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Warranty Matters

Long ago, in what seems like a galaxy far, far away, warranties on most boats and marine engines were limited in scope and lasted for no more than a year. They were buried deep in the fine print on the backs of sales brochures. They listed more exclusions than covered items and rarely, if ever, figured into the marketing schemes of manufacturers.

Like most creatures in the universe, warranties have evolved. Now, boats from entry level to yacht quality have multi-layered, multi-year boat guarantees that give coverage specific to the hull and deck structures, as well as parts and equipment. Some even promise lifetime coverage for hull structures. Virtually all guarantees are transferable to subsequent owners. Slight differences from one policy to the next make it clear that companies view their guarantees as a means to differentiate themselves from their competitors.

Many companies post their warranties online, another break with the past that makes it easier for boat buyers to compare coverage. The following overview of warranties for various cruiser boat models shows that coverage is all over the map.

TIARA: five-year warranties for hull and deck structures, as well as the cockpit.

SEA RAY: five years on hull structures and pro-rated coverage against blister damages.

BAYLINER: lifetime hull warranty, five-year coverage for the deck and a year of coverage for components, plus five-year pro-rated coverage for blister damages.

LARSON BOATS: lifetime hull warranty, five years of coverage for blister damages, as well as boat components, engines, power trains and trailers for five years; towing costs and repairs of components like TVs and stereo systems are also covered.

GRADY-WHITE: lifetime warranty on stringer grid and warranty on factory rigging of engine controls, wiring and instrumentation.

CARVER YACHTS: entire boat covered for two years, structural fiberglass parts and components of the hull and deck are warranted for 10 years and gel coat blisters for five years.

CROWNLINE: Lifetime warranty on deck, hull, transom and stringers; five-year warranty on canvas, engine and powertrain, upholstery, stainless steel and blister.

For outboard engine warranties, the standard is now three years. But, this spring, rival engine makers even began promoting longer no-cost warranty extensions of up to five years for Honda (“True 5”) and six years for Suzuki (“Gimme Six”) and Mercury Marine (“Get the Best,” which ended in June, and another as-yet-unnamed promotion this summer). Mercury has taken the step of offering coverage against corrosion damage.

Why the changes? Why now? And does this new focus on customer service by some in the industry amount to a high tide that floats all boats, the “good guys” and the mediocre alike?

What began a decade ago as a marine industry effort to bolster stagnant boat sales has evolved into a full-fledged effort called the Grow Boating initiative by the National Marine Manufacturers Association. Grow Boating’s customer service index (CSI) evaluation for dealers works in tandem with Discover Boating, an ambitious campaign to promote the boating lifestyle through television and print ads. NMMA now also requires its boatbuilder members to participate in its certification program to verify that new boat models meet not only U.S. Coast Guard regulations but also the more rigorous standards established by the American Boat and Yacht Council.

The marine industry has accepted as a fact of life what it once viewed as a liability — that the boating public compares boats to automobiles and expects similar levels of service and quality. The goal is to handle customer service accordingly.

For a complete description of warranty coverage and exclusions, contact the manufacturer. Written or express warranties are different from extended service contracts, sometimes called “extended warranties,” which cost extra and are essentially third-party repair insurance policies. Written manufacturer’s warranties create specific legal obligations on the part of the manufacturer. They are considered part of the “basis of the bargain” when buying a new product and, as such, do not cost extra.

Consumers should always read warranties before making a major purchase and should also try to get a feel for how companies handle warranty matters and other customer issues. That’s where BoatU.S. can help. Check out our consumer protection database (go to BoatUS.com/consumer/database.aspx or call 703-461-2856), a members-only reference with thousands of reports from across the U.S.

(c) Copyright BoatU.S. Magazine, July 2007

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