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You've Got to be Kidding Me - What's Wrong with Yacht Manufacturers? - Part II

Aug 17, 2007
This article is a continuation of my previous article examining the terrible warranty service of US yacht manufacturers. As I describe in Part I, the US yacht manufacturing industry seems plagued with poor customer service. Many terrible business practices seem prevalent, including:

1. Well known design defects are not disclosed until after the purchase is complete.
2. A belief that saying "we know about that" or "it didn't break, it's a design issue" makes things all right.
3. The customer is blamed for design and manufacturing problems
4. A complete lack of accountability for factory mistakes and warranty service
5. A shifting of effort to the new owner who must deal directly with the manufacturer's suppliers and act as a general contractor to get warranty work completed

My next boat was a significantly more expensive racer / cruiser purchased from an Ohio based manufacturer that builds both the racer / cruiser line and also a line of more expensive cruising vessels in the same factory. Despite going more "high end" with my purchase, the problems were worse.

After a short time sailing, I noticed the steering wheel provided no feedback and was extremely difficult to turn. I could do it with some effort and my football-playing oldest son could too, but my other children weren't strong enough to steer the boat. I called the Dealer, but he absolutely refused to assist in any warranty related issues and forced me to work directly with the factory. The Manufacturer did not like answering the phone or returning messages, so it took weeks (and dozens of calls) to get someone. Finally, I described the problem and was told "yes, that boat has an issue with the rudder bearings. They swell when they get wet." Huh?? You know about this? "Yes," I was told. "Don't worry, we've developed a solution." Sure enough, the Manufacturer came out and fixed the problem in an afternoon and the boat could now be steered without weight training. Although the question remains -- why not fix it before it leaves the factory?

A few months later, I was sailing some 15 miles offshore in Lake Erie (single-handing of course) when the sail track in my high tech carbon-fiber mast blew apart, dumping my mainsail all over the deck. Great fun -- race over, all alone, offshore, mainsail all over the place, a day and a half motor from home. When I was able to call the Manufacturer, I spoke with an executive and questioned how a carbon-fiber mast could have this defect. He told me (you guessed it), "We know about this. It is a defect in the manufacturing process." Turns out the sail track is NOT carbon-fiber (missed in their advertising literature). That part is plastic and it hardens and gets brittle when they bake the mast. Again, I was assured not to worry, that they were well aware of the problem and had a fix. Sure enough, they installed a new sail track system that works wonderfully. I am still left to wonder why the "fix" isn't the standard.

I've saved the best for last. My roller-furler never worked. Despite dozens of calls from the first months I owned the boat, there were always excuses why it couldn't be looked at -- "the mast needs to be dropped, we're busy with boat shows, we're getting boats ready to launch, etc." After 18 months, the manufacturer finally agreed to examine the unit since there was "a known issue with this furler on my model yacht." However, upon examination, we shifted to excuse number two -- it was my fault. It appears that my very presence stepping on the vessel had damaged the unit and it had to be replaced. I was forced to buy another model furling unit and a new forestay, but low and behold, this one also didn't work on my boat. The rigger (not a factory employee) who installed the new unit noticed the forestay tang attachment to the hull was in the wrong place. Subsequent measurement showed this factory defect to be the underlying cause of the furler failure. Despite this smoking-gun, the manufacturer still refused to acknowledge the defect or reimburse me for the new forestay and furler (which was now indisputably a warranty problem) until I got an attorney involved. It's now been more than 2 full years, I still don't have a working furling unit. Guess how many more of their boats I'll buy in my lifetime?
About the Author
Capt Dave Bello is President of Fair Wind Sailing School, an ASA affiliate sailing school. This first part of this article is on the Fair Wind Sailing School site.
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