Who You Gonna Call?

By Caroline Ajootian

When the frustration-scale needle creeps dangerously upwards what's a consumer to do?

In the course of boating, it sometimes happens that a boat owner is dissatisfied with his vessel, a manufacturer, or retailer. Most manufacturers and retailers are honest and do their best to resolve any problems. But occasionally, misunderstandings arise, and it becomes necessary to enlist the aid of an outside party to resolve the dispute. Tempers get too hot, irritation levels make it hard to think straight, or there just aren’t enough hours in the day. Luckily, the BoatUS Consumer Protection Bureau has a long history of providing members with a forum for informal dispute resolution — the only such boat-related program in the U.S.

Photo of a rainwater over the water as a boat goes byBoatUS Consumer Protection Bureau can help shed light on your problems.

Mediation, negotiations by a neutral third party — in this case, the Consumer Protection Bureau — puts the decision-making in the hands of the parties involved in the dispute. Unlike arbitration, where the decision-making process is completely in the hands of an independent panel, here the two parties negotiate the terms of the settlement. Throughout the process, the Consumer Protection Bureau advises the boat owner about realistic expectations for a possible outcome. Sample settlements reached as a result of the Bureau's efforts include replacement hulls, reductions in repair costs that amount to as much as $3,000 to $5,000, 25- to 50-percent discounts on replacement engines, and factory repairs at no cost to the consumer. So, what should you do if the bottom has literally fallen out of your boat?

First Things First

1. If you haven't already done so, we recommend filing a written complaint with the company, outlining your concerns and what steps have been taken to remedy the situation. Be sure to let the company know what you believe would be a fair resolution: a refund, repairs, or a replacement.

2. Send us a complete written description of the problems you've encountered, along with supporting documentation such as previous complaint letters, repair invoices, contracts, or marine survey reports. Be sure to include the make, model, and serial number of your boat or engine, as well as the name of the company with whom you've been dealing.

3. When we receive your complaint, we'll enter your information into our complaint database, where it will be evaluated for similarities with other complaints, and we'll contact the company involved within days of receiving your correspondence. We recommend allowing companies three to four weeks to respond. Complaints most likely to be resolved involve boats or engines that are less than 5 years old. Product or service complaints are most likely to be resolved when you have written repair estimates or can produce written orders or receipts.

Although small claims court is sometimes an effective venue for resolving consumer disputes with local companies, in general, litigation is costly, time-consuming, and stressful — and the outcome is not a "sure thing." BoatUS does not have the authority to threaten legal action on behalf of members or represent members in court cases, so our mediation efforts rely on diplomacy and good working relationships with key members of the marine industry, along with a healthy dose of tenacity. BoatUS won't get involved in disputes already in litigation, and you must be a member of BoatUS to take advantage of our valuable dispute-mediation service. To file a complaint or report your positive experience with a boat, marine engine, product, or service, e-mail consumerprotection@BoatUS.com or write to:

BoatUS Consumer Protection Bureau
5323 Port Royal Rd.
Springfield, VA 22151
Phone: 703-461-2856
Fax: 703-461-4674

Don't forget the Consumer Protection Database, a one-of-a-kind list of consumer complaints and safety information. my.boatus.com/consumer/database.aspx.

— Published: June/July 2012

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