In his forty-four years on Phuket, Jeroen Deknatel has seen the island’s leisure marine industry grow from infancy to its desired position as a global superyacht destination.

Jeroen grew up in Utrecht Holland, his family sailed. They all liked to weekend-sail, and his brother-in-law Bob was part of the 1970s North Sea yacht racing fraternity.

After graduating from high school, he worked for a film company, which had a medium-sized film studio that made special props; it was Jeroen’s job to make sure that those props functioned properly during shoots. He had hoped to go to film school and become a director, but fate intervened after he went on holiday to Thailand.

In October 1978, making a deathbed promise to a friend, an American GI, who had seen action in Vietnam, he promised to visit that country. Everyone said it was impossible and they were right, there was no way to go overland from Thailand to Vietnam back then. So, after exhausting all options, he traveled around Thailand and the Golden Triangle. It was “still golden back then”, he recalls.

Jeroen SEAY low res ed

Regressing, Jeroen’s father had been a pilot with KLM, and his mom a hostess with the airline, so he was able to get discounted flight tickets to travel abroad.

Jeroen’s brother-in-law Bob happened to be in Thailand when he first arrived, representing DAMEN, the Dutch shipyard, today famous for their superyacht support vessels. DAMEN has worked closely with the Thai Navy and Thai Marine Police for many decades. One of his brother-in-law’s contacts said he should visit Phuket. There were only two flights a week from Bangkok to Phuket then, but he managed to get himself on one.

Jeroen remembers being awestruck at the approach to Phuket airport coming in from over Phang Nga Bay. It was practically love at first sight as he was charmed by the whole island and the straight symmetric roads rows of rubber trees. He checked into the Thavorn Hotel in Phuket Town; he says you could cross the street with your eyes closed and not get hit. He picked up a map from hotel reception, ended up at a fresh food market, noticed the songtaews headed around the island, and saw on his map that Patong had a deep bay so he jumped on the vehicle headed that way.

Another spectacular vista welcomed him coming over the Kathu-Patong hill, seeing the blue-green sea with its lazy swell straight ahead. Walking along the beach, he eventually found Billy Budd’s restaurant. Little did he know that a year-and-a-half later he would be running the place. He quickly sent for his possessions at the Thavorn Hotel and moved into a beachside bamboo bungalow. He stayed for a couple months, but work commitments made him return to Holland. He played yo-yo back and forth between Phuket and Amsterdam for the next year.

Jeroen at DEMA trade show low res ed

But in October of 1979 he decided to move to Phuket full time so he cleaned out his apartment in Amsterdam filled a bag with his favourite cassette tapes and clothes and headed to the Land of Smiles. He rented Billy Budd’s with his Thai girlfriend at the time and soon after started a dive company Fantasea Divers with an Ex-US Navy diver named Steve Hanson. Trips left from Billy Budd’s where the dive equipment was kept.

After three months, Steve had to return to North Dakota to take care of his family business because his father had died. Jeroen never saw or heard from him again. Jeroen, however, end up spending three decades in the dive business.

Steve taught Jeroen how to dive and using the US Divers repair manual he basically taught himself how to service and maintain dive equipment. Jeroen spent a fair amount of time winging it, but he did find running dive trips similar to shooting movies on location in that you need to improvise and have reliable equipment.

Jeroen started with a simple 36ft Thai fishing trawler and finished building his own 300-ton, 30m expedition-style luxury dive liveaboard called Ocean Rover, the jewel in his fleet, which he operated from 2000-2008.

Jeroen at the helm of MV Fantasea ed

Looking back Jeroen says he takes prides in that his company always provided quality, safety, and good customer service. This was because he owned and operated his own boats with a regular crew instead of hiring local tour boats that were not purpose fit for diving.

During the 1990s Jeroen and his then business partner Maarten Brusselers had two PADI dive centers in Patong, one in Laguna Phuket and operated two large day-dive boats out of Chalong and two liveaboards out of Patong.

Phuket’s scuba dive industry boomed and the inevitable price wars broke out. In the early 2000s Fantasea Divers stopped offering diving courses and sold both day-dive boats and focused the business on liveaboard diving cruises for experienced divers and underwater photographers.

Jeroen’s first liveaboard dive boat, the Andaman Explorer, was a 55ft ferro-cement sailing ketch. In 1982 she was the first charter yacht in Phuket to have fixed departure and return dates, running five-day, six-night trips to the Similan Islands with 36 hours in port before the next trip.

Jeroen at the helm of Andaman Explorer 1984 ed

Enter Carl Roessler, a former Director of Computing at Yale University, where he led a design team to develop a pioneering management information system. He was the guru of luxury liveaboard scuba-diving trips to far-flung destinations where the quality of diving was unique. His company, Sea & See Travel, pretty much invented dive travel.

Andaman Explorer could sleep ten people, but customers shared one bathroom and there wasn’t any air-conditioning. Carl had heard about Jeroen and his boat and took some of his hardiest customers on a 10-day trip on the vessel.

Afterwards. Carl told Jeroen that he should upgrade to liveaboards with air-conditioned private cabins with ensuite bathrooms and special facilities for underwater photographers.

After Carl Roessler did his first dive trip with Jeroen he wrote a multi-page article in Skin Diver magazine (then the world’s #1 dive magazine) effective putting Thailand and the Similan Islands on the US dive radar. Prior to that hardly anyone in America, or elsewhere for that matter. had even heard of the Similan Islands.

Jeroen at work surveying ed

Jeroen and Carl would continue to do business together and meet every year at the Diving Equipment & Marketing Association trade show (DEMA) in the US. Fantasea Divers was the first dive operator from Thailand to exhibit at this industry-leading trade show.

Jeroen heeded Carl’s advice and refitted a German built 100-ft steel offshore supply vessel which had air-conditioning and six private cabins. The Fantasea operated long-distance liveaboard cruises from 1990-2000 and was the boat on which the famous Burma Banks were discovered.

During those years Jeroen came to realize that refitting older steel boats meant that every off-season you had to fix yet another ancient part of the vessel. That’s when the idea came to him of building from scratch a new purpose-designed vessel that could operate in other areas during Thailand’s southwest monsoon.

Ocean Rover was built in 18 months at the Ratachanai shipyard in Koh Sirey. It was -at the time- the largest steel boat ever built in Phuket and also the smallest Thai flagged vessel (in tonnage) to receive an IMO number.

Jeroen Deknatel Maarten Brusselers with Andaman Explorer Sikjit Shipyard 1984 ed

Ocean Rover and her crew had all the certificates required to legally operate commercial passenger cruises throughout SE Asia. Building and certifying Ocean Rover is what got Jeroen interested in marine surveying.

Ocean Rover carried 16 passengers and 14 crew, and was nearly always fully-booked. She was moored in Chalong, but comparable to a race car, hardly ever in the pits. If it wasn’t moving, it wasn’t making money. The boat operated out of Phuket in Thai and Burmese waters during the high season (Nov-Apr) including a month in the Andaman Islands in March, before moving to Malaysia and Eastern Indonesia (Sulawesi area) during Thailand’s southwest monsoon season.

“A good boat is a reliable boat, a reliable boat is a safe boat, and a safe boat makes you money,” says Jeroen. “Ocean Rover traveled 20,000 nautical miles a year without mishaps, breakdowns or unhappy customers.” Ocean Rover’s reliability and her excellent well-trained crew earned the boat an excellent reputation in global dive circles.

Ocean Rover operated all over Southeast Asia, and Jeroen traveled to the US four times a year for trade shows as a large part of his customer base was there. He was also traveling regionally to wherever his boat was moored to deal with logistics and port authorities. But he was growing tired, and was spending too much time away from his family.

Jeroen Deknatel Robert Davis on Ocean Rover ed

In 2008, Jeroen received an offer to buy Ocean Rover, and after mulling it over he accepted the offer (the boat is now called the Raja Ampat Aggressor, and is part of a global liveaboard company). He never thought he’d have to work again, but going to the golf course every day didn’t appeal to him either.

It was then that Bianca Hien, the former SEA Yachting editor suggested he become a marine surveyor. He liked the idea and took a course with Lloyd’s Maritime Academy, which was very comprehensive and all-encompassing.

Building Ocean Rover and making it complaint with all the safety regulations had tweaked his interest in surveying. He was prepared for the job in that he had owned and successfully operated boats constructed of wood, steel, fiberglass and ferro-cement -everything except aluminum.

In 2008, he formed Waterline Marine Surveys. Along the way, Jeroen has imparted his knowledge to other surveyors. Jay Monney, featured in SEA Yachting #17.2 credits a lot of his success to Jeroen.

Jeroen in front of Fantasea Divers ed

Describing the three main types of surveys Jeroen says first there’s the insurance survey, where insurers are trying to ascertain the level of risk that they are taking on in insuring a prospective boat. This usually takes a day.

Then there’s the pre-purchase survey, which is very detailed and usually takes three days, as you have to make sure the prospective buyer knows exactly what they are getting for the money they are prepared to pay.

There’s also the damage or accident survey for insurance companies, which occurs after a mishap. It takes the longest as you have to find out why the accident happened, and then guide the repair period.

Writing the report Jeroen says, however, is the bane of every surveyor’s existence. He says one hour of surveying takes about two hours of reporting.

Jeroen on duty low res ed

Jeroen is lucky in that he doesn’t have to advertise for work. “Few of my clients have looked at my website. Surveying is very much a word-of-mouth industry based on reputation and trust,” says Jeroen. On what type of boat he likes to survey, Jeroen says: “Boats that I find interesting, for clients that I like, but it doesn’t always work out that way.”

Why does he do it? “You don’t get into surveying if you don’t like boats,” he says. “Surveying gives me time to spend on boats that I would otherwise never get a chance to be on.” He says that every marina in Phuket has its pros and cons depending on boat owner preferences, but Boat Lagoon has the best most choices for lunch. Surveyors thrive on coffee and a decent lunch he says.

Trust is important in the marine surveying business and some of Jeroen’s clients will not buy a yacht unless he has inspected it, regardless of the boat’s location.

Unlike cargo vessel surveyors, yacht surveyors inspect a large variety of vessels. In Jeroen’s case the smallest being a 6m Japanese built speedboat and the largest a 55m Dutch built superyacht support vessel. And everything in between; yacht surveying is never boring.

Jeroen surveying an engine ed

Jeroen says that many people have the illusion that surveyors are like Sherlock Holmes with his magnifying glass, but Jeroen says they are actually more similar to dentists; no one likes going to one, but sometimes you have to. No boat crew is overjoyed to see a surveyor step on board, but rare is the vessel where the surveyor does not find anything amiss.

Many absentee boat owners rely on paid caretakers to look after their boats and having an independent surveyor taking a close look from time to time is highly recommended.

For Jeroen, the key to doing a good survey is knowing his client’s intended purpose for the boat and Jeroen lets that guide him in his survey, along with the geographic location of where the boat will operate and whether it will be used privately or commercially.

“As surveyors, we are a cog in the machine, everyone has a role to play from the owner selling the boat to the broker trying to find a buyer. It’s easy to condemn a boat for reasons that have nothing to do with the client’s Intended Purpose or flip that around and approve it without realizing what the boat will be used for.”

Ocean Rover ed

A typical work-week for Jeroen usually centers around a pre-purchase survey for a prospective boat buyer with additional time for ongoing insurance- and refit surveys plus admin and correspondence with clients.

“I prefer to do my pre-purchase surveys one vessel at a time,” he says. “I completely focus on that boat until the survey report is done -preferably on a Friday so I can relax during the weekend and be ready for the next vessel on Monday. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out that way.

“Like most surveyors I’m a one-man operation which is very different from running a (dive) company with lots of staff. Surveying makes for a decent living but not enough to send your children to international schools and overseas universities; for that I have to thank my dive boats and their crews.”

Jeroen has seen many transformations in his time in Phuket, from his own personal life, to the industries he’s worked in and on the island in which he lives. He’s brought a diligence to all facets of the fields he’s worked in making the diving industry more professional and making sure that the yachts he surveys are reliable and safe. He’s made a difference and continues to do so.

If you have any questions about surveying, you can contact Jeroen at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or +66 81 891 3051.

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