With a little help from… a Client Friend

With news of major UK shipbuilding projects recently hitting the headlines, we asked Julian Mason, Ship Design & Engineering Director (pictured second from left) to define the role of Client Friend and, most importantly, explain how it helps ship owners achieve their goals.

His response is based on Houlder’s experience of fulfilling the role for government and commercial clients. Contract examples include the Type31e Frigate, recently awarded to Babcock, the RRS Sir David Attenborough under construction at Cammell Laird and the Victoria of Wight electro-hybrid ‘green’ ferry now in service between the Isle of Wight and the mainland.

Complex and novel vessels such as these are seldom available ‘off the shelf’ so the need for additional procurement expertise becomes significant if procuring ships is not your core business. Here, the need to reduce commercial and technical risk justifies the investment in more embedded additional ship design and construction capability. The Client Friend role allows you to take this additional expertise into the project on a more consistent basis.

Client Friend support can involve any number of Houlder experts and typically includes some or all of the following;

Commercial strategy

A Client Friend is an ideal partner to advise on strategy by undertaking specific scoping studies and project assessments as part of early business case definition. This helps define and achieve buy-in to the overall approach.

Stakeholder engagement

Once procurement is agreed, a Client Friend is typically asked to engage with stakeholder groups.  Gaining a full understanding of user requirements through applying proven expertise is a crucial first step of the procurement journey.  A Client Friend becomes pivotal in capturing the full range of success criteria at the off, while accommodating competing ambitions and balancing aspiration with feasibility.

Illustrative design

An initial illustrative design, based on user requirements captured above, helps define the price of the vessel and allows for early benchmarking against any business case. The design work developed here can achieve approval in principle from the chosen Classification Society and define steel structure and system schematics.  Tank testing of resistance, propulsion and sea-keeping are also possible at this stage and all can be managed as part of the Client Friend support.

The Client Friend’s goal is to provide technical assurance to the owner and clear guidance for the next phase of activity – competitive tendering.

Shipyard assessment and selection

In this phase, the Client Friend shifts focus to supporting an effective, fair and transparent shipyard selection process. This is based on using deliverables from earlier work – such as user requirements document and illustrative concept design. A Client Friend can also use this detail to down-select shipyards to a focused short list of capable yards.

Once the final competition is underway, the Client Friend uses their expertise in shipyard practice and detailed understanding of the project requirements to support specification and tender documentation packages and answer resulting technical queries from bidders. Once the deadline passes, they support the evaluation of submissions in detail and provide technical and commercial input to any pre-award negotiations.

  • oversight of design development
  • review and verification of design drawings, documents and plans
  • review of test and trial procedures, attendance at tests and review of results
  • oversight of shipyard construction works
  • negotiation and management of variation orders
  • attendance at equipment inspections, tests, trials and commissioning
  • acceptance of ship off contract
  • acceptance of ILS and associated deliverables
  • support during warranty period


By providing specialist independent third-party support throughout a project, the Client Friend model supports owners by mitigating the technical and commercial risks associated with complex or novel vessels.  It is a service likely to become more valued by commercial and government shipbuilders in the future.

For more information on Houlder’s approach, contact Julian Mason through enquiries@houlderltd.com or +44 (0)23 9287 5277

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“Charting a ‘solo’ course through this swirl of uncertainty is close to impossible. That’s why we’re often asked by clients to build their knowledge, evaluate their challenges and assess their options. We work closely with research funds and clean-tech providers by bringing decades of industry experience to bear. Our position is independent, technical ‘client friend’ for the decarbonising decades ahead.”


Rupert Hare, Chief Executive Officer

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