A Crownsville Man Pushes'lemon Law' For Boats

February 21, 1991|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,Staff writer

Mickey O'Malley bought his 32-foot cabin cruiser, dreaming of a sweet life on the Severn.

But the Crownsville resident says his dream soured when he realized he had purchased a lemon.

In the water barely 11 hours, O'Malley's $68,500 boat broke down.

"When we first saw the boat, it had cosmetic problems," O'Malley said. "The dealer said not to worry. Then, 15 minutes away from the pier, we had engine problems and ended up stranded on a sand bar."

Then, the boat began to list 4 inches to the left. "It looks almost like it's sinking," O'Malley said.

Although mechanics eventually discovered more than 32 manufacturing flaws, including an incurable list, O'Malley said the factory refused to take the boat back.

The House Economic Matters Committee is considering a bill, sponsored by Delegate Marsha G. Perry, D-Crofton, that would guarantee boat owners that they can return chronically troubled boats to their manufacturers. The proposed Vessel Warranty Enforcement Act of 1991 is modeled after a 1984 "lemon" law protecting car owners.

The number of "lemon"boats reported in Maryland is small, Perry said. The attorney general's office has estimated it would receive fewer than 50 complaints per year under the proposed law.

"Unfortunately, it happens to a lotof first-time boat owners, who are making a substantial investment,"Perry said. "We're not trying to deal with every fastidious boat owner who wants the perfect boat. But boat owners do have a right to a boat that works properly."

Marine and banking industry officials, who opposed the bill during a hearing last week, say it is unnecessaryand could be detrimental to their businesses.

No other state has a boat "lemon" law, said Mick Blackistone, executive director of the Marine Trade Association of Maryland. And four states recently rejected proposals similar to Perry's, he said.

The small number of complaints don't warrant such "rather far-reaching" legislation here, Blackistone said. The MTAM, which represents about 1,500 boat-related businesses, receives about two calls a year; the U.S. Coast Guard's consumer protection hot line receives fewer than 20 calls a month nationwide, he said.

Because Maryland boat dealers partially assemble the recreation boats they sell, Blackistone said he's concerned the dealers could be held responsible for manufacturing flaws.

A lobbyistfor the Maryland Bankers Association also said he fears banks that make boat loans may bear the brunt of a "lemon" law. If a boat is declared a "lemon," it will lose its value as collateral, he said.

TheBoat Owners Association of the United States, which has 380,000 members nationwide, became involved in 600 consumer complaints last year,said Caroline Ortado, consumer affairs administrator. The association supports Perry's bill, she said.

O'Malley, who purchased his boat at the Annapolis power boat show in 1987, has formed Marylanders for a Boat Lemon Law.

"The horror story we're telling is not the only one," O'Malley said. "People have found problems, tried to get themfixed four or five times. Meanwhile they miss an entire boating season. And by the time the next season has rolled around the warranty has expired."

"Not all boats are bad, but there are lemons out there," O'Malley said.

The House Economic Matters Committee could vote on the bill Saturday.

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