Charter Boats--acceptable v. unacceptable defects
My wife and I are new to sailing. We have taken ASA 101, 103, 104, and 114. And in the past 14 months we have done three charters in the Bahamas and BVIs.
So not much experience.
We have read enough cruising blogs to realize that things go wrong on boats. What we don't have is a good feel for what defects are reasonable and what defects are unreasonable on a charter boat (and should entitle one to a partial refund or credit). Here were the defects we encountered on our most recent charter (a catamaran):
1. The most dangerous issue was the absence of a backflow preventer on the water heater’s supply line (obviously there was not a thermostat regulating the temp of the hot water, either). The residual heat of the engines heat water well beyond scalding. The absence of a backflow preventer on the water heater supply line allows that scalding water to enter the ship’s cold water supply system. If a sink or shower valve is opened while the water pump is off, steam within the water heater forces scalding water through the supply line, into the cold water system and out the open faucet or shower head. Both my wife and I burned our hands this way before we discovered the problem. Fortunately, neither of us was in the shower when it happened.
2. The most annoying issue for us was that the freezer/refrigerator did not work. We managed our refrigeration needs the same as our great-grandparents, but unfortunately the iceman no longer delivers, so we were forced to go ashore and buy ice to keep our food and drinks cooled.
3. The next most annoying issue was that the reefing lines had become twisted and knotted inside of the boom preventing the sail from being fully raised and causing a crease. We spent considerable time while underway diagnosing this problem and correcting it.
4. There was no rack in the oven making baking or roasting impossible. We managed to broil by supporting a baking pan on top of an unused sauce pan.
5. The hatches over the stern port and the bow starboard hulls leaked. Since there were only two of us onboard, we were able to change cabins when drips from the leaking hatches woke us.
6. The lazy jack lines were so old and brittle that they snapped when we performed a jibe. My wife was manning the main sheet to control the boom, which put her in the line of fire, and the whipping lazy jack snatched her sunglasses off.
7. The throttle friction plates were so worn, that it was not possible to run the engines at 1600 RPMs to charge the batteries as were instructed to do. When the throttles were placed in neutral at 1600 RPMs, they immediately fell back to idle.
8. The throttles were so out of adjustment that when pushed forward evenly, the port engine ran at 500 RPMs faster than the starboard engine.
9. One cockpit light was burned out.
Dingy davits may not be an important issue to charterers who come down to motor between snorkel, dive, beach, and sightseeing opportunities. But they were a significant factor in our selection of this yacht. As mentioned, sailing is a relatively new hobby for the two of us and we most enjoy working on our sailing skills during our charter trips. We deliberately selected a yacht with dingy davits so that we could work on our skills without the drag of a dingy pulling us to one side or the other.
When we arrived at our yacht for an evening start, the stern was up against the dock. Another vessel was in our slip in-front of our yacht, so our dingy was tied to a bow cleat. During our yacht briefing, we mentioned that we would want to install the dingy on the davits before pulling away. Our briefer told us to simply call the dock master in the morning to have the blocking vessel pulled out of the way, so that we could pull our yacht forward sufficiently to raise the dingy on the davits. We did as instructed. When the dock personnel arrived, we were chastised, because we were not ready to leave immediately. We tried to explain that all we wanted was to have the vessel blocking us moved so that we could pull forward sufficiently to raise the dingy on the davits. As the dock personnel untied our mooring lines and tossed them onboard they shouted that the davits were unusable. So as our yacht began to drift unmoored within its slip we were first informed that the promised dingy davits were simply marketing hype with no practical use. I tested the davits that evening. The dock personnel were correct. With no winch to run the lines to, I could not budge the dingy at all with the simply block and tackle that was supplied.
How many years had that boat? Do you had knowledge of that?
Of course this does not forgive bad maintenance, but if you charter an old boat...well, I would say that it is risky, to say the least.
Do you have complained? What was the answer?
" (and should entitle one to a partial refund or credit)."
That's going to be a matter of contract law, subject to the terms of your charter contract, subject to the laws of whatever jurisdiction that contract is subject to.
Some of what you mention is plain stupid on the charterer's part, scalds are a liability issue in the US and might very well be elsewhere. But then again, the average hardware store in the US no longer sells anti-scald valves, they were a passing phase.
I think the answer is to go into the charter with eyes open. Ask the company up front what will be guaranteed, and what compensation you will be given if various things (engine, sail, oven, reefer) aren't working. If they have a larger newer fleet, it is possible to move you into another boat. If they're just managing other people's boats (OPBs) and the boats are somewhat older...sometimes you get what you pay for.
"That's going to be a matter of contract law, subject to the terms of your charter contract, subject to the laws of whatever jurisdiction that contract is subject to."
If it were that simple, we lawyers couldn't make a living. ;-)
But I don't see these kind of issues as "legal/contract" questions. This is a customer service issue. If the vanity light in my rental car doesn't work, that's the way it goes. If the engine doesn't start, that is another matter. In neither event, however, do I pull out the contract to see what it says. As I tell clients, if we have to look at the contract after the day it is signed, that is a really bad day.
I am just not sure where the line is on a charter boat. Obviously to me, the cockpit light being out is not a big deal. But where on the charter boat continuum of problems does, as an example, a non-functioning freezer/refrigerator fall, etc.
Are the issues we experienced on the side of "no problem, mon" or on the side of "you done me wrong."
Did you contact the charter company as soon as you discovered for example, that the refrig wasn't working, to give them a chance to make it right, or wait until the end of the trip? How did they respond?
1. We warned each other when we were going to take showers, to be sure the other one didn't turn off the water pump accidentally.
2. We bot ice and consolidated all the food in the freezer compartment.
3. We fixed the tangled reefing lines.
4. We broiled instead of roasting.
5. We switched cabins.
6. We turned the starboard side of the boat slightly toward the wind when we lowered the sail.
7. We idled the engines at 2100 RPMs (the lowest RPMs where the throttles would stay in place)
8. We learned to control the throttles to keep the RPMs even.
9. The cockpit light didn't really make a difference.
10. We were aggravated that they had marketed the boat as having dingy davits when for all practical purposes that was a deception. We found a spare snatch block on board, tied it to the dingy painter, used a dockline as a rear bridle, and towed the dingy from the centerline of the boat.
None of the issues were fatal, just inconvenient and annoying, but not so big a deal that we were willing to sacrifice our vacation (and objectives) to get it fixed.
It sounds like you learned a lot about flexibility and jury-rigging -- not what you'd planned for the trip, but valuable nevertheless. In terms of the poor quality of the boat you were sent out on, I'm afraid you've rather weakened your case. Had you notified the company [using the refrig as the example], they might have said (as you assumed), "Sure, c'mon back to the dock and we'll fix it." To which you could have said, "No thanks, that will waste too much of my vacation time." OTOH, the company might have had a person they could send to whatever marina you were in on the second night. At the VERY least you could have arranged with them that they would reimburse you for the cost of the block ice you were forced to use or the food that wouldn't keep (ice cream?). Worst of all would be if they assumed YOU had broken the refrig, since as far as they knew they sent the boat out in okay condition and you returned it with a major system not functioning.
If they were really a class act they would have offered to swap you to a different boat if the deficiencies couldn't be repaired quickly. IMHO, with the exception of the first 2, these are things that *might* be within the range of to be expected if you were chartering an older boat; less so the newer the boat / the higher the price.
Live and learn.
I'll bet that next time you want to rent a charter boat in the BVI's you will not use that boat or charter company again. Which company was it by the way?
I'll also bet that on your next charter you will do a thorough job of checking out the rental boat before heading out. Even a short shakedown sail would have turned up some of the problems you found.
I would be pissed if I encountered all the shortcomings you found. I hope you addressed all of these issues to them and I would certainly be hoping for a partial refund if not at least a "Sorry Mon".
I'm glad to hear that you were able to work around all the problems without any major mishaps. You may have just gained more experience then you think.
That is the sort of feedback we were looking for. We are just to new at this to know what is unreasonable and what is reasonable, and hate to be whinners.
As far as the boat inspection goes, you are right. We admitted to ourselves that we should have put off our "arrival happy hour" for another hour or so to better inspect things.
Although, the majority of these items where not the type we could have uncovered easily that night. As an example, the freezer was off when we arrived, so we had thrown ice in at the get go. It took about a day before it dawned on us that the freezer had had adequate time to cool down and yet our ice was all melting.
Our checklist includes winch handles, but not oven racks. It includes checking the fresh water tanks, but not hosing down the deck hatches. It includes inspecting the rigging so we know how to sail the boat, but not actually raising the main to see if it catches on anything. It includes starting the engines, but not running them for an hour to see if they overheat the hot water. Etcetera.
When we returned the boat, we mentioned all these items, but didn't ask for anything. Before I give the charter company a public black mark, I want to chat this over with them.
Charter boats see a lot of use over a short time. Things wear out, fall overboard, break,etc. and the older the boat is, the more problems you'll have. There's a reason they charge more for the newer boats.
We've chartered in Caribbean every year for the past dozen years or more and will not charter a boat that is 5 years old again. Even in the better kept fleets, a 2 yr old boat is entering middle age. Next time you charter, don't hesitate to contact the charter base with any kind of problem. The better ones will send out a chase boat for problems like batteries not holding a charge, or refrigeration not working. (Been there, done that, on more than one occasion). It's also a good idea to have a cell phone that works in the area--except for shadowing by the volcanic terrain in places. Make sure you have the base telephone number before you leave.
One of the more important things you can do is to go over absolutely everything before you leave the base. You may be tired from your trip down, but this is important. Make sure the stove works and stays lighted. The refrigeration should be on before you come aboard and you may find a block of ice in the icebox. If not, put one there for your peace of mind, just in case. We've found that a malfunctioning stove or refrigerator is not grounds for a charter adjustment, according to the contract language, but it doesn't hurt to ask for consideration if a problem took the edge off your enjoyment of "paradise".
The best advice is to go with a reputable operation and select a boat that is no more than 2 years old. It's worth the extra money.
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