Staying the Course

A committed yacht enthusiast seeks a committed builder.
Steve Haefele illustration
“Some disgruntled owners remain tight-lipped, cut their losses and move on to a ski chalet in Colorado.” Steve Haefele

I’m sorry, sir. we cannot service your boat, as its warranty has expired. Here’s a list of boatyards.”

So stated the terse reply my friend Larry received after he contacted his boat’s builder about a leak. “I didn’t ask ’em to pay for it. I just asked ’em to fix it,” Larry said in disbelief. “I get better support from the damn cable company.”

It wasn’t his first time being frustrated. A few years back, the rudder of Larry’s expedition yacht claimed asylum in Panama and fell to the bottom of the canal on the boat’s maiden voyage. He called the builder and was told to call back on Monday because the office was closing for the weekend.

“The incident could have crippled international trade, for God’s sake,” Larry complained. The rudder is still living in Panama, and Larry sold the boat, but he loves to share the story.

Larry is a serial boat buyer—the sort of guy smart builders would love to have as a repeat customer. He can afford the best, is willing to pay for it and has enough mileage left on his clock for more than a few boats. The builders in Larry’s stories often cater to folks like him, have high opinions of their products and aren’t shy about their top-shelf pricing.

“Is this one for sale yet?” I asked Larry.

I also shared his frustrations with a yachtbuilder pal who navigates these same waters and has a family of customers that is cultlike in its passion for his brand. “Coyle,” he said, “keeping customers in this market happy can be challenging if you don’t remember one simple rule: Warranty is an investment.” This bit of wisdom was passed down to my pal from a pioneer in the trade, after my pal asked him how he dealt with extended warranties.

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“Sounds like you have a specific claim in mind,” the old builder responded.

“Yes, a fresh paint job on a boat with a warranty well past its expiration date,” my pal said.

“Did you hear of this from the owner directly?” the builder asked.

“Yes, we were having dinner at the New York Yacht Club,” my pal explained.

“Perfect!” the builder said with a smile. He considered the expense of satisfying the warranty gracefully to be part of his advertising budget.

Both good and bad news travel down the dock quickly. Some disgruntled owners remain tight-lipped, cut their losses and move on to a ski chalet in Colorado. However, committed enthusiasts move on to new rides, seeking advice from others who suffer the same addiction. My builder pal insists there’s nothing to be saved by failing to maintain and properly fund a somewhat flexible warranty program.

Larry has penned a letter expressing his disappointment, while word of his service challenge is already spreading down the dock. Most builders with any sort of shelf life get it, but, in this case, I suspect the damage is already done. Larry may also be penning a for-sale sign and perhaps a want ad too: “Committed enthusiast seeking committed builder.”