Ensuring reliability, the editorial by Franco Michienzi

Reliability is a key topic for the Italian boating industry. Everyone in the sector should reflect on its implications and the opportunities for development it could generate

by Francesco Michienzi

The dealer for a major shipyard has urged me to look at the topic of the reliability of the components found onboard boats. Boats have a very long life, but some accessories have planned obsolescence, meaning they are designed to last only a certain number of years, often taking them just beyond the warranty period.

Planned obsolescence is an environmental disaster, as it increases waste production, and many laws have been proposed to fight it. These parliamentary initiatives are all directed fully at consumer protection: changing guarantees from two to five years, or ten for large products; making spare parts available for five or seven years after the product has been on the market; ensuring costs of spare parts are proportional to the sale price of the object, and offering repairs at accessible prices.

These are all issues the dealer I was speaking to knows very well, and ideas I’m not sure he will agree with. «After forty years at sea and twenty-four years in the business, I consider myself sufficiently well placed to state that the problem of reliability goes back a long time in the nautical sector. It can, and indeed must be eradicated for everyone’s benefit. Customers, who are forking out large sums of money, deserve and demand it. The shipyards, who invest in producing the boats in which these items are installed, deserve it. And, last but not least, we dealers deserve it too, because it is impossible to shoulder responsibility for all warranties for twenty-four months, as we are obliged to by law as the issuers of the final invoice to the owner, while suppliers are shut up in their offices, some claiming to have phantom support centers, which, in 70% of cases, are unprepared or uninterested in providing any form of guarantee. We need to fundamentally change the way we look at it: to pillory those responsible for poor workmanship and praise those who do well, and so create a virtuous circle. In 2021 we should not have to put up with the same reliability on board that we had in 1990; there is no justification for it». I understand exactly where this outburst is coming from, but I think it is worth looking at the topic in a bit more detail.

I agree with the need to distinguish between serious, professional manufacturers and superficial, rough-and-ready firms.

However, in my personal opinion, the Italian boat components industry has reached levels of excellence to rival anywhere else in the world. It is a real challenge to combine cutting-edge technology with the need to produce bespoke products in small quantities. It should be the shipyards that take the first step, and indeed some have already started to work with suppliers to hone the manufacturing processes, resolve recurring problems related to reliability and carry out further research into materials and technology from other sectors, which could be adapted for the boating world.

According to our dealer: «A boat’s engine, costing 100,000, is sometimes not as reliable as a 2,000 ride-on lawnmower because the probability of faults occurring is much higher than any other engine on the market». He adds: «Some retracting hydraulic gangways, which cost between 20,000 and 30,000, can cause problems even when the boat is brand new, and often have issues that occur over and over again; meanwhile, a Chinese washing machine, costing 400, can be used twice a day for five years without ever breaking». And finally: «Air conditioning units costing over 20,000, more than a Mercedes Class A or a BMW Series 1, often have numerous reliability issues due to the low quality of the components». I’m sure these examples must have some basis in fact for him to have come up with them. But it is the first time I have heard such a forceful rant about the subject, which is why I accepted his suggestion to raise the issue.

I know almost all the makers of nautical components and frequently visit their production sites, and I am always amazed by the quality of their work. A large number of suppliers on the market probably means those who are less reliable can compete unfairly with the companies who invest large sums of money in technology and research. Ultimately, the choice of the supplier should rest with the shipyard building the boat – they have a responsibility to select the most reliable partners they can. These are just my musings, however: I’d like everyone involved, including boat owners and boat enthusiasts, to give their opinion on the topic too.

(Ensuring reliability – Barchemagazine.com – January 2021)