BoatUS Consumer Protection Bureau


If You Have A Problem,
We Have A Solution

By Charles Fort
Published: June/July 2013

Misunderstandings between consumers, manufacturers, dealers, and service providers happen all the time. BoatUS Consumer Protection has several services that can help resolve disputes. The best part? They're free for members.

Tips On How To Resolve Or Avoid Disputes

Over the years, we've learned what works and what doesn't when it comes to resolving complaints. Following these guidelines makes it more likely you'll get satisfaction when there is a problem.

Get it in writing.

A dealer or repair facility might tell you they'll "take care of you," but without a written description of what that means, you may end up spinning your wheels when a problem crops up. A friendly handshake can quickly turn into finger-pointing, so if a boatyard tells you they'll warranty the work for six months, make sure it's in writing.

Read your paperwork.

If you're buying a used boat and see "as is" in the contract, there will be little recourse if something goes wrong. New boats come with factory warranties, but they're not all the same. Read the paperwork to find out how the manufacturer handles things like blisters, leaks, and non-functioning equipment. Who handles the engine warranty? What if the refrigerator breaks? If you buy an extended service contract, what's excluded? What are your responsibilities as an owner? If you take your boat to a shop, what's their warranty on parts and labor? Will they contact you before they proceed on further work? What's included in winterizing? Read and save all paperwork.

Keep a maintenance log.

Owners who can provide complete records of all service performed and all problems uncovered have a much better chance of resolving disputes related to maintenance. A manufacturer is more likely to help if they see written documentation of breakdowns, as well as service and repairs.

Use a professional.

Before you buy a used boat or high-value new boat, hire a qualified marine surveyor to inspect it. Not only will they point out problem areas, the report can be a basis for price negotiation. An engine surveyor can uncover issues on expensive gas and diesel engines. The money you spend on their services can save headaches and money later.

Don't delay.

If there's a problem with your boat that may be covered under warranty, let the dealer or shop know immediately. In many places, boats are not used over the winter, but the clock doesn't stop on warranties. Also, don't wait until the end of the season and present your dealer with a laundry list of things that need repair; most warranties require you to inform the dealer right away when there's a problem.

Be realistic.

Don't expect a replacement boat because your refrigerator won't work, or a new engine on one that is years out of warranty. Manufacturers are more likely to respond favorably to reasonable requests.

Be patient.

Many manufacturers have scaled back warranty and customer-service departments lately due to poor economic conditions. Harried employees may need more time to address your complaints now than when business was booming.

Don't bash the manufacturer to the world.

The Internet is a great place to vent your frustrations, but use it judiciously if you have a complaint against a manufacturer. Nothing will sever lines of communication faster than filling up the Internet with rants about a product or how you've been treated.

Contact Consumer Protection.

If all else fails, let us know. Our relationships with manufacturers, forged over years, often result in a more favorable resolution.

Consumer Alerts!

SeaKey, a Virginia-based company providing satellite-based security and monitoring of boat functions, appears to have foundered. Members report the service has ceased and emails and phone calls are ignored. Some members say their credit cards continue to be charged. SeaKey was purchased two years ago by Premier Customer Solutions, though the Virginia State Corporation Commission no longer lists the company as active in the state. It's likely SeaKey is out of business, so customers should stop automatic credit card charges.

Paying up front to transport your boat by sea? You may be in for a long wait to get your money back if there's a problem. Some BoatUS members have reported that they were offered discounts if they prepaid for boat transport aboard ships that sail from the U.S. to international ports. However, when problems arise — such as cancellation of the voyage or incomplete deliveries — getting their money back has been difficult or impossible. Members can access the Consumer Protection Database to search by company name to locate complaints about shipping companies.

Cable replacement needed? If you have an ICOM VHF radio with a crumbling microphone cable, ICOM will help. After a member contacted us about three different ICOM radios that were experiencing insulation degradation of the cables, we contacted ICOM America in Bellevue, Washington. They responded by saying that they would replace deteriorating cables, regardless of model or warranty status. Members will need to fill out a Repair Submission Form and send the microphone and cable, along with a copy of the form (keep one for yourself), to: ICOM America Bellevue Service Center, 2380 116th Ave. NE, Bellevue, WA 98004.

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BoatUS Consumer Protection may be able to help you find a workable solution. If you need help, email us at or call (703) 461-2856.


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