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.

Photo of waving the white flag through mounds of paper

Boat ownership is not always smooth sailing. A while ago, a BoatUS member from North Carolina contacted Consumer Protection, reporting that he was being treated unfairly by the dealer where he purchased his life raft. He had bought the life raft for his boat in case the worst happened and, not wanting to take any chances, had it serviced every year by the dealer. The dealer had told him that as long as the raft was serviced annually (at a cost of several hundred dollars), the warranty would remain in effect. But at the last servicing, the dealer said that a few key items had been water damaged over the last year and wanted to charge the owner hundreds of dollars for repairs. The owner explained that the raft was enclosed all year except for the annual service, but the dealer still refused to warranty the repairs. The owner called BoatUS Consumer Protection. We contacted the manufacturer of the raft, who agreed to cover most of the repair costs, even though they still believed the raft was damaged from exposure.

BoatUS Consumer Protection has several resources that can educate you to be a smarter buyer or seller, show you how to avoid common problems, and go to bat for you if problems arise. These benefits are for members only and are included at no cost with your BoatUS membership.

Dispute Mediation Program

The BoatUS Dispute Mediation Program, the only one like it in the country, is the flagship of Consumer Affairs. We have years of experience mediating between manufacturers and members. We're often able to keep the lines of communication open and find common ground. While we can't solve every problem, we have a good track record facilitating reasonable resolutions.

How To Use It: Dispute resolution comes into play only after your own attempts to resolve a problem have failed to bring about a satisfactory response. Before involving BoatUS, contact your dealer or manufacturer via letter or email with a complete description of your problem and the desired outcome (see sidebar for a link to a sample letter). Here's how to increase your chances of a successful resolution:

  • Include copies (never originals) of any invoices, repair orders, photos, and communications you've already had with anyone involved. In the example above, it's less likely the life raft owner would have gotten any assistance without his original purchase invoice, so always save them, and any other paperwork from your purchase.
  • Be specific with the problem: "The engine always quits when it's first started, especially when it's cold, and then I can't start it again for a half-hour."
  • Describe what's been done already: "The dealer replaced the carburetor twice and adjusted the timing, but it didn't help."
  • Tell them what you want: "A loaner engine while mine is being repaired and tested, or a discount on an new engine."

Give them a reasonable amount of time to respond — 30 days is usually enough. If you don't get an adequate response by then, contact us. Our online complaint form is the best method (see sidebar for a link) because it asks for all the info we'll need to get started. You may also need to send us copies of invoices, repair records, and communications via mail, email, or fax. After evaluation, we'll open a case file and write to the manufacturer on your behalf. We may also contact state and local consumer-protection agencies, talk to industry organizations, and use other industry contacts to try to resolve the problem.

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