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Raising the bar for boatbuilders

NMMA-member builders will have to submit new models for inspection to earn a ‘certified’ seal

NMMA-member builders will have to submit new models for inspection to earn a ‘certified’ seal

Determined to raise the bar for boatbuilders and give customers a safer, better-quality product, the National Marine Manufacturers Association is requiring its member boatbuilders to certify their boats to an industry standard that until now has been voluntary.

By the 2007 model year, all NMMA-member boats should be carrying the logo “NMMA-certified using ABYC standards.”

“I think there’s a real commitment now [in the industry] to grow boating, and a recognition that we’re not going to grow boating simply by advertising and promoting it,” says NMMA president Thom Dammrich. “We have to improve our product quality, and make quality service and sales a priority.” Dammrich says the aim is to improve the overall safety of new boats and the customer boating experience.

Builders that package their boats with trailers will have to offer certified trailers, as well. They also will be required to have a program that measures their customers’ satisfaction with their new boat.

“We’re very strongly committed to measuring customer satisfaction,” he says. “If you know what your problems are, you are going to address them. You are not going to look the other way.”

Dammrich sees this as a first step in the professionalization of the entire industry. A task force of boatbuilders and dealers is working on dealer standards and a dealer certification program, as well as a customer bill of rights and responsibilities. Dammrich expects boatyards and marinas to join in and develop standards and a certification program for their operations, too.

“Our industry is not highly regarded outside the industry for its professionalism,” says Scott Deal, president of Maverick Boat Company of Fort Pierce, Fla., builder of Maverick, Hewes and Pathfinder boats. “We need to get serious and professional. It’s time that the [boating] consumer was afforded that luxury. … There are a lot of builders out there, and a lot of quality builders, but there also are a lot that would benefit from improving their quality.”

All three of the Maverick product lines started carrying the “NMMA-certified” logo in August on their 2005 models. Maverick already was compliant in most areas but still had to make six changes to be certified. “It was an opportunity for us to improve,” Deal says.

Currently 140 of NMMA’s 430 builders voluntarily certify their boats, which means they meet minimum standards set by the American Boat and Yacht Council, a non-profit and largely industry-supported membership organization that authors safety standards for boatbuilding and repair. ABYC has developed 65 standards. Thirty-three of those standards — covering electrical and fuel systems, powering, boat capacity, flotation, navigation, steering systems, bilge pumps and ventilation — are incorporated into the NMMA standard. Technicians physically inspect every new model that NMMA certifies.

Non-certified boats are 15 times as likely to be recalled by the Coast Guard for safety reasons than NMMA-certified boats, says Thomas Marhevko, NMMA vice president of engineering standards. “That is outrageously compelling,” he says.

NMMA certification ensures that a boat satisfies the basic Coast Guard safety standards, as well as additional industry standards.

Some builders will have to do some major re-engineering to get their boats certified. Dammrich realizes that and acknowledges that the 1,500-member NMMA could lose some builder members as a result of the new policy.

“Absolutely, we could lose members,” he says. “But most of our members are closing ranks and saying this is the right thing to do.”