Boater Myths Busted!

By Charles Fort

Even if you've been a boater for years, these common misunderstandings can lead you to confuse fiction with fact. Let's avoid shocking surprises, shall we?

Boat hulls at the marina

Q: I have to take my new boat back to the dealer I bought it from to get it fixed under warranty, right?

A: No, any factory-authorized dealer can perform warranty work on your boat. But if you take your boat to a nonauthorized dealer, you'll have to pay for repairs out of pocket unless you have an authorization from the manufacturer. When you buy a new boat, keep in mind that if you don't have a dealer close by, you may be hauling your boat a long distance for warranty work; it's a rare dealer who will come to you for warranty work.

Q: Does my new-boat warranty cover my engines, too?

A: While the boatbuilder offers a warranty on the boat itself, usually the engine manufacturer provides separate warranty coverage for the engine(s). As a result, you may have to go to two different places for warranty repairs. Look for dealers that have technicians who can provide warranty work for both — a big plus. Read your new-boat warranty to learn what the dealer can fix and what you may have to take elsewhere for repairs, such as electronics. A few boat manufacturers now offer true "bumper-to-bumper" warranties that cover everything on the boat, just like new-car warranties.

Q: I'm an experienced boater who does my own maintenance. Will this void the warranty?

A: No, provided you follow the manufacturer's recommended schedule and use quality parts and fluids. Keep detailed records of maintenance, including dates of service, engine hours at time of service, and a description of services and/or parts installation performed.

Q: Is my extended-service contract an extension of my manufacturer warranty?

A: Nope. Service contracts are insurance policies, often underwritten by third parties not associated with manufacturers. These contracts are moneymakers for dealers; some retailers can mark up contracts more than 100 percent over the actual cost paid to the service-contract company. A true warranty offers broad coverage and has the weight of state and federal warranty laws behind it. The best service contracts are those backed by large manufacturers, and some offer their own in-house service contracts. Read the fine print. Most defects in new boats and engines show up within the original warranty period, so spending money up front on a service contract may be a waste of money.

Q: My boat has flotation, so it can't sink, right?

A: Only monohull powerboats 20-feet long and smaller and built after 1972 are required to have integral flotation designed to keep it from sinking, even when swamped. The U.S. Coast Guard requires these boats to be able to remain afloat and, in most cases, upright when filled with water. Sailboats aren't required to have flotation, and inboard/outboard boats have less-stringent requirements than outboard boats. Some manufacturers, such as Grady-White, install flotation in all of their boats, regardless of size.

Q: Do I need bottom paint to protect my boat from blisters?

A: Bottom paint (also called antifouling paint) is designed to protect your boat from marine growth, such as barnacles and slime. You only need it if your boat will be kept in the water for longer than a few days. Blisters, on the other hand, are caused by water seeping into the underlying fiberglass over a long period of time. While they may look unsightly, they rarely affect a boat's structural integrity. An epoxy barrier coat can prevent blisters but is expensive and often isn't needed, especially if your boat lives on a trailer or lift. Hauling a boat out every fall for dry storage ashore can reduce water absorption and the chances for developing blisters.

Q: You should use the highest octane gas you can find, right?

A: Using a higher-octane gas than your owner's manual recommends is a waste of money. Modern engines use electronic controls to let engines run safely with low-octane gas. Some engines can make more power with premium 91-octane gas, but unless the manual says high-octane gas is required, you can safely use regular 87-octane gas. With the price of premium gas often 20 percent to 25 percent more than regular, if your owner's manual says it's OK, you can probably save a bundle using the less-expensive gas, if you're comfortable with its ethanol content.

Q: Marine surveys are a waste of money for smaller boats, aren't they?

A: A professional "condition and valuation" marine survey (typically costing around $15 to $20 per foot) can often pay for itself. It provides a list of deficiencies as well as needed repairs, focusing on safety. Deficiencies can be used to renegotiate the sales price or scrap the deal altogether if the repairs are too expensive or complicated. Without a survey, you may overpay or be faced with unexpected and expensive repair bills. For most people, a boat worth more than a couple thousand dollars is a candidate for a marine survey.

Q: My boat has a capacity plate. Does that mean the U.S. Coast Guard certified that my boat is safe?

A: Neither the U.S. Coast Guard nor any other federal agency certifies boats. Only a few federal laws govern boatbuilding, including flotation requirements for powerboats under 20 feet, passenger- and weight-capacity labels, and fuel-system safety. Manufacturers self-certify that their boats meet these legal standards. The Coast Guard does, however, have a factory-visit program that audits boatbuilders periodically for spot checks and tests a few dozen boats for flotation compliance every year.

A comprehensive list of voluntary standards has been written by the American Boat & Yacht Council (ABYC). Boatbuilders who are members of the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) and build to ABYC standards will have an NMMA-certification label in plain view on most boats built after 2007.;

Q: My car runs fine on ­ethanol gas, so it's OK for my boat engine, too, isn't it?

A: Ethanol is bad for your boat engine. It absorbs water and can contaminate your fuel tank, leading to engine damage. Unlike cars, which have closed fuel systems, boat fuel systems are exposed to air, which allows gasoline to easily absorb water. Also, cars may burn through a tank of gas in only a few days, but gas may remain in boat tanks for weeks or months. Adding a fuel stabilizer helps, but nothing works as well as using your boat before gas goes bad.

Q: Cheaper auto-engine parts work just as well on a boat, right?

A: Not so fast! Substituting certain automobile parts in your boat's engine can be dangerous. Inboard and sterndrive engines are housed in an enclosed space, unlike car engines, which are exposed to air. A small spark can set off gas fumes that build up in a boat's bilge. Boat-engine parts, such as starters and alternators, are designed to be spark-proof or "ignition protected," while automotive parts aren't.

Q: Aren't boat and car insurances pretty much the same?

A: They're different. With boat insurance, you'll buy a policy with an agreed value (an amount you and your insurance company agree your boat is worth) or an actual-cash-value policy (what your boat's "book value" is at the time of the incident). With an agreed-value policy, you'll receive the agreed-upon amount if your boat is totaled. An actual-cash-value policy may give you less than you anticipated.

If you're in a car accident, in most cases you simply call your insurance company and drive your car to an authorized shop. A few days later, you pick it up, sign a document, and you're on your way. Boat claims are different because of the vast differences in boats, the lack of standardized repair parts, and the challenges of making sometimes-complex repairs using a much smaller pool of repairers. Boat repairs also are often significantly more expensive than owners expect. 

— Published: October/November 2016

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