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Do we need a boating Bill of Rights?

The time has come for the marine industry as a whole to adopt a consumer’s Bill of Rights. So said the BoatU.S. “Consumer Protection Bureau” in a recent article in the BoatU.S. Magazine distributed to its 600,000 members.

According to BoatU.S., consumer complaints they receive “reflect the lack of vessel-repair laws; gaps in coverage between warranties offered by boatbuilders and engine manufacturers; and reluctance on the part of some builders to address serious customer problems.” 

The article goes on to cite some recent consumer complaints. They range from an unexpectedly high bill for tuning up a generator to a situation where a customer was caught between the boatbuilder and the engine manufacturer, neither willing to provide warranty work the customer allegedly deserved. Moreover, in the latter case, the two manufacturers inaccurately pointed fingers at the dealer for work they claimed fell under the heading of “final preparation and commissioning.” It didn’t.

The article wraps up by reporting that BoatU.S. is developing a boater’s Bill of Rights that the industry will be asked to embrace.

Upon reflection, I’m not convinced a Bill of Rights is needed or worth the effort. That’s not to say manufacturers can’t be butt-heads, thereby creating needless problems for everyone concerned. Like the case cited by BoatU.S. of the customer who purchased a 44-footer purported to hold 600 gallons of fuel. But the twin tanks, labeled to hold 300 gallons each, only held 250 gallons. The boatbuilder’s response: mailed the customer new labels for the tanks that read “250 gallons!”

It’s puzzling that BoatU.S. would promote a Bill of Rights concept at this point in time. After all, the BoatU.S. “Consumer Protection Bureau” was initiated 39 years ago. So why now? BoatU.S. also claims it has an effective Dispute Resolution Program. As for the industry, there has been an unprecedented emphasis on customer care and product quality in recent years through such programs as MRAA’s Dealer Certification and NMMA’s Boat Certification. In addition, studies from the likes of J.D. Power & Associates indicate continuing improvement in customer satisfaction. Many states already have laws on the books applicable to boat repairs. Alaska now has a lemon law and is likely not the last. And, CSI scores are running at an all-time high. 

Most importantly, however, big changes are just ahead that could marginalize any Bill of Rights anyway. For example, the good news is this recession will eliminate some manufacturers and dealers, hopefully those who failed to provide quality products and properly back them. Recession survivors will have to adopt different business models, too, and produce high quality boats and motors if they hope to gain back customers when this is all over.

Another trend is likely to be toward stem-to-stern warranties similar to the auto industry. Dealers will be paid regular “street” rates for warranty service as well as a margin on all parts taken from stock. And, while NMMA currently requires its member’s boats to be NMMA Certified, the next step should be to incorporate into the Certification program specific standards for good customer service by the boatbuilders.

Comments

11 comments on “Do we need a boating Bill of Rights?

  1. Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

    Agree that the industry as a whole needs some work… My oldest brother took a 20hp outboard in for service and then got a call several weeks later that the engine was ready but that the repair bill was close to $600 – this for a fairly old motor… He was never contacted ahead of time to see if that price was acceptable and was thus largely forced to pay for the expensive repair… That was flat-out wrong…

  2. Carl M

    The one major business cornerstone component that all survivors will have to focus on & abide by is to increase & maximize the Profit Margin on everything they sell. And I mean increase!
    Getting awards that you have to pay entry fees for to be considered, Certification certificates that you pay some entity to state that you are doing what you should have always been doing all along, or paying 3rd party CSI collection firms to alert you to what you should already beaware but not willing to acknowledge on your owm, will not provide the added funding (profit) required to do business at the service/warranty levels that you are saying the American boat buying public expects or desires to see, in order to purchase a marine product now & in the future. Someone has to pay the added cost for the level of sevice you’re decribing. Being more efficent should be norm in a business not a profit center. Increased efficency will keep you competitive it will not add profit. Profit keeps you & your bank excited about your business.

    Case in point: an S type Jaguar & a Lincoln LS are built on the same platform (both Ford products-until Ford sold Jag 5-6 months ago). Both are considered high end Luxury cars. Both get High CSI numbers, Both meet the quality expectation of the consumer based on the purchased price or they would not have purchased it.
    Service level and service aminities at the dealers are very, very different. Jaguar has built the added cost of that bumper to bumper waranty & one on one personal service attention into the price of the vehicle.
    In today marine business it is hard to do that if you are trying to sell “me to” while the underachievers are running to the exits giving the products away. Investors are less likely to invest or finance in a climate like today.

    I thought I read that we had to make this activity more affordable
    just my rant

  3. Caserta, Tony

    We definitely need a Consumer’s Boating Bill of Rights. But along with warrantee and fair pricing policies, the Bill of Rights also has to address the scary increase in boating fees, registration requirements, mandated training and licensing, and other bureaucratic impediments to family boating, etc. These impediment, along with ever rising prices, are starting to drive the beginning boaters out of the market. Regulation-free Boating has always been like a safety valve to give young families a welcomed relief from every day concerns and restriction. The Bill-of-Rights must address and preserve the freedom of having a boat without adding restrictive impediments.

    If families never get started in boating, they can never move-up to bigger and newer boats and the whole industry will be eventually clobbered. Without the inclusion of this type of rights, a Bill-of Rights will be useless!

  4. LARRY RODRIGUEZ

    THE OLD “YOU CAN’T PLEASE ALL OF THE PEOPLE ALL OF THE TIME” IS AND WILL ALWAYS BE. WHEN THE PARTY THAT SELLS THE PRODUCT HAS LITTLE SAY ON THE MANUFACTURING OF IT, IT IS DIFFICULT TO KEEP EVERYBODY HAPPY.
    MANY BUY A NEW PRODUCT BECAUSE IT IS NOT SUPPOSED TO BREAK, AT LEAST FOR THE FIRST FEW YEARS, BUT WE ALL KNOW THE MARINE ENVIRONMENT IS NOT FORGIVING, AND HOW THE SAYING GOES, “….IT HAPPENS”. IT IS EVEN TOUGHER WHEN SOMEBODY SHELLS OUT $ 80K TO $ 100K, OR MORE TO END UP WITH A HEADACHE. MOST DEALERS KNOW THIS, AND WILL BEND BACKWARDS TO HELP, MANUFACTURERS ARE SOMETIMES NOT QUICK TO RESPOND, OR PLEASANT TO HELP, ESPECIALLY WITH TODAY’S ENVIRONMENT. WE ALL KNOW A 30% MARGIN IS A QUICK ROAD TO BANKRUPTCY COURT, IF COST & THINGS GET OUT OF CONTROL.
    I DON’T BELIEVE THIS IS AS MUCH OF A PROBLEM, AND CERTAINLY NOT THE PROBLEM THE INDUSTRY FACES TODAY.
    THE PROBLEMS ARE CLEAR, BANKS HAVE GOTTEN TOUGHER, DISPOSABLE INCOME IS DISAPPEARING WITH THE MIDDLE CLASS. FEAR OF WHAT’S AHEAD, OR THE UNCERTAINTY IS MORE PREVALENT IN EACH AND EVERYONE OF US, AND THAT’S TRUE MORE TODAY THAN EVER BEFORE. THE RISING COST OF FUEL EVERYONE KNOWS; IS INEVITABLE. COMPETITION FOR OUR “SPARE TIME” AND/OR “QUALITY TIME” IS FIERCE, ESPECIALLY WITH SO MANY OTHER THINGS TO DO, AND BOATING IS NOT A NECESSITY, AND OUR WORLD IS FORCING EVERYONE TO LOOK CLOSER AT WHAT’S REALLY NEEDED.
    THERE ARE NO EASY ANSWERS, AND AS THE MARKET SHRINKS SO WILL THE INDUSTRY, IT’S PAINFUL AND A TOUGH PILL TO SWALLOW, BUT LET THERE BE NO DOUBT, “ONLY THE STRONG WILL SURVIVE!”

  5. dave boso

    Oh for crying out loud! more regulation? just what we need. If there is a dealer in your area doing that kind of stuff you’ll know it, just see to it you arn’t the one.

  6. arch

    WE DO NOT NEED A BILL OF RIGHTS. The last thing this industry needs is more BS and non-sense.
    Consumers need to use their brains and let the market determine who does well and who doesn’t.

  7. Bill

    “Consumers need to use their brains and let the market determine who does well and who doesn’t”

    Bernie Madoff couldn’t have said it better.

  8. arch

    BILL, what exactly are you implying? Bernie Madoff was a thief who screwed over hundreds of people using a ponzi scheme. How exactly does that relate to my comment.
    All my comment meant was that the FREE MARKET ECONOMY works best. There isn’t a better system on the planet. If being a Capitalist makes me guilty and of the same ilk as Madoff, then you have just insulted 90% of the American people.
    This industry needs some work. Having a boating bill of rights is not going to keep bad things from happening. THE SEC is one of the most aggressive organizations in the world when it comes to compliance and enforcement. Yet, it didn’t stop Madoff and these other crooks.
    Guess what, our law enforcement can’t stop crime either.
    We are talking about BOATING here. You are the naive one if you think more bureaucracy is going to help.

  9. Grant Westerson

    Norm

    An owner’s Bill of Rights is a great suggestion for an “owners group” to offer. But it will probably do nothing for the industry except create more arguments and grief down the line. Good businesses with good business practices generally outshoulder the poor ones and the Darwin principal seems to rule.

    If the Bill of Rights had some additional requirements by the owner:
    1. I won’t call my dealer on Friday with a list of repairs for the weeked.
    2. I won’t argue the bill when I say, “Just fix whatever is wrong.”
    3. I will pay all my invoices within 30 days.
    4. If I have a problem with service, I’ll let my dealer know about it promptly and not wait a month.
    5. I will treat my dealer with the respect he has earned.

    The Recreational Marine Industry has come a long way in the past 10 years and this economy will no doubt cull some of the poor performing participants. Those dealers left on their feet will have reexamined their customer policies and become much better in marketing and caring for their clients. A Bill of Rights won’t do any of that, just raise expectations and with little commitment on the owner’s behalf there still will be clashes.

  10. out of biz

    Excellent Grant! Where is the “Dealer Bill of Rights” Norm, what are your thoughts there??? But then the point may be moot when all the smaller dealerships are gone and only the large/corporate entities remain? Seems that’s where it’s heading? Hey, recreational boaters that have estabilshed relationships with their “local” dealer who is trying to hang on. or may well be gone now, can always get service/support at the “big guys”…right! That’s all that will be left if the manufacturer’s and floorplanners get their way. Small business made America great and is the backbone of this country, guess that the good times are over for now? To the manufacturer’s and floorplanners out there, good luck keeping this industry afloat because as the small delaership go by the wayside, so will the industry as well. RIP recreational boating.

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