U.S. Boat Builders Beat Automakers to 5 Year Warranties! - 07/16/2008
Untitled Page America's premier boat builders are offering comprehensive 5-year warranties for most components, in addition to their usually longer coverage for structural elements. Given the complexity of boats, the terrible pounding they must endure, and the fact that they are built by hand in very low production numbers compared to automobiles, this is a monumental customer service achievement. By baking in 5-year warranty and service contracts, a handful of U.S. boat builders have set themselves apart not only from their competition -- but also from the world's very best automobiles. 

Studies done this spring by BoatTEST.com indicate that warranties are now much more important than they have been in the past to new boat buyers.  Longer, comprehensive warranties signal higher quality and more value in the minds of consumers.

BMW 7 Series Mercedes SLR Lexus LS
4 Years
Mercedes SLR 
4 Years
Lexus LS 600 HL
4 Years
Formula 45 Premier 275 Larson Cabrio 370
Formula 45 Yacht 
5 Years
Premier 275 PTX
5 Years
Larson Cabrio 370  5 Years

In a study BoatTEST.com conducted this spring among its readers we found that boat warranties have become a fairly high priority when buyers select a new boat. Several years ago, BoatTEST began publishing warranty information along with its tests and we have watched more and more visitors click on this data button over the past 18 months. These days new boat buyers want hassle-free, turn-key boating experiences. They want a boat which is reliable from stem-to-stern and one in which the builder takes responsibility for the components it installs.

The days of builders saying "it's not my fault" when a bilge pump or engine goes south are not gone yet, but we're well on our way to a new paradigm of builder responsibility. As always it is a few leading players who set the mark higher, forcing all of the players to suck it up and do better.

Formula's 5-Year Program

Formula's warranty

The first builder that we noticed making the leap to a 5-Year Warranty on most components was Formula back in 2001. This company has long been a leader in high-quality fit and finish, innovation, styling, and rugged construction. Formula's roots are in offshore racing boats so it has known for a long time how to keep its boats together. But keeping the hull in one piece and making sure that scores of components from dozens of different vendors keep on ticking for five years in a saltwater environment (with some owners who never heard of the concept of preventative maintenance), is an even higher order of difficulty.

Formula calls its program the "5-Year Protection Plan." Here is how the company explains it: "Each Formula is protected by a combination of original manufacturers' warranties and supplemental product protection, which provides comprehensive coverage for a minimum of five years from the boat's original purchase date.

"In general, Formula and the boat's major component manufacturers (engines, transmissions, generator) administer warranty for the first year of ownership. Thereafter, a supplemental product protection plan - Formula Guard - takes over, providing extended coverage for many factory-installed accessories and components, including the major items noted above."

Click here to see a video of President Scott Porter explaining the warranty program...

Click here to read more about Formula's warranty...

Larson Goes 5-Years

larson's warranty

Last fall, Larson introduced their new warranty program called "Five to Life." Essentially, it offers a mix of OEM warranties and a service contract adding up to five years on all components, plus a lifetime warranty on the hull. Importantly, the warranties are not "pro-rated" on the age of the service contract and the component. In other words, if a bilge pump dies in the fourth year of the program, you will receive 100% of the cost of the pump, not 20% (the value of the one year of life left on the 5-year guarantee).

Larson also makes note of the fact that they cover osmotic hull blistering for five years. It is interesting to note that some builders do not warranty their hulls against blistering at all. Larson puts a value on their warranty, saying that it runs from $1900 to $6400, depending on the model, which is what you would have to pay to buy a service contract. This builder's package includes coverage for TVs, stereos, all electronics, switches, gauges -- and even lights that are factory or dealer installed. Towing, hoisting and blocking also are covered for the first $50 to $100, depending on the procedure. Overall, it is a comprehensive program.

Click here to view a video of Larson General Manager Jeff Kruschek explaining the program...

Click here to read more about the Larson "Five to Life" warranty program...

Premier's 5 Year Toon to Toon

Premier Warranty

Last year Premier also instituted a comprehensive 5-year warranty program. Premier covers every pontoon boat it makes with what it calls "...an ALL-INCLUSIVE limited* warranty on mechanics and construction and our personal commitment to customer satisfaction. Every screw, staple, cleat, bracket, couch, helm, wire—everything—is covered and eligible for full replacement. In addition, we continue our exceptional lifetime warranty on decks and rotocast furniture, a 20-year warranty on Bimini frames, and a 5-year warranty on carpet and vinyl."

Premier is one of the few companies, maybe the only one, which audaciously uses the term "stem-to-stern" coverage. One might think that a pontoon boat is relatively simple compared to a Formula or a Larson, and that is certainly correct. Even though Premier is building boats with sterndrive engines, heads, galleys and many other amenities usually associated with larger boats, they are apparently less problematical. Nevertheless, there are boat builders who make boats a lot less complex than pontoon boats that keep their warranties to one or two years.

These three companies are not the only ones with 5-year warranties. Cobalt and Correct Craft also have 5-year warrranties and other companies have 5-year, 10-year or lifetime warranties on hulls. Before you buy, check out this important factor.

All Warranties Are Not the Same

Take the time to read the fine print when it comes to warranties. More and more, we find that builders are getting away from the lawyering that was once prevalent and are just using plain language to explain what is, and in some cases, what is not covered. This is smart, since expectation is everything and obscuring what is really not covered will only cause ill will in the future.

We should add that all companies are not the same, either. Every month BoatTEST receives a call or two from owners who are disappointed that their builder is dragging its feet on the warranty bargain. While there are -- thankfully -- few of these calls, there does seem to be a pattern. Some companies seem to jump on problems and others apparently drag their feet. Some companies interpret their warranty quite strictly, while others are more interested in a happy customer even if they know the owner is abusing them.

Before buying a boat, ask your dealer what component is most likely to fail and whether it is covered and for how long. Ask if the builder pays his "shop rate" for warranty work. The dealer will either say that it does, or he will get high blood pressure. If it is the latter, chances are that you are considering a brand that has a flinty attitude when it comes to warranty work.

We applaud the builders that have comprehensive 5-year warranty or service contracts.