets through ZF 280 transmissions. During builders trials the vessel’s top speed was 33 knots with 3/4 fuel and water, and five people on board.

The vessel is outfitted with a Furuno GPS/depth/radar, Icom VHF and Fusion marine stereo. The console is set forward within the cabin, with an enclosed head forward of the console. To assist with an unbalanced load, the vessel is fitted with Zipwake automatic trim control system. Defrost for the windows and heat for the cabin is provided by four waste heaters plumbed to the main propulsion engines.

In July, Life Proof announced that it was expanding into the Northeast through a partnership with LC8 Marine, Plymouth, Mass., its first official sales and service center in that part of the U.S. “Our strategic partnership with LC8 Marine allows us to better serve current and future boat owners in the region, while providing the unparalleled level of service our owners expect,” said Bowers.

Back East in Tuckahoe, N.J., Covid-19 forced Yank Marine Inc. to lock out all of the visitors and even the boat owners earlier this year. “They didn’t take it too well in the beginning,” said Bette Jean Yank, who along with her husband, John, own the shipyard. “It’s been difficult. Temperatures are taken at the gate, and we have been disinfecting like crazy.”

On May 7, the shipyard delivered the 599-passenger aluminum ferry Franklin D. Roosevelt, the first of three ferries, to NY Waterway.

The 2,000-hp ferry is similar to the pair of ferries Yank delivered to NY Waterway in 2015 and 2016 — the 350-passenger Molly Pitcher and Betsy Ross. The ferries were all designed by LeMole Naval Architecture in Tuckahoe. The ferry’s hull construction is made up of 5086 aluminum plate and the extrusions are 6061 aluminum.

Covid-19 delayed delivery of the Franklin D. Roosevelt, which had been scheduled for early this year. The second 109'×31' ferry is scheduled for delivery in October, with the final ferry set for April 2021. “We had some delays in getting parts,” Yank said. The new Subchapter K ferries have the same hull design as the Molly and Betsy from the deck down and have similar dimensions.

The big difference is that the new ferries have a lot less power than the Molly and Betsy since these aren’t the long commuter ferries,” said Phil Adams, Yank Marine’s newbuild project manager. “The FDR along with the other two have an upper open deck versus the enclosed upper deck you see on the Molly and Betsy.”

The FDR is powered by a pair of Cummins QSK38 engines, producing 1,000-hp each at 1,800 rpm. The engines turn a pair of ZF 5-bladed nibral wheels through ZF marine gear with 2.952:1 ratios. The package gives the ferry a service speed of 22 to 23 knots.

The FDR and her sisters to follow feature an electronics suite from Simrad and have tankage for 2,000 gals. of fuel, 100 gals. water per side, and 200 gals. sewage per side.

Last year, Yank Marine put both their shipyards — in Tuckahoe and Dorchester, N.J. — up for sale. Bette Jean Yank told WorkBoat in an interview earlier this year that those plans were on hold because of the Covid-19 pandemic. “We would like to sell it,” she said. “We would so like to retire.”

Ken Hocke has been the senior editor of WorkBoat since 1999. He was the associate editor of WorkBoat from 1997 to 1999. Prior to that, he was the editor of the Daily Shipping Guide, a transportation daily in New Orleans. He has written for other publications including The Times-Picayune. He graduated from Louisiana State University with an arts and sciences degree, with a concentration in English, in 1978.