TheAdvocate
BoatUS Consumer Protection Bureau

 

Good Night And Good Luck

By Caroline Ajootian
Published: December 2012

Our Consumer Protection director is about to retire. But first, she reflects on 26 years of representing boaters, and nudging companies to "do the right thing" by our members.

Photo of boxing gloves

Boats, water, and people are the key elements of recreational boating. Always have been, always will be. But almost everything else we know today about recreational boating and the businesses that produce, sell, and service boats is completely different from what it was 25 years ago, when we first started the BoatUS Consumer Protection Bureau. Three things caused this transformation: the economy, the environment, and the Internet.

Economic Trends Shape Consumer Attitudes

Economic downturns like today's are not new. In the early 1990s, the U.S. was in the midst of a recession. Belt-tightening meant that people didn't have discretionary income to spend on boats. But even as the economy recovered, boat sales figures continued to flatline. In 1995, the industry's trade group, the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA), conducted a survey of customers to discover some of the industry's handicaps. The results were no surprise to the BoatUS Consumer Protection team or anyone who'd ever owned a boat: Among other issues, the marine industry simply hadn't kept pace with the customer-service trends adopted by other sectors, particularly the automotive industry, where comprehensive warranties, overall product quality, and ease of repairs were the norm, and a premium was placed on keeping customers happy enough so that they'd come back for more.

Complaints reported to BoatUS Consumer Protection bore this out. Boat owners told us that quality control was often nonexistent, getting repairs was complicated, work was sometimes poorly done — more than once — and delays put boats out of use too long, a major problem when owners' time on the water was limited to begin with. Another common complaint was the finger-pointing between factory and dealer that left frustrated owners without recourse.

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