You've probably heard the horror stories, but never met anyone who's had it happen to them. That's because, nowadays, most boats are well made. But it happens. You buy one fresh off the showroom floor and it's worse than a lemon -- it's a nightmare. A bad dream with walk-on parts from dealers, builders, mechanics, and, in the worst cases, lawyers. What follows is not a tall tale from a dockside bar. It happened and it was ugly. The only good part is that we can all learn something from it and try to make sure it doesn't happen to us.
We'll call him Dan. Two years ago Dan bought a beautiful 32' sportfisherman, a dealer demo sold as new with a full factory warranty. He paid up, took delivery, and life looked sweet.
But the problems started right away. Some were niggling concerns: When he turned the battery switches to Off, some 12-volt equipment stayed on; a missing support strut for the engine room hatch kept it from staying open. Some were more serious: The boat wouldn't steer properly at cruising speed, and the engines showed excessive corrosion after only a few hours of use.
So Dan hired Maddock Marine Services, a marine surveying firm from Hampton Bays, New York, to document the problems.
"I knew this was going to be serious before I climbed aboard," says Maddock. Walking across the boatyard his experienced eye noticed that the hull didn't look symmetrical: The spacing between the chines and strakes was different port and starboard. It turned out he was right -- the boat was 2" wider, keel-to-chine, on one side. Maddock's survey soon revealed other defects as well, such as structural bulkheads that didn't reach the hullsides. A lake-bound runabout wouldn't last with such feeble support, never mind a sportfish intended to run the open ocean. In the end, Maddock's report ran 40 pages with a dizzying list of defects. When Dan saw it, he was crushed, and all he could manage to say was, "If only I had known."
The manufacturer tried to correct the problems and was successful with some. Others such as the unbalanced hull could never be remedied. Now both sides have put attorneys on notice, and the fate of the boat, and several hundred thousand dollars, is in question.
Dan is an experienced boater with two decades of sea time. If it can happen to him, it can happen to you. To ensure that it doesn't, consider hiring a marine surveyor to inspect your new boat before you buy. Yes, new boat.
As we have seen, builders make mistakes. It's rare, but they shouldn't become your problems. Once you've found the boat of your dreams, here are some points to go over before calling a surveyor. This list is a lot more targeted than a typical walkthrough. Although it's not an actual survey, it's a good start on keeping the nightmares at bay.