Are You Being Served?

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We’ve all heard about or maybe experienced a similar situation. You finally schedule your boat for service after months of wrangling a simple return call. And then spend more time trying to ride herd over the process than you do working your day job. Soon, you begin to question yourself through a lengthy self-reflection process. Am I losing my mind? I thought he said the work would be completed three months ago. Am I really an “A-hole?” Maybe I’m the problem.

Then the invoice arrives in your inbox with a thud, costing way beyond the estimate. The work is eventually completed, but months beyond the original date, and you’ve missed several planned family cruises. Even worse, the work that took so long to complete is a supremely crappy execution. Then the nasty phone calls and e-mails start flying around in what seems like a never-ending cycle. At the end of the day the joy of boating is tarnished, and you’ve moved to the desert. Yet you hate the heat.

However, I’m not going to join the pile-on. Today as I write this column from the cockpit in Ft. Lauderdale ready to head up to Charleston, with layovers in Stuart, St. Augustine, and Hilton Head, the engines purr and the boat shines all thanks to really talented and caring service individuals. 

I’ve concluded that the above bleak marine service narrative is a lot like 24-hour news: It’s entirely driven—and maybe even requires—a negative focus to keep churning. The facts are often buried deep below the surface. And I’m sorry to say, there are a lot of people in this world who thrive on negativity. (Heck, it’s one reason why I avoid family reunions, and I don’t really need to hear about a graphic gallbladder surgery if I live for another 100 years.)

While preparing to leave Lauderdale, I also receive a call from the yard that takes care of our 1968 Boston Whaler Nauset in Nantucket. She’s ready to go, engine serviced, fresh varnish and wax, the mooring goes in next week, and I was told to just drop off the money the next time we’re on the island. Admittedly, the check will be from my secret boating account that my wife believes is a savings account. Shh.

Why does the Whaler, Resolute, start with the first turn of the key and provide trouble-free service all summer long? One reason only: a great service program. Her previous owner, Bill Sisson, lavished upon her a superyacht-worthy maintenance schedule. Bill, the editor-in-chief of Anglers Journal and former editor of Soundings (both owned by this magazine’s parent company), finally deemed me worthy to take over the responsibility of owning his baby after a lengthy adoption-review process.

Before returning her to her roots on Nantucket last summer, I took Resolute in for a winter service in Essex, Connecticut. Boat nut John Keenan went over her like she was a priceless Ferrari 250 GTO. He found items I wasn’t aware of, cleaned up loose wires, detailed the boat to showroom condition, labeled the change dates on all the filters, and even found better trailer straps that he had in his shop at no charge. The bill was right on the money and the boat was ready when it was supposed to be. So I paid and headed up I-95 for Hyannis to enjoy a summer of trouble-free boating. 

What’s the point of my marine-service Kumbaya? Well, mainly that I for one am willing to change the narrative. An entire industry seems condemned because of a few bad apples. Heck, I choose to take my Audi to another dealership farther away from my house because the service is better, yet I’m not out there complaining that it’s impossible these days to get good service for your car. You gotta love a free market.

The key to finding superior service for your boat is to look for a caretaker, not just a service tech. Once you find that relationship, stick with it and nurture it. Stick with folks like John from Essex who love boats and really enjoy making people happy. “Hey, we’d rather you not have to call us on a Saturday,” he rationalizes to me on why he goes the extra mile.

Today, I enjoyed another wonderful, trouble-free day on the water. All because some “caretakers” gave a hoot and went above and beyond to ensure this boat was flawless. That peace of mind is worth every penny. I’ll see you on the water.

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