How to Post Sale Monitor Boating Product Accidents / Risks / Performance
Many opportunities exist for manufacturers of boating products to monitor their products after sale for previously unknown safety issues, risk, and hazards.
The legal, regulatory, and moral obligations to monitor boating products post sale / post market / conduct post sale surveillance and vigilance are detailed in two previous posts.
This series of posts is NOT legal advice. The articles were written to stimulate action and conversation on this topic
This post is part of a series of posts. Links to the other posts can be found in the Introduction.
Below we will discuss some of the major sources and opportunities for post sale marketing, then conclude with an extensive list of those sources.
U.S. Coast Guard
As mentioned in our post on the legal and regulatory duties of boating industry manufacturers to monitor and warn customers of post sale risks, the Consumer Product Safety Commission operates a database reporting consumer product accidents. The database, National Electronic Injury Surveillance System or NEISS, can be used to estimate the national frequency of certain types of product accidents.
The boating industry’s corollary to NEISS is the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Boating Accident Report Database (BARD). Accidents resulting in injuries requiring treatment beyond first aid, and accidents resulting in $2,000 or more in vessel of property damage are required to be reported. However, many accidents are not reported. The Coast Guard has estimated reporting rates at 10 percent and some studies have estimated reporting rates much lower than that (often called “under reporting”). The boating industry and the Coast Guard insist that fatalities are almost all reported and very severe injuries are mostly reported. Sliding scale under reporting (the more severe the accident the more likely it is to be reported) and the specific exclusion of many accidents (small commercial and government vessels, boats involved in crimes, etc) make national estimates erroneous at best to impossible at worst.
However, BARD is the only game in town. The boating industry says they pursued insurance claims and found them non fruitful as a source of boat accident data.
BARD includes data fields for hull ID numbers (can be sorted by MIC code), boat manufacturer, and marine drive manufacturer. Certain fields are more likely to contain data than others, but a quick alphabetization of one of those columns will identify several accidents related to a specific boat builder or drive manufacturer.
Accident types not specifically classified by BARD are typically identified by text searching the redacted narrative (verbal description of the accident less any privacy information).
Once a specific accident is identified, the redacted narrative is often very helpful in gaining a better understanding of the accident. Then a more detailed look at the many data fields in the BARD tables (accident, vessel, injury, death) provides more detailed information.
When a BARD accident report becomes of greater interest, the full accident report can often be obtained from the State in which the accident occurred. State boating accident reports often include statements from eye witnesses, first responders, and investigators.
The Coast Guard employs a contractor to monitor media reports of boating accidents and create an annotated list of those accident reports including a URL link to the original news report. USCG then individually checks accidents on that annotated list against individual accident reports USCG receives from the States. If USCG does not receive a corresponding state accident report for each of the media reports, USCG sends that media accident report to the states for follow up. This resource (USCG’s existing log of media coverage of boating accident reports) is another possible tool for the industry to monitor their products in the field. Boat types, boat manufacturers, boating activity, marine drive manufacturers, and some details of the accident are often provided. The original media reports often provide photos and/or videos as well.
USCG publishes an annual statistical summary of BARD data called the Annual Recreational Boating Statistics. The report does not contain individual accident data, however it does contain useful summary information.
The Coast Guard investigates consumer complaints about recreational boats and related equipment. They review safety tips, news, recalls, defects, and laws and regulations dealing with: recreational boats and personal watercraft, boat manufacturer installed equipment, and boating safety issues. Current recalls and an opportunity to report a boat safety defect are at Recalls.gov.
The Coast Guard’s Recreational Boat Manufacturer Factory Visit Program may identify a previously unknown risk/hazard at a boat builder that needs addressed on production units already in the hands of customers.
USCG occasionally publishes studies on certain types of accidents, most often in conjunction with proposed regulations, or at the the request of the National Boating Safety Advisory Council (NBSAC). The kill switch preventable accident studies, the houseboat CO2 studies, and the houseboat propeller strikes data in a previous Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) are examples.
Boat owners often turn to boat builders, marine drive manufacturers, and other boating industry manufacturers when their products fail in an attempt to have them replaced under warranty or at little or not cost, and to prevent others from enduring the same problems. When those boat owners feel they were not properly dealt with, they often turn to the BoatUS Consumer Protection Bureau. BoatUS’s Consumer Protection Bureau provides an informal dispute mediation service in which manufacturers and owners can reach an agreement. Their service includes a large database of complaints. The BoatUS complaint database is an excellent source for component failure information.
Corporate Legal Departments
Boating industry legal departments are often involved in boating safety issues, warnings, duty to warn, and reacting to product related accidents.
Some companies in the boating industry actively monitor accidents involving their products in an attempt to get ahead of the legal curve (potential litigation). Those incidents need to be recorded and addressed by their safety departments as well.
NMMA / BIRMC
The National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) has a committee called the Boating Industry Risk Management Council (BIRMC).
NMMA’s website defines BIRMC’s mission:
NMMA Boating Industry Risk Management Council (BIRMC)
Mission: Promotes boating safety by identifying significant potential risks that may present a hazard to recreational boaters and considering methods to address those risks.
BIRMC meetings are by invitation only and are said to be heavily legal defense oriented. While they function in the shadows, we anticipate they might be able provide NMMA members guidance or assistance on how to monitor their products after sale for previously unidentified risks or hazards.
We regularly monitor propeller accidents and other types of accidents that sometimes result in propeller injuries. As part of our coverage, we publish “lists” of accidents by type. We publish these lists to call the industry’s attention to those specific types of accidents and to encourage them to take actions to prevent them. Among our lists are:
- Pontoon boat over the bow accidents
- Outboard motor struck submerged object, and flipped into boat
- Bass boats outboard motor struck submerged object, flipped into boat
- Houseboat propeller accidents
- Bass boat operators ejected
- Catamaran dive, snorkel & party boat propeller accidents
- Tourist being struck and killed by boat propellers in diving / snorkeling areas
- Dredge pipe strikes
- Small tiller steered outboard motor propeller strikes
- Entrapped by boat propeller
Most of our “lists” above are available from the Statistics Comments section of our site.
News MediaSome boating accidents are covered by mainstream media. You can watch them on TV, read about them in the newspaper, and follow up with online news coverage. For example, the 2014 D.J. Laz accident fatality of Ernesto Hernandez on Nixon sandbar was widely covered by South Florida news media.
The 2014 McClure fatality here in Oklahoma was widely covered by Oklahoma news media, including this News6 helicopter video of the still circling unmanned bass boat.
Most of us have some concept of Social Media such at FaceBook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and others. Tools, including highly sophisticated programs and services, exist for use by businesses for following / monitoring their products and brands and those of their competitors on social media sites.
Larger companies were much quicker to jump on board the use of Social Media than they were the Internet itself in the early days. Below is a brief bullet point sequential history of the use of Social Media by the corporate world.
- Establishing their own Social Media presence and trying to attract sales
- Interacting with their customers
- Limiting the ability of their employees to use Social Media during work hours, then to restricting their employees ability to post about their company, their work, and their products, and defining who will be their online voice (see Brunswick’s Social Media Policy H.01.05 as an example)
- Purchasing advertising on Social Media sites
- Damage control (quickly responding to online situations that could go viral)
- Monitoring/spying on their competition
- Encouraging referrals (likes)
- Offering Social Media services to their dealers and distributors
- Using media for stakeholder engagement (especially strong in Europe)
Some specific examples of Brunswick’s use of Social Media include:
- Brunswick’s Engaged! Social Media Marketing Dashboard and Social Media Management Services being offered to their dealers
- Brunswick Bowling offers online reservations and online scoring.
- Mercury Marine has a person actively managing Social Media sites from a recruiting perspective.
- Mercury Marine has a Create Services Specialist that takes with the responsibility for the social media initiatives of the company, including strategy development, creative content creation, social community management, social customer service, active listening capabilities and measurement.
- In February 2014 Mercury Marine won a Neptune award at the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NNMA) show in Miami for the Best Social Media Campaign in 2013. The award was specifically for their #Handsome Transom campaign. Fans posted images of Mercury engines on several Social Media platforms.
As mentioned earlier, the Consumer Protection Safety Commission requires manufacturers to be actively using Social Media in product recall programs.
With companies devoting so much attention and effort to Social Media, it will be hard for them to explain why they cannot (or are not already) simultaneously monitoring Social Media for accidents involving their products AND using it to warn their customers. This is already being done as a natural course of business in some industries.
YouTube gets special mention here. We have seen videos on YouTube of several boating accidents as they actually happened. YouTube also hosts some onsite news reports of boating accidents that include images of the boat and drive.
Social Media is especially important to those building products for the younger crown (like wake boarders).
Many think Social Media is a pretty unruly place and hard to search to find what you are looking for. While we admit searches can be challenging, SnapTrends, Pixify, Trackur, and TweetDeck are just a few of many tools that quickly make you rethink the investigative powers of Social Media.
Forums and Blogs
Forums and Blogs offer particular opportunities in the boating industry. Many well established forums cover very defined activities (such as Bass Fishing in Texas), others follow broader topics (like Bass Fishing everywhere) but provide sub-forums or sections for more detailed areas.
Some forums are devoted to certain types of vessels. For example, Continuous Whaler has long provided coverage of Boston Whaler issues.
You should already be aware of the forums and blogs devoted to covering your product. If you are not, a few searches for “MyCompany Forum”, “MyProduct Owners Club”, or “MyActivity Blog” will start to turn them up. Be sure to try each “My” search paired with “forum”, “club”, “users group”, “blog”. Do not forget to look for “MyCompany Sucks” often a favorite location or phrase for complaints.
Products Connected to the Internet
Some boating products can be directly or indirectly connected to the Internet for updates, ordering supplies, diagnostics, summoning help, etc. Examples include radios, electronic mapping systems, GPS, fish finders, TV’s, remote monitors, radar, weather displays, satellite TV, engine diagnostics, ruggedized computers, and Wi-Fi systems on the boat.
A 2013 article titled Proximity-Driven Liability published by Stanford Law, says “Product connectivity enables sellers to monitor their products long after the date of sale. …”
Possible Sources of Data for Boating Industry Manufacturers
Below we start to pull together a list of possible sources boating industry companies might turn to in their efforts to monitor products post sale for possible previously unknown safety hazards or risks. The list is certainly not complete and we welcome your comments and suggestions.
We group the opportunities into three segments (Internal Sources, External Sources, Media).
Note many of the suggestions below come directly from others, we especially “borrowed” from Kenneth Ross and from the European Union regulations.
- Internal Sources
- Customer reports of accidents made directly to your company
- Warranty claims
- Service contracts
- Extended warranties
- Customer complaints directly or via distributors / retailers
- Service bulletins (yours, those of your competitors, those of your suppliers, those of your distributors)
- Law suits (law suits call attention to specific accidents involving your products or similar products built by others)
- Your employees at the factory and in the field (dealers, technicians, technical service, marketing personnel, and others should be trained to report knowledge of accidents to a central source)
- Coast Guard Recreational Boat Manufacturer Factory Visit Program (assisting boat builders on site)
- Customer surveys
- Returned goods (products or components
- Monitoring products that are directly or indirectly connected to the Internet
- Accidents from your field testing program
- Accidents from your production line verification program (some builders run some percentage of their boats, drives, or other products on the water as a check so they can stop production before a bunch of them are shipped with the same problem).
- Customer and prospective customer reactions during training programs
- Black box / ECM data / data monitors regularly read by dealers and service personnel identify certain failures indicative of safety risks
- In house testing of products or components
- Failure analysis
- Observations of service personnel / service engineers
- Part sales of safety critical parts
- Information from vendors (possible hazard of a part they supply to you)
- Information from your distributors
- Non-compliances reported by your quality control department or by other organizations
- Loaner programs (many companies loan their products to their employees or make them available at a reduced rate for feedback)
- Any evidence of hazards arising from sales to unexpected user groups
- Any evidence of consumer abuse or misuse of the product
- Any evidence of malicious tampering with products
- Plaintiff experts may provide some insights on how your products could be made safer
- Claims of near misses from anywhere in the world
- Similar information from other countries (recall notices, customer complaints, notices of lawsuits claims or accidents from anywhere in the world)
- U.S. Coast Guard Boating Accident Report Database (BARD)
- Coast Guard recalls and complaints
- BoatUS Consumer Protection Bureau database
- U.S. Coast Guard media monitoring program annotated clippings
- NMMA / BIRMC
- Some boating accessories may be covered by or reported in CPSC’s database
- Insurance claims / insurance databases
- Competitors at trade shows
- Trade associations
- Accidents, lawsuits, verdicts, settlements, or recalls involving a competitor’s product that is similar to yours
- Safety activists
- The news media
- Industry literature (such as trade journals)
- Consumer publications (boating magazines)
- Monitoring Social Media, blogs, and online forums
- Post sale accident information posted on the Internet
- Websites established by plaintiff attorneys and safety expert witnesses pinpoint alleged safety issues & propose solutions
- Publications and websites of consumer groups that report on safety issues
Incident / accident reports involving your products should be logged, then investigated to find out if they are similar and if they are caused by defects or hazards or some other cause not known at time of sale.
Depending on product similarities, product volumes, and market shares, you may need to monitor similar products as well.
Conclusions About Tools for Monitoring Boating Product Accidents / Risks Post Sale
I hope we can all agree:
- Many opportunities are available for the post sale monitoring of boating product performance / accidents / risks / hazards / incidents.
- A leading external source for information on boating accidents for most boat builders and marine drive manufacturers is the U.S. Coast Guard Boating Accident Report Database (BARD) and its associated documents.