Tiara and Baja: A TALE OF TWO RECALLS
By Caroline Ajootian
[Reprinted from BOAT/U.S. Magazine, May 2000]
Two major boat manufacturers are currently inspecting and repairing hundreds of boats in voluntary recall campaigns that demonstrate just how much latitude boat manufacturers have when it comes to handling safety issues.
Owners of 31-foot to 33-foot Tiara and Pursuit models built by Tiara/S2 Yachts and owners of 36-foot Outlaw models built by Baja Marine Corp. in recent months received warnings from the companies that their vessels may be unsafe to use. While federal law requires builders to recall boats when they don't comply with manufacturing standards or when boats contain manufacturer-generated defects that "create a substantial risk of personal injury," neither campaign exactly fits this definition. And, while companies are required to report recalls to the U.S. Coast Guard, Tiara/S2 has done so but Baja Marine maintains its actions don't fall within the Coast Guard's purview.
Tiara/S2 says it will correct possible fuel tank leaks on more than 700 gas- and diesel-powered boats built as long ago as 1980 [see box]. Leaking fuel can cause fires or explosions. By law, marine manufacturers are responsible for defects only up to five years from the date boat construction began. Tiara/S2's action goes way beyond what is required by law, as the lion's share of the recalled boats were built before 1995. In addition, federal fuel system requirements address only gas-powered vessels.
Baja's action is equally out of the ordinary. The company says it will pay to reinforce hulls on 36-foot Outlaws that could fail when owners take it upon themselves to replace factory-installed engines with heavier and higher horsepower models that "encroach on the upper limits of what our boats were originally designed for." Federal boat defect regulations hold companies responsible only for defects related to design and construction, not for ones caused by unauthorized after-market modifications. Baja is offering to reinforce 73 boats built for the 1997 through mid-1999 model years, regardless of whether they've been repowered.
BoatU.S. first learned of the Tiara/S2 recall when the company approached us in January about publishing its recall notice.
Concerned that owners of older boats may not hear about the recall, Mike Burlingham, Tiara/S2's corporate service manager, asked BoatU.S. to make an announcement in BOAT/U.S. Magazine, which has a circulation of well over 500,000. Through the spring, the company provided us with copies of service bulletins to dealers, letters to owners and lists of frequently asked questions about the recall campaign. The company also notified the U.S. Coast Guard about the campaign.
Tiara/S2 warns owners against operating engines, generators and other electrical equipment, including batteries and shore power systems, until tanks are inspected for leaks. Some owners, unhappy about being left at the dock at the beginning of the boating season, have offered to sign waivers releasing Tiara/S2 from liability.
"We are not suggesting this approach," Tiara/S2 told BoatU.S. "This recall is an effort to protect our customers. Any waiver of liability would not address the safety issues."
Raw gasoline and gas vapors are highly flammable. Although gas leaks are not especially dangerous in automobiles where engine compartments are open to the air, fuel trapped in enclosed engine and fuel tank areas in boats has bomb potential when a heat source or sparks are present.
The Consumer Protection Bureau's database contains reports of fuel tank failures on a 1991 33-foot Tiara and a 1990 Tiara 31 Open. Both cases were reported prior to Tiara/S2's announcement and in both cases the company reimbursed owners for repair costs. Burlingham told BoatU.S. that the company is not aware of or involved in litigation over any cases involving loss of life or property relating to fuel tank corrosion on any Tiara boats.
The Holland, MI, builder says that aluminum "drop" sump style fuel tanks installed at the centerlines of hulls of the targeted boats may be immersed in standing bilge water, causing corrosion. "If this bilge water is not properly routed to the bilge pumps, it's possible for the bottom of the fuel tank to be in constant contact with standing bilge water," Burlingham told BoatU.S. "Faulty design or manufacture is to blame."
Tiara/S2 proposes to repair or replace fuel tanks and add limber holes to improve bilge drainage, a complicated process since gaining access to tanks involves cutting away the cockpit floor. The company initially experimented with high-tech fiber-optic video equipment and mirrors to inspect tanks but found that neither gave an accurate enough view.
"After reviewing the videotapes of these inspections, we came to the conclusion that we would be unable to be certain about a tank's condition," Tiara told BoatU.S. "Tank cleanliness, combined with the inability to touch and view from many angles at suspect areas, prevented our being able to reach conclusions that we could be absolutely sure of."
Factory technicians will perform inspections and repairs will be made at local Tiara/S2 dealerships, at the manufacturer's expense. The company may also reimburse owners who paid to repair fuel tank problems before the recall was announced.
In contrast to Tiara/S2's openness, Baja has played its recall cards close to the vest. The company did not report its campaign to the Coast Guard. In fact, Coast Guard engineers who oversee the defect recall process, were not even aware that the campaign was underway until BoatU.S. forwarded them copies of Baja recall letters telling owners that their boats "may need certain hull strengthening modifications."
Later, a Coast Guard spokesman told BoatU.S. that there will be no push for an official recall campaign because Baja "has taken the right approach" in warning customers about "potential hazards."
Baja first became aware there might be a problem when the boat owned by company president Doug Smith developed cracks. James O'Sullivan, Baja's customer service manager, told BoatU.S. that Smith's boat had been repowered with larger engines. While hull damages appeared on a handful of repowered boats, he said no damages had been reported on any boats carrying factory-installed engines.
Published factory-installed engine options on the 36 Outlaw range from twin 310-hp I/Os up to twin 800-hp I/Os - for a blistering total of 1600 hp. Higher horsepower engines place considerably more stress on hulls that may already be reaching their limits.
Factory modifications, made at no cost to boat owners, include reinforcing hull panels below the engine compartment, installing braces in fuel tank compartment bulkheads and adding stringers along the keel. The cost is estimated to be under $5,000 per boat.
"We went back and looked at the product line. The boats were within the design scope and within our safety factor. But we decided to increase our upper margin of safety," O'Sullivan told BoatU.S.
"While we cannot force a customer to have the procedure done ... we do strongly recommend that the procedure be performed as soon as possible," Baja Marine said in letters to owners. A New York owner who hesitated about accepting repairs was told, "Your decision to delay is made at your own risk and peril." He later agreed to send his boat back to the factory.
The letters initially sent to boat owners make no mention that problems could be related to retrofitted engine installations. Baja only provided this information months after BoatU.S. requested a more detailed explanation of the Outlaw's defects.
"Any information requested on a specific product by a consumer with regards to the construction of our boats remains proprietary to our corporation," O'Sullivan said. "With that being said, we are also very understanding to [sic] the needs of our consumers and do whatever we can to assist them with their customer service or product related questions as we can."
"We would prefer to discuss any issues or concerns with the individual boat owner," O'Sullivan said.
Owners of boats which may be involved in the Tiara/S2 and Baja Marine campaigns should contact the manufacturers directly [see box]. The Consumer Protection Bureau can assist BoatU.S. members who experience problems obtaining service. Call 703-461-2856 or e-mail [email protected]
TIARA AND PURSUIT MODELS RECALLED:
1983 through 1993 Tiara 3100 Open, Continental Open, Flybridge Open & Convertible HINs: SSUT1161M83A - SSUT1A05F293 (only boats with long-range single fuel tank option)
1980 through 1997 Pursuit 3100 Open, Hardtop & Flybridge HINs: SSUP1001M80A - SSUP1A88D797 (only boats with long-range single fuel tank option)
1990 through 1994 Pursuit 3250 Open, Express Fisherman & Tiara 3300 Offshore HINs: SSUL2001K990 - SSUL2035K394 (all boats)
1988 through 1997 Tiara 3300 Open HINs: SSUC3001C788 - SSUC3332E797 (all boats)
1986 through 1990 Tiara 3300 Flybridge SSUP3001F586 - SSUP3104H990
Note: Boats with dual tanks are not involved in recall, only those with single tank with fuel tank "sump."
For more information, visit the Tiara/S2 Yachts web site, http://www.s2yachts.com/service.htm
. Owners can type in their hull identification numbers to learn if their boats are recalled. Or, call Andy Prietz, Customer Relations Manager, Tiara/S2 Yachts, 616-392-7163.
BAJA 36 OUTLAW MODELS RECALLED:
1997 through mid-1999 boats. Manufacturer has not released information about hull identification numbers.
For more information, contact James O'Sullivan, Customer Service/Warranty Manager, Baja Marine Corp., 419-562-5116.