Who's the Best?

Lead Line — December 2002
By Richard Thiel

Who’s the Best?
Rankings are only for models 24 TO 33 feet.
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• Lead Line Index
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 Elsewhere on the Web
• J.D. Power

Chances are you’re going to be hearing about the J.D. Power and Associates’ 2002 Boat Competitive Information Study—at least from the winners—and if you log onto the Power Web site (www.jdpa.com), you’ll find some interesting factoids that might influence your next boat-buying decision.

Power breaks down the boats in the survey into seven categories: ski/wakeboard, bass, small runabouts (16 to 19 feet), large runabouts (20 to 29 feet), pontoon boats, coastal fishing boats (17 to 28 feet), and express cruisers (24 to 33 feet). Further defining the express cruisers category is the requirement that the boat have a galley and an enclosed head.

According to the study, owners of ski and wakeboard boats were most satisfied with their boats, reporting just 2.29 problems in the first year. At the other end of the spectrum were owners of express cruisers, who registered 4.7 problems.

What is probably more significant to most of us is how the builders of express cruisers did in the overall ranking, which is an average of each builder’s score in four categories: Quality and Reliability, Value for Money, Exterior, and Ride and Handling. But before you plug this data into your next buying decision, remember a few things. First, since these rankings are only for models between 24 and 33 feet, manufacturers of larger express cruisers like Carver and Cruisers weren’t invited to the party. So if you’re in the market for a boat that’s larger than 33 feet, you have to ask yourself whether you can apply the findings—good or bad—to larger models.

That said, the envelope please. Sea Ray was the clear winner in this category, getting the maximum rating of five in Quality and Reliability and Exterior, a four in Ride and Handling, and a three in Value for Money. (By some arcane formula, Power calculates that as earning a five overall.) Following Sea Ray with an overall rating of four are Four Winns and Chaparral, while Bayliner, Maxum, Monterey, Regal, and Rinker chalked up threes. Wellcraft finished last with a rating of two.

But wait. On the Web site, there are asterisks after five of the nine brands—Chaparral, Four Winns, Monterey, Regal, and Rinker—indicating a small sample size, which according to a Power rep I spoke with means fewer than 100 respondents. In fact, he also told me that the reason Power restricts its surveys to models up to 33 feet is because of the relatively few number of boats above that size that are produced annually, and the fact that its minimum sampling size is 100. So it’s fair to wonder about the accuracy of these five scores.

Indeed, I—m not sure exactly what to make of all these ratings, but I did find two other interesting conclusions. One can be summed up in a quote by Frank Forkin, a Power partner: “In the automotive industry, the gap between the automakers that lead the way in quality and customer satisfaction and those that are at the bottom is relatively narrow. In the boating industry, there is a large discrepancy between the top boat brands and the bottom boat brands.”

The other is a general dissatisfaction with the boat warranties, both in terms of their duration and what they cover. As we’ve learned from you many times, you’re tired of having to figure out coverages and track down service on the many disparate pieces of gear on a boat—especially a larger boat. You’ve said that you feel one person—the person you bought your boat from—should take care of all of your problems. Now that’s something the manufacturers should study.

This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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