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Disclaimer:   I am not a spokesperson for the US Coast Guard. For an official interpretation of regulations you must contact the US Coast Guard or other organization referenced..   More..... 

 

Boat and Boating Related Recalls

For recalls on boats  or related equipment, go to http://www.recalls.gov or the U. S. Coast Guard at http://www.uscgboating.org/multimedia/repository.php for safety alerts or http://www.uscgboating.org/content/recalls.php  to search the database for a specific boat manufacturer. 

Boat manufacturers have a responsibilty to conduct recalls on their boats if the boat contains a safety defect. If your boat is included in a recall, you should get a letter from the boat manufacturer notifying you . However, if you bought a used boat,  they will not have your name and address, so if you buy a boat that is less than ten years old, notify the manufacturer so you will be on their owner list. 

If the boat is over ten years old the manufacturer is no longer required by law to notify you of safety defects. This is because their responsibility for compliance with Federal Regulations only lasts ten years from the date of manufacture of the boat.

If you are notified of a defect, the manufacturer is required by law to correct it at their expense which may include transportation of the boat.  It is up to the manufacture how they are going to accomplish the recall.  They could have local dealers do the work, or send technicians to the boat.  Or they could have the boat shipped back to the factory.  If there are many boats involved it may take some time.  Some recalls have taken several years to correct all the boats involved when there were hundreds or even thousands of boats to be corrected.

Defects

What is a safety defect? Obviously, if they violate any of the Federal Regulations, such as not enough flotation, or too much horsepower, or too large a capacity on the label, that is a safety defect. But other problems can be a safety defect too.  A safety defect is something that occurs suddenly and without warning and that can kill or injure you. It doesn't have to be something required by a Coast Guard regulation. For instance Alternating Current circuits on your boat (110 volt AC like in your home) are not covered by Federal Regulations,  but if the AC electric circuits on your boat are not wired correctly, creating a fire or shock hazard, that could be a safety defect. Or, if your boat collects carbon monoxide in the cabin, that's a safety defect.

So what is not a safety defect? Warranty problems are not a safety defect. The following are not considered safety defects; crazing in the gel coat, an engine that has a bad habit of quitting or not starting or, something that can cause injury but doesn't sneak up on you. If you know it's there but you ignore it until it becomes so bad you have an accident, it may not be considered a safety defect.

Occasionally the US Coast Guard will consider something a defect that was not considered a safety defect before, but became serious enough that they require the manufacturer to correct the problem.  For instance, until about 2003 the Coast Guard had never considered hull defects "a defect that creates a substantial risk of injury".  However, in 2004 they directed a major manufacturer of offshore sport fishing boats to recall a specific model because of hull cracks that could result in catastrophic failure, even though the cracks didn't develop "suddenly and without warning". So, it depends on the nature and extent of the problem. It also depends on how many boats are involved. In this case it was not just one boat, it was several hundred. If it is just one boat they may not declare a recall, but may still require the builder to fix the one boat. Each case is evaluated on it's own merits.

So if you have a problem and you think it is defect, first discuss it with the manufacturer.  If it is not a safety defect it may be covered by your warranty.  Or if it is a safety defect, you must give the manufacturer the opportunity to correct it.

So when do you contact the Coast Guard?  If you have exhausted all options short of taking legal action, you can file a consumer complaint with the Coast Guard.  They will review it and determine if it is a safety related defect. If it is, then they will contact the manufacturer and attempt to resolve the situation.

 However, if it is not a safety related defect, they cannot intercede with the manufacturer on your behalf. They are not allowed to get involved in disputes between a consumer and a manufacturer. If you have already started legal action the Coast Guard will not get involved.

For general inquiries call 202-372-1077

Or write to:

Commandant
U.S. Coast Guard
Chief, Recreational Boating Product Assurance Branch (CG-BSX-23)
Office of Auxiliary and Boating Safety
2703 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave, SE
Washington, DC 20593-7501

 Or, fill out the form online at http://www.uscgboating.org/php-contact-form/consumer-safety-defect-report.php

Beyond The Law: Other defects and warranty problems.

In addition to the Coast Guard there are consumer groups, such as the Boat Owners Association of the United States (BOAT/US) that have their own definition of a defect. They can put a tremendous amount of pressure on a manufacturer to fix a problem. Every state has a consumer protection office usually run by the state attorney general. If the manufacturer is in your state, contacting the consumer protection office may help.

So what about other defects?  Boat Owners are obviously concerned about any defect in their boat. To a boat owner, anything that is wrong with the boat is a defect.

For example, one of the non-safety problems boat owners occasionally have with new boats is, the boat leans (lists) to one side or the other. If this list is more than a few degrees it can be very noticeable and disturbing to the boat owner, particularly if the boat lists while at speed. If it lists suddenly and without warning, or does other odd behavior, like suddenly turning to the right or left, or nose diving, these might be considered by the Coast Guard to be a safety defect.  But if it lists when standing still and even if the list does not go away when moving, this may not rise to the level of a safety defect, but the owner still isn't going to like it.  Generally this is a weight distribution problem. Simply shifting weight around may cure it.  But what if it doesn't?  Sometimes it is a problem with the hull design itself.  See Hottopics, Stability in Small Boats

Another common problem that does not involve safety is gel coat crazing and cracking.  Crazings are those little spidery lines that show up after time in the gel coat. Cracking is deeper and more serious and can extend into the laminate, and if deep enough can cause structural failure. A  boat owner wants a pretty, perfect finish on his boat. If  after a year of use the boat has lots of little spidery lines in the gel coat, you, the owner, might consider that a defect.

The boat owner should contact the manufacturer.  It may be covered by the warranty.  Read your warranty carefully.   The warranty should state what is covered and what isn't. It should tell the customer how to go about getting problems fixed. The sooner you do this after acquiring the boat the better. If you see a problem right away, don't ignore it. If possible enlist the help of the dealer who sold you the boat so they can verify to the builder that there is a problem. Take lots of pictures. Provide as much information to the builder as you can.

Typically in the marine industry the boat builder relies on the equipment  manufacturer to warrant the engine, electronic equipment, and other equipment not made by the boat manufacturer.  Even if the builder installed it, they should have provided you with the manuals and warranties that apply. But the boat owner usually expects the builder to be responsible for the whole boat.  You may need to contact the boat manufacturer and find out how to handle problems with equipment on the boat.  But, you will probably have to contact the equipment manufacturer to get the problem resolved.

For more information on a boatbuilders responsibilites see http://newboatbuilders.com/pages/defect.html

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