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BoatUS: Recalls, Bulletins and Advisories Explained

Recalls, bulletins and advisories often offer fixes for no charge.
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SPRINGFIELD, Va., April 3, 2019 -- Safety recall, service bulletin, product correction bulletin, service advisory: What do these terms mean to you? Some use the force of law to require manufacturers to repair defects. Some are manufacturers’ goodwill offers for free repairs, and the others are simply internal notifications that may not be much more than an “FYI.” Here’s what each means to recreational boaters.

“Safety Recall” and “Volunteer Safety Recall”: Issued by the U.S. Coast Guard and often with a manufacturer’s cooperation, a “safety recall” involves a safety problem that relates to a boat or associated equipment that is less than 10 years old. The recall must pertain to a violation of federal safety regulations or “a defect that creates a substantial risk of personal injury to the public.”

An official recall notification can also be issued under a “service bulletin” heading, but will also be called a “safety recall” on the document. Regardless, if it says “recall,” it’s part of the Coast Guard program and manufacturers have to fix it at no charge, even if the boat’s defect isn’t discovered until many years after the recall is issued. A manufacturer can also issue a “volunteer safety recall” on its own, even after the first 10 years, and it still has the same weight as any other Coast Guard “safety recall.”

If a manufacturer goes out of business before the recall can be addressed, you are out of luck. If a new company buys the old business, however, it may be responsible for the repairs or it may repair the defect simply as a goodwill gesture.

“Product Correction Bulletin” vs “Service Advisory” vs “Service Bulletin”: With issues that don’t pose an imminent threat to life and limb but can be dangerous, a manufacturer may issue a “product correction bulletin.” Repairs are generally at no cost to the boat owner. A “service advisory,” like the “product correction bulletin,” is a notice to a boat or engine owner that a Product Improvement Program (PIP) may be available that allows a dealer to be reimbursed by the manufacturer for a number of hours of labor, much like a warranty reimbursement, even if the product is out of warranty. This, too, is generally at no cost to the boat owner.

A common reason manufacturers issue “service bulletins” is for a product improvement or software updates. 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 unless past the official “close date.” Even then, some manufacturers have been known to extend close dates as a goodwill measure.

Some “service bulletins” are directed to boat dealers for the purpose of helping manufacturers 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. Regardless, if it is a “service bulletin,” “product correction bulletin” or “marine service advisory” and the repair is free, associated costs such as haulouts or travel aren’t typically covered. If labor costs exceed the hours the manufacturer is reimbursing the dealer, those costs may also be passed on to the owner.

How to check your boat for recalls: Manufacturers are required to contact the original owners of boats or products to advise of a recall, so new boat owners should always register the warranty so they may be contacted. Once a boat is resold, it becomes more challenging for manufacturers to remain in contact with subsequent owners. Regardless of the boat’s age or which owner you are (second, third …), contact the manufacturer and let it know you’re now the owner.

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, which can check records to see if the repair has been done. If not, it can direct you to a dealer that can do the repair. Again, some expenses such as haulouts are usually not included.

In addition, BoatUS Consumer Protection offers BoatUS members free access to the BoatUS Complaint Database, the only national database devoted solely to problems involving recreational boats, marine engines, and related products and services. To join, go to https://www.boatus.com/membership/.

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About Boat Owners Association of The United States (BoatUS):

Celebrating more than 50 years, BoatUS is the nation’s largest organization of recreational boaters with more than a half-million members. We are the boat owners’ voice on Capitol Hill and fight for their rights. We are The Boat Owners Auto Club and help ensure a roadside trailer breakdown doesn’t end a boating or fishing trip before it begins. When boats break down on the water, TowBoatUS brings them safely back to the launch ramp or dock, 24/7. The BoatUS Marine Insurance Program gives boat owners affordable, specialized coverage and superior service they need. We help keep boaters safe and our waters clean with assistance from the nonprofit BoatUS Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water. Visit BoatUS.com.