What's In A Name?

By Charles Fort

Safety recall, service bulletin, product correction bulletin, service advisory. What do these terms mean to you?

Recall Badge

While some of these terms may seem similar, they have vastly different meanings for boat owners. Some require by law that manufacturers repair defects, some are internal manufacturer designations for free repairs, and the others are simply internal notifications. Here's what each means for the consumer.

Safety Recall

Issued by the U.S. Coast Guard, often in cooperation with a manufacturer, a safety recall involves a safety problem that relates to a boat or associated equipment less than 10 years old. It also must be a violation of Federal Safety Regulations, or it must be "a defect that creates a substantial risk of personal injury to the public."

Sometimes boat owners are confused because an official recall notification can also be issued under a "service bulletin" heading but will also be called a safety recall on the document. While that may seem unclear, if it says "recall" it's part of the Coast Guard program, and manufacturers have to fix it, even if a boat is discovered with the defect many years after the recall was issued.

A manufacturer can issue a safety recall on its own, even after the first 10 years. It's then considered a voluntary safety recall, but still has the same weight as any other Coast Guard safety recall. Generally speaking, a recall, whether issued by the manufacturer or the Coast Guard, has to be corrected at no charge.

One problem consumers face is that if the manufacturer goes out of business, there may be no recourse, and repairs will be borne by the owner. However, in some cases, if a new company buys the old business, it may be responsible for the repairs or sometimes it may repair the defect as a good-will gesture.

Manufacturers are required to contact the original owners of boats or products to let them know about a recall, but once a boat is sold, it becomes much harder for them because the new owners are less likely to register their boat with the builder. If your boat is less than 10 years old, let the builder know that you're the new owner. For new boats, manufacturers get contact information when you register your warranty, so remember to fill it out. Often you can do it online.

The easiest way to find out if there is or was a recall for your boat, engine, or accessory is to visit the U.S. Coast Guard's recall website at uscgboating.org/content/recalls.php. If your boat is on the list, contact the manufacturer, who can check records to see if the repair has been done. If not, they can direct you to a dealer who can do the repair. Keep in mind that certain things such as haulouts or travel time are usually not part of the covered repair.

If you believe that your boat or engine has a serious safety problem that falls under the Coast Guard's purview and it's not already subject to a recall, fill out the Coast Guard's Consumer Safety Defect Report found online at uscgboating.org. Click on Recalls & Safety Defects, then Consumer Safety Defect Report. Note that reported defects must be a violation of federal safety regulations or create a substantial risk of personal injury to the public. Stalling engines or peeling gelcoat aren't the kinds of issues covered by recalls.

If In Doubt

The BoatUS Consumer Protection department receives calls every year from owners wondering what they should do if they find out their boat or engine has the same problem for which a safety recall was issued, but the boat or engine's year, model, or serial number is not included in the recall. We recommend that you contact the manufacturer in writing to let it know that you have experienced the same problem as the safety recall that has been issued. Sometimes it will make a goodwill gesture and assist.

If you can't get anywhere, contact BoatUS Consumer Protection at ConsumerProtection@BoatUS.com or by calling 703-461-2856, and we'll try to help. If you've already had a recall repair done at your own expense, give the manufacturer the proper identification of your boat or engine and a copy of the service invoice addressing the issue. It should work with you for reimbursement.


Manufacturers who find issues with their products, which may not pose an imminent threat to life and limb but can be dangerous, may issue what is called a "product correction bulletin." Repairs for this are generally free to the boat owner. A "service advisory," like the product-correction bulletin, is a notice to a boat or engine owner by the manufacturer that it is offering something often called a "product improvement program" or PIP, which allows the dealer to be reimbursed by the manufacturer for a number of hours of labor, much like a warranty reimbursement, even when the product is out of warranty. This, too, is generally free.

Most boaters are familiar with "service bulletins." A common reason manufacturers issue service bulletins is for a product improvement or software update. The costs of these types of repairs are often borne by the boater, but sometimes manufacturers help dealers so repairs can be done at little or no cost to the owner. If this is the case, frequently there is a "close date" after which the manufacturer won't reimburse a dealer. If a boat owner brings in his or her boat after the close date, the owner will usually have to pony up the costs to repair. So if you receive one of these bulletins in the mail, take advantage of it as soon as you can because any help offered won't last.

Sometimes, though, the close date is extended at the manufacturer's discretion. For instance, one company reimbursed its dealers for two years after the close date of a bulletin for a defective engine part, making it free to the boat owner.

Some service bulletins are directed at dealers for the purpose of helping them troubleshoot a problem that may or may not be covered by warranty. Other service bulletins may be guides for both dealers and boat owners detailing proactive measures to prevent problems. Whether a service bulletin, product correction bulletin, or marine service advisory, even if the repair is free, associated costs such as travel are typically the boat owner's responsibility. If labor costs exceed the hours the manufacturer is reimbursing the dealer, those costs may also be passed on to the boat owner.

Who Checks For Recalls And Bulletins?

Some shops proactively check for this information when you bring your boat in, but most shops do not. The best shops may even contact you about a safety recall before you get the letter from the manufacturer. While it would be nice to know that your shop will automatically contact you about a recall or bulletin, it falls to the owner to make sure all repairs are done.

The best way to find out if your boat or engine is subject to a service bulletin is to check with your dealer. Make sure you have your hull identification number when you call. When BoatUS's Consumer Protection department is made aware of service bulletins, we enter them into the BoatUS Consumer Complaint database. If you receive one, let us know, and we'll enter it so other members can access it. Email it to ConsumerProtection@BoatUS.com. BoatUS members can visit BoatUS.com/consumer to search.


So how do you find out about bulletins and safety recalls? When your boat or engine is brand new, it's registered under the warranty program offered by the manufacturer. As long as you are the original owner of the boat or engine, the manufacturer will notify both you and the dealer if a safety recall is issued. If a manufacturer has issued a service bulletin or other communication and it doesn't send you a personal letter, your certified shop should address the issue when you bring your boat in for its regular service.

But don't assume the tech or dealer will automatically check for you; ask when you bring your boat in if there are any outstanding bulletins they can address. (See "Who Checks For Recalls And Bulletins" above.) If you purchase a new boat, check with the manufacturer within 60 days of purchase to make sure the dealer has sent in your registration. If you're not the original owner of a boat, register the boat or engine with the manufacturer to be notified of any recalls or service bulletins.  

— Published: October/November 2018

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