A View from Here

Bill's Sisson's weekly Trade Only blog

What do you expect? It’s a boat

It is not the leather or teak or technology that matters so much to the good folks on the water these days as it is a different kind of comfort. Call it the luxury of reliability, dependability and durability.

Those are three of the keys to the realm in this new normal. It’s a definition of luxury well suited to an industry where reliability has long been one of our Achilles heels. Systems that work. Systems you can count on. It’s hard to put a price tag on what that means to a builder or a dealer. For the owner, peace of mind is platinum.

With the price of new boats what they are, dependability should be a given. And to be fair, new boats have gotten a lot better. Want to attract first-time boaters and, just as important, retain them for the long haul? Make the product more bulletproof through better engineering and installation.


We’ve all be around boats long enough to have heard, for the umpteenth time, the phrase, “What do you expect, it’s a boat?” It’s still around because there’s still too much truth in it. I heard it on the docks this past weekend.

I’m running a newly refurbished 22-foot outboard-powered Down East center console these days. The boat is about 23 years old but looks like it just came out of a new-boat showroom. New paint, new Yamaha, new wiring, mahogany coaming. New everything. The works.


The only problem is a nagging fuel issue that causes the engine to shut down without warning. We’ve been chasing it since we launched the boat late last fall. We thought we found the culprit and made the fix during November winterizing, but it reappeared a few days ago, killing the power in a narrow channel between sandbars on a busy day.

I had it back up and running in about a minute, but the point is it shouldn’t be happening. And since we did all the installation and rigging, we have no one but ourselves to blame. Knock wood, it will be fixed before the weekend is out.

I was describing the problem to someone a couple of days ago. You can guess what he said.

“What do you expect? It’s a boat.”


4 comments on “What do you expect? It’s a boat

  1. Jerry Cardarelli

    Article is spot on.

    New boaters don’t seem to be tolerating the stress and cost of one breakdown or equipment failure well at all, much less repeating issues. (neither do us long time boaters! :-)

    With the current demographics, they are looking for instant gratification with little to no acceptance of failure that will cost money to repair. It’s no longer three major strikes and I’m leaving boating. One big strike can start them thinking right away to either get rid of the boat and buy another that works or get out of boating all together.

    PS. Thanks Bill for including the photo of TowBoatU.S. Alexandria Virginia, aka Potomac Marine.

  2. Neil W


    The boat builders and dealers are depending on a new generation of buyers for the industry to survive in the future. The younger generations have been raised on fuel injected cars (that have few breakdowns), computers and cell phones with few problems…. Then they purchase a boat and the disappointment begins.

    Example – New 30′ twin engine bow rider – $170,000 worth (discounted price – we did now make a “killing” on this purchase and there was a trade) – After we (the dealer) check the new boat and go through a lengthy demo ride and systems orientation with customer, he is stranded an hour and a half away with engine sensors giving him what turns out to be false alarms. Damage done. We take him back to his home by car and limp the boat back to our marina. The engine company wants us to check this and check that, then tell us the parts are on “back order…”. As a dealer, we are left hanging with a disappointed customer who’s family and guests were planning on using the new boat for the weekend… It takes us a couple of days to diagnose the problems (following the engine makers directions) and then have to rob parts off another boat to try and save the sale after the customer has asked for his money back.

    It is true that mechanical breakdowns on new boats are fewer now than 28 years ago when I started in sales. But boats are now multiple times more expensive than back then are customer expectations have grown even more. A new boat experience like this can definitely push this younger generation of boat purchasers to look at other avenues of leisure activities….

    Come on everyone (engine makers, boat builders and dealers)…. We have to do better at this!

  3. Don Hyde

    Thank you Bill for opening up this broad subject for discussion. From our viewpoint boat manufacturers and their OEM’s are doing their part to build better products, but achieving platform dependability is a two way street. The boat owner must also assume responsibility to make sure that routine inspections and maintenance actually take place as near to recommended schedule as possible. Boat ownership is not an intuitive activity and there is nothing organically undependable about a boat, but if left alone in the elements with infrequent run-time, everyone knows that some parts will seize-up, seals dry-out, or connections deteriorate et al – all preventable events.

    In creating close to 3,000 digital boat profiles for recreational, commercial and military craft, we see the same high-quality OEM equipment installed on boats of every size, price, and purpose. We must allow that from time to time there may be a faulty installation but there are two key differentiators for increasing up-time and eliminating surprises: advanced knowledge of upcoming maintenance and inspections, and the willingness of the customer or their agent to act on the information.

    It is well known that fewer people are growing up in the boating lifestyle than in previous generations, so creating first-time boat owners means conforming to their expectations of effortless ownership which includes among other things timely notice of upcoming maintenance events. Every boat-owner’s daily life consists of digital notification from banker, dentists, doctors – even the Vet lets them know when the dog needs a new vaccination, and all of this is delivered to the device of their choice. Boat ownership should be as simple.

    Today’s boats are the best ever produced and as the industry incorporates digital maintenance management into their ownership model I believe that negative mis-perceptions can be dramatically changed, expanding the market and benefiting everyone in the ecosystem of boat ownership.

  4. Ernest J. Schmidt

    Hi Bill,

    Agree with you wholeheartly. With the price of boats today, the boat buyer should expect something next to bullet proof.

    But on to your problem. Your old Down Easter looks great, and in regards to your problem. If you did not replace the gas tank antisyphon value with a larger one during your refurbish of the boat, it very well may be your problem. Old antisyphon values on the gas tank were never designed to provide the gas flow that new outboards require. If not already done, give it a try.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive. For more information, please see our Comments Policy.