Choosing a marine tradesman

Your boat has a problem and you need a mechanic, electrician, carpenter, diver, painter or marine surveyor. You are new to boating, the area, or your favorite surveyor just won the lottery and is not returning your calls. What do you do?

Unfortunately I have found many less than professional individuals plying the marine trades. There are ways to reduce your frustration, wasted time and wasted money.

One simple method of searching for a tradesperson is the internet, which has replaced most telephone books and written directories (but they still exist). The internet is convenient, easy to use and will always provide an answer. While there are some sites which vet trades people, this option is limited in the marine trades. The internet however, is very useful in finding brand specific service providers for your specific engine or refrigerator.

Word of mouth from neighboring boat owners is another way to find a repair man. Again your boating neighbor is convenient and easy to access, however their scope of knowledge regarding the specific skill set is likely limited and follow up questions should be asked to assure their problem and the repairer’s skills are similar to your problem and the skill set it requires. On the other hand, if your boating neighbor has negative endorsements, no follow up is required.

One of the most effective methods of finding a good repair person is soliciting referrals. Sources for referrals include boat brokers, boat yards, and marine professionals, such as surveyors, with broad based exposure to the trade and other tradesmen. A mechanic who services an alternate brand of engine may provide very useful reference information for your brand or a marine electrician from one city may provide a name for an electrician in another location.

A combination of these techniques and additional research will provide useful information. Consider the tradesman’s qualifications and certifications, time in trade and specific experience with your problem. Qualifications are provided by manufacturers and include designations such as dealer, distributor or warranty provider. Certifications are provided by various industry organizations including the American Boat & Yachting Council (A.B.Y.C.). While written designations and qualifications do not guarantee professionalism by the tradesmen, they are helpful in the decision process. Once you narrow the field, discussing these issues with the potential vendors allows you to “size them up”; a short discussion about the issue will surely give you insight into their experience, knowledge and ability to help you.

As marine surveyors we are often asked if we are members of professional associations, as membership in these associations are required by many financial and insurance underwriters. While this is a minimum requirement, we still suggest vetting our trade by speaking with a few other professionals in the industry (reputations are usually earned) and perhaps reviewing reports (work product for other trades is harder to review).

For those of you who have been boating for way too long for the above suggestions to be helpful, here are some more advanced considerations in your vetting of service providers. Is your service provider licensed and insured? Licenses for most marine trades are generally limited to local business licenses; insurance on the other hand varies widely and can be important. Sophisticated buyers, such as boat yards and marinas, not only require specific types and limits of insurance but demand to be added as additional insured on policies. While this may be beyond the norm for the boat owner, a copy of a valid insurance policy is fairly simple to obtain.

Another sophisticated consideration in choosing a marine tradesperson is the contract terms. While many of us sign contracts without careful consideration, reviewing of the terms is prudent. Some contracts state that the boat owner has agreed to release the vendor from damage caused as the result of the work performed and even indemnify the vendor from claims resulting from the service. As always reading the contract before signing it is advisable. Anticipating that a contract may be required and requesting it in advance will provide you the time to review its terms and not leave you stuck in a jam.

We were recently asked about options for requiring a major repair job to be completed in a timely fashion. The boat owner was hoping that a performance stipulation could be obtained with his repairer. While not unheard of, performance agreements in boat repair contracts are rare.

Our suggestion, in addition to the above ideas, is to meet the decision maker for the company you are hiring and let your “gut” decide if doing business with them feels good. If the decision maker is not the technician, meet the technician as well and by supporting the true professionalism in the industry, you will increase your boating enjoyment.

An interesting tactic one client used to pick a repairer was to ask the potential repairers to rate each other, and then she chose the one with the highest rating.