Boat builders may have to recall their boats if they contain a safety defect. Learn the rules for recalls.
The Law in the USA:
Other countries also do recalls on boats: See Ike's List
If you discover that your boat has a safety defect you have to;
1. Tell the Coast Guard. 202-372-1077
or write to:
2. Determine what boats are affected and how many.
3. Determine how to fix the problem.
You have to keep a list of people who bought the boats, then;
4. Notify all of the people who bought the boats from you.
5. Fix the problem.
6. Pay the cost to fix them, including transportation if necessary.
If the US Coast Guard tests your boat and it fails, or if they find a safety defect, or it doesn't comply with the law, they can direct you to do all of the above.
What's a safety defect? Obviously if you violate any of the Federal Regulations, such as not enough flotation, too much horsepower or too large a capacity on the label. Those are all safety defects. But other problems can be a safety defect. Something that can kill or injure you can be a safety defect. Usually it has to be something that occurs suddenly and without warning. It doesn't have to be required by a Coast Guard regulation. For instance, if you have AC electric circuits on your boat, and they are not wired correctly, creating a fire or shock hazard, that could be a safety defect. Another example is if your boat collects carbon monoxide in the cabin, that's a safety defect.
So what is not a safety defect? Typically warranty problems are not a safety defect. 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, that is, you know it's there but you ignore it until it becomes so bad you have an accident.
What the US Coast Guard considers a safety defect changes from time to time. Each case is considered individually. Sometimes things that were not considered a safety defect become serious enough they become a safety defect. 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 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 require the builder to fix the one boat.
So if you have a problem but you don't think it is defect, discuss it with them anyway. This shows you are a concerned, conscientious builder, and at the same time lets you know whether you will have to do a recall or not. If you do this consistently, in the future they will know and trust your judgment.
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, even if the coast Guard doesn't require it.
So what about other defects? Consumers are obviously concerned about any defect in a boat. To a consumer, 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 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 well be considered by the Coast Guard to be a safety defect. But if it lists five degrees 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 cures it. But what if it doesn't? Sometimes it is a problem with the hull design itself. This occurs often in narrow deep vee boats. How do you correct a design problem on an existing boat? See Hottopics, Stability in Small Boats
Another common problem that does not involve safety is gel coat crazing and cracking. Crazing is 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. How are you going to deal with a customer, who wants a pretty, perfect finish on his boat, and after a year of use has lots of little spidery lines in the gel coat?
This is where you have to decide just how much you value your customers. Do you stand behind your product? How far are you willing to go to satisfy the customer? Are you willing to go so far as to take the boat back and give them a new one? These are all very important decisions that any business must deal with. Unfortunately, some boat companies have a reputation of not taking care of problems with their boats. How are you going to make sure this doesn't happen to you?
You should have a warranty. The warranty should state what is covered and what isn't. It should tell the customer how to go about getting problems fixed. Typically in the marine industry the boat builder relies on the engine manufacturer to warrant the engine. The same is true of electronic equipment. But the boat owner expects you to be responsible for the whole boat. So how are you going to handle this? You need to put a lot of thought into this and decide how you a going to deal with it before problems arise. For information on warranties see the page on the business of boatbuilding.
What I am talking about is customer service. You need to decide how you are going to provide customer service and to what level you will provide it. What are you going to fix and what are you not going to fix? Where do you draw the line and say "this time the customer is not right"? In our consumer society, good customer service can often be the difference between a successful business and a failed business.
There is a thing in the business world known as "goodwill". Large corporations even place a monetary value on goodwill when they sell the company. Goodwill is really the reputation of the company. So remember to protect your reputation, and the best way to do this is to take care of the customer.
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