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Feb 13, 2020

Regardless of how adept you are at routine repairs and maintenance work, the time will come when you need the services of a marine mechanic or carpenter. Don't wait for a breakdown! The best time to find a good technician is before an emergency occurs.

If your boat and engine are still covered by the manufacturers' warranties, your local dealer will be your first stop. Even if the problem isn't covered by warranty, it's a good idea to discuss the problem with the dealer because work done by a non-dealer might void the warranty. If warranties aren't an issue, ask boat-owning friends or consult with a local marine surveyor to get recommendations for a carpenter, marine electrician, and engine mechanic. A repair shop with a mobile unit will make life easier if your boat can't be moved from its berth. Talk with the technician beforehand to get an idea of labor rates, travel charges, and other considerations.

When There's A Problem

Your first step should be to prepare a written outline of what needs to be corrected. This will form the basis of your work order when repairs begin. Particularly with engine problems, describe symptoms, rather than making a stab at what's wrong if you're not sure. Next, get several quotes for the job. Written estimates are essential for all high-ticket repairs. Be aware that only a handful of states have vessel repair laws that require written estimates. Reputable companies will have no problem working with you on this. For complex repairs, such as structural hull work, consult with a marine surveyor and consider having the surveyor serve as a liaison with the repair shop.

Boat repairs can be complicated, so unforeseen obstacles are common. For example, what appears to be a minor leak through the cabin portholes can cause unsuspected rot in wooden structural members. Ask your repair shop how much similar repairs have cost in the past, and what kinds of problems are possible along the way.

Your repair list will become more detailed and may expand as you discuss the project with the shop or mechanic. Be sure the mechanic has a copy of your work order when the project begins.

To keep your sanity and checkbook reasonably intact, keep in mind the following:

  • If your budget is tight, make this clear before the job begins. The shop may be able to suggest ways to complete the project in stages.
  • Get a written estimate before work begins. Even so, an estimate is only an approximation of how much repairs will cost if unforeseen problems crop up later.
  • Ask for a target completion date and write this into your work order.
  • Ask if the repair shop will warrant its work — there's no requirement that they do — and get a clear explanation of what this entails; 30- or 60-day guarantees are the norm and may only cover parts, not labor.
  • When tackling large jobs, boat repair shops often require payments at various stages of the project. Be sure to verify that each stage has been completed before paying. If you can't be on hand yourself, consider hiring a marine surveyor to make periodic checks.
  • Ask the shop to obtain your authorization before proceeding with unforeseen repairs or when work goes beyond the estimated price. Ask to have old or damaged parts returned to you.