BoatUS Consumer Protection Bureau


Boat Warranty Limits

By Charles Fort
Published: February/March 2013

Members send lots of queries to BoatUS Consumer Protection about the small print in boat warranties, everything from "Am I covered for this?" to "What on earth does this mean?"

"What do hull and blister warranties cover?" Each manufacturer has specific language, but typically a hull warranty covers structural defects in the hull. Sometimes builders try to limit what the "hull" actually encompasses, though it's usually defined as the fiberglass shell, including transom, stringers, and related structural reinforcements, which are below the hull-to-deck joint. That means the deck is usually not part of the warranty.

Manufacturers also limit what's considered a defect. For example, gelcoat cracking and crazing usually isn't covered even if the cause is a flexing hull. Hull blisters are caused by water slowly seeping into the gelcoat and hull laminate on boats kept in the water, and many warranties specifically exclude blisters. If blisters are covered, there are usually limitations. For example, Chaparral's warranty says that blisters in the laminate are only covered if they are larger than 1/8-inch in diameter and greater than 1/16-inch in depth. Blister coverage is often prorated, decreasing 25 percent per year. Some manufacturers require the owner to pay for a costly barrier coat to maintain coverage if the boat is left in the water. Sea Ray, on the other hand, prohibits anything other than antifouling paint to be applied in order to keep the hull and blister warranty in effect. Before applying any coating to your hull, check the specifics of your warranty.

Photo of family in a powerboat
New boat warranties have improved over the years, but make sure you know what's covered.

"Is my warranty transferable?" Many manufacturers allow the remainder of their new boat warranty to be transferred -- a strong reselling point -- but only to the second owner. Hull warranties are usually transferable to the second owner as well, but beware that on both warranties, the clock starts ticking the day the boat is delivered to the first owner. Some manufacturers charge up to $1,000 to transfer a warranty.

Usually blister warranties aren't transferable. If the boat has a lifetime hull warranty, it usually won't transfer to the second owner. In any case, manufacturers have specific procedures that have to be followed to transfer a warranty, and failure to dot all the i's can cause grief for the second owner.

"Can I take my boat to a local shop for warranty work?" Usually not. Manufacturers have agreements with their dealers to pay them for hourly warranty work and parts. Dealers are factory-trained and theoretically know the ins and outs of manufacturers' boats best. Sometimes though, a dealer, especially a smaller one, can't take care of complex or difficult repairs, and the manufacturer will make arrangements for a non-dealer shop to do the work and pay them directly. But the manufacturer must authorize it before any work is started, or the owner will be responsible for the bill.

For major hull repairs, such as cracks or delamination, manufacturers will often want the boat returned to them. Be careful here. The Consumer Protection Bureau has received reports that some manufacturers aren't willing to pay for the transportation, or that they keep the boat for weeks. You may be able to negotiate the transportation costs. Be sure to get in writing what the repair entails and how long the factory plans to keep your boat. Note that warranties specifically exclude costs for loss of use, and you'll still have to pay loan payments and insurance if your boat is out of service. When buying a boat long-distance, try to arrange with the manufacturer to have the warranty work done by a dealer that's closer to home.

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