Boat repairs can sink your auto-repair shop

'Don't assume as to what your garage insurance covers.'

Guest Column: Robert Mucci
Posted 7/9/12

Since many boats have automotive-type engines in them, it would seem to make sense to have them repaired at a garage that services, well … automotive engines. Such was the case with the owner of an inboard-outboard boat who wasn’t happy with the engine work being done by his boat dealer and who chose instead to have his boat tuned up by his local auto-service station. After all, they had done great work on his cars, so why not?

Shortly after the boat tune-up was completed, he took his boat out and had no issues with how it was running. However, things started to go downhill fast and the boat slowed down while returning to the dock. Soon the area where the inboard-outboard driving mechanism was located sank into the water.

Turns out the seals around the mechanism had been damaged when some oil was spilled on them at the garage, so they didn’t keep the water out of the boat and it eventually sank. When the garage owner found out his coverage didn’t include repairs to boats, it was somewhat of a revelation. But he wasn’t the first, and won’t be the last.

It is not uncommon for garages to repair boat engines or to do fiberglass hull repairs, especially in the heavy-usage summer months where the season is short and the marina operations are at their peak. But should they? To answer this question, we need only to turn to the language that exists in most Garage Keepers Liability coverage, which states fairly clearly, “We will pay all sums the insured legally must pay as damages for ‘loss’ to a ‘customer’s auto’ … left in the insured’s care while the insured is attending, servicing, repairing, parking or storing it in your “garage operations.”

You will note that at no time does the word “boat” appear, nor ATV, snowmobile, small aircraft or futuristic jet-pack, for that matter. Since the words “customer’s auto” and “garage operations” appear in quotes within the policy, this means that these terms are defined within the policy itself and are not left to the reader’s interpretation. If you own a garage, it is important that you understand these two definitions the next time a customer wants to back his 39-foot Boston Whaler Conquest into your garage for needed repairs.

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