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MGBW Modernizes Yacht Building Capabilities

SHIPBUILDING: $6M Custom Boat Lift Will Increase Capacity, Flexibility

Marine Group Boat Works (MGBW), a massive ship repair, restoration and building company, has gone from nearly sinking to full speed ahead.

Todd Roberts
President
Marine Group Boat Works

The nearly 40-year-old company is currently in the early stages of a major multi-million modernization project with an 820-ton mega-capacity mobile telescopic boat hoist being built overseas. Expected to arrive next fall, the machine will be the only sideways-crawling Travelift on the West Coast and what the company says is the largest in the United States.

MGBW contracted with Cimolai Technology out of Veneto, Italy, to custom-build the mobile boat lift at a cost of about $6 million. The new machine will offer mega-capacity and flexibility and replace the company’s current 665-ton Travelift. In April, MGBW purchased a 75-ton marine Travelift to increase capacity at its yacht repair and dry-dock facility in Mexico.

“The partnership is reinvesting in our facility and in our people,” said MGBW President Todd Roberts. “It is a lot of money but if you want to remain relevant in this business, you have to invest.”

Green Initiatives

MGBW’s coming giant lift will be able to haul a superyacht out of the water and transport it forward, backward and sideways on wheels that can turn 90 degrees. The crane’s variable width will allow it to expand up to 18½ feet or collapse for vessels with smaller beams. The machine will also include a Tier 4 low-emission power source, in keeping with the company’s eye on green initiatives.

MGBW shares the Port of San Diego’s goal of being a zero-emissions boatyard and continues to lead the industry in sustainable boat repair and construction. The project is currently in environmental review in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act.

Also coming with the new lift: a solar panel installation that will provide 500 kilowatts of renewable energy to power yard equipment and supply shore-power to docked boats and the replacement and reconfiguration of docks and dredging to restore deep-water access.

The lift and modernization efforts will allow MGBW to work more efficiently within its existing footprint by working on additional boats at the same time, allowing MGBW to have an even larger impact on the local economy.

Yacht Economy

MGBW estimates its local economic impact at $1.2 billion in the last five years, with repairs and refits of hundreds of boats annually, and recognized as one of the country’s largest and busiest of its kind, Roberts said. The company is also a big economy driver in South County. In 2022, the company spent more than $4.7 million with Chula Vista-based vendors and an additional $2.3 million with businesses in the greater South Bay region.

More than 30 vessels currently around the world have been built by MGBW, with contracts totaling more than $100 million.

According to the U.S. Superyacht Association, one 180-foot vessel generates more than $4 million in expenditures each year, including $1.4 million in maintenance and repairs, $400,000 in fuel, $350,000 in dockage and port fees, $110,000 in food and beverage provisioning, and $250,000 injected into the local economy by guests and crew members.

Roberts said the company touches about half of the yachts of 130 feet and larger that are in waters off the United States. Roberts says there are 2,233 yachts in the world that are more than 130 feet, including 258 in the U.S.

The global superyacht industry is valued at over $35.9 billion, supporting over 6,000 companies, roughly 260,000 jobs, with an economic contribution equivalent to nearly half of the entire cruise line industry. According to the UN World Tourism Organization, the cruise sector annually contributes $150 billion to the global economy.

Roberts says about 1/3 of MGBW’s business is devoted to superyacht refitting, with another 1/3 consisting of commercial vessels – including ferries, tugboats, patrol crafts, barges, workboats and research vessels. The other 1/3 of MGBW’s clients is the U.S. military and other government agencies, doing shipbuilding and repairs.

‘Poker Bet’ Pays Off

MGBW was founded by three brothers and had just 25 employees in 1986 when the site at 997 G St. was known as South Bay Boatyard.  At one low moment in company history, the business was down to just five people on staff.

South Bay Boatyard rebranded to Marine Group Boat Yard as part of a complete company overhaul in 2006. MGBW now has 40 times that many on staff across two locations handling the needs of hundreds of commercial vessels and yachts annually.

MGBW’s flagship hub is a 1 million-square-foot site along San Diego Bay with a second, smaller 300,000-square-foot location at San Jose del Cabo in Los Cabos, Mexico.

Herb Engel
CEO
Marine Group Boat Works

Between the two facilities, MGBW employs more than 200 American Bureau of Shipping-certified welders, shipfitters, pipefitters, mechanics, electricians, painters, and other boatbuilding and repair specialists.

The diverse workforce is a source of pride for CEO Herb Engel, who founded the business with his brothers, Art Engel and David Engel. The company has long championed in-house training to ensure MGBW stays well staffed.

“We train people with just a high school education and some strong work ethic who can make a great living supporting their family,” Herb Engel said. “Ever since I can remember, there has always been a shortage of qualified, skilled workers in the maritime industry. The only solution was taking matters into our own hands by creating an apprenticeship training program. Working in the maritime industry isn’t just a job; you can make a career out of it.”

The company has grown in ways Roberts envisioned – and beyond – but when he first started at the company in 2000, its seas were rocky.

“This was when the first bout of development in Chula Vista was coming and they were floating around other ideas for the facility,” he said. “I was brought to this place to shut it down.”

Roberts said instead of closing up shop, however, he researched valuation and trends in the world of large ocean liners, and noted the yacht industry was headed for a boom. Once he felt confident with what he learned, Roberts sat down with the ownership group and told them he saw a major opportunity to build and expand upon the facility.

“I told them it was a several million-dollar project to build,” he said. “It was a hell of a poker bet, but I saw there was a market emerging. The permitting was done in late December in 2006 and in 2007 when we were done renovating, it was like floodgates opening. We became an international powerhouse almost immediately.”

Marine Group Boat Works

FOUNDED: 2006 (previously was South Bay Boatyard, est. 1986)
CEO: Herb Engel
PRESIDENT: Todd Roberts
HEADQUARTERS: Chula Vista
BUSINESS: Commercial vessel and yacht repair
REVENUE: $65 million
EMPLOYEES: 200
WEBSITE: marinegroupbw.com
CONTACT: 800-281-5565
SOCIAL IMPACT: MGBW runs a robust recycling program and about 85% of its fleet of vehicles, forklifts and manlifts are electric-powered.
NOTABLE: MGBW attracts an average of 50% of large yachts in Pacific Ocean (223) each year

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