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Sophisticated Gadgetry Not Just for the Mega-Yachts

Back in 1946 when Driscoll Inc. opened its first boat repair service in Point Loma, navigational devices consisted of compasses and sextons.

At that time, the family-owned business leased 18,000 square feet of land and 39,000 square feet of dock space that housed 20 working boat slips. And, the average mechanic or electrician could handle the toughest of jobs.

Now with advanced global positioning satellite systems, boaters can plot their course on a computer, set the autopilot and sail to their destination without ever touching the wheel.

Once seen only on mega-yachts measuring 100 feet or more in length, such equipment is now available on smaller ships. Meanwhile, as the technology for operating large boats becomes more sophisticated, more of it trickles down to smaller boats, said Tom Driscoll, who assumed the role of company president when his father, Gerry, retired in 1990.

“Some yachts’ entire operating systems are controlled by computers , communications and data, engines, charging systems, fuel, exhaust, heating and air conditioning,” Driscoll said.

The company extended its services to include mega-yachts that began sailing into San Diego in greater numbers in the late 1980s. It also expanded its operations from one to three facilities, including Driscoll Boatworks and Kettenburg Marine in Point Loma and Driscoll Mission Bay. Together they lease more than 1 million square feet of land and dock space.

“We’ve worked on mega-yachts with communications systems that allow an owner sitting at a desk in an onshore office to tap into the boat’s information system and find out where it is, the direction it’s going, how fast, and where it’s been,” Driscoll said. “Some of these systems can even feed engine information to the manufacturers to tell them what’s happening if the engine is experiencing some difficulty.”


Specialists In Repair

Unlike the earlier days when boat repairs were relatively simple, Driscoll’s technicians and mechanics now have advanced skills that enable them to work on the most complex of computerized mega-yachts. Earning in the range of $18 to $26 an hour, they’re considered specialists.

But they also work on smaller, less sophisticated ships as well. The company employs a staff of 75, including more than 50 yard service people. They operate lifts that handle boats measuring 20 feet in length and weighing 15 tons, to ones 130 feet long, weighing 150 tons.

“There’s not enough business in San Diego to support a facility that just serves mega-yachts,” he said. “The small recreational boater is very important to our company as well. So we have to be diversified. We have to invest in highly skilled personnel and in equipment for both large and small yachts.”

To continue the company’s growth, Driscoll plans a $7.5 million redevelopment of Marina Green in Point Loma to include offices, restaurants, marina services and 50 new boat slips, some big enough for mega-yachts.

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