Few firms give ideas to repair boat flaw
By Judd Slivka
The Arizona Republic
January 30, 2001

Only a handful of the nation's houseboat builders responded by Monday's Coast Guard-imposed deadline for saying how they would fix potentially deadly design flaws in houseboats.

The Coast Guard sent letters to the 85 registered houseboat manufacturers in its database in December. It asked companies whether they produced houseboats that vented generator exhaust to the rear, where a spate of deaths and injuries have occurred over the past decade.

If the company built such a design, it had to suggest a change.

Eight manufacturers responded by late Monday afternoon. About 15 letters were returned to the Coast Guard from out-of-business companies. Coast Guard officials were hoping the balance would arrive in the mail.

"We'll probably get a flurry of them over the next few days," said Randolph Jay Doubt, a Coast Guard engineer. "They'll be postmarked today or Friday."

Some of the suggested fixes:

  • A 50-foot hose attached to the generator exhaust and floated behind the houseboat when moored.

  • An exhaust vent to the side with a blower attached to pressurize the cavity beneath the swim deck where fumes accumulate.

  • A pipe that vents the carbon monoxide off the rear of the houseboat's top deck.

  • A series of vents down the hull that get progressively larger to provide more places for air to escape.

"We're getting some interesting comments," said Phil Cappell, head of the Coast Guard's recreational boating safety quality assurance division.

"If we find that they'll work, we'll tell them 'OK, let's recall the boats.' "

Despite the small number of responses -- including one from a houseboat builder that claimed it didn't build houseboats -- Coast Guard officials said they were encouraged. And though a suggested recall might happen, it probably would not have the same teeth that a car recall would have.

"We won't make it where if you didn't respond to the letter we're going to pull your license," Cappell said. "We're getting good response from the manufacturers."

Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Colo., has raised the specter of hearings if the industry does not respond quickly and appropriately. McInnis' office had no comment Monday; a spokesman said they would comment after they were able to better measure the industry's response.

Two weeks ago Sumerset Yachts, of Somerset, Ky., one of the two largest houseboat manufacturers, announced that it would convert any boats it had built with rear vents to side-venting exhaust. The company also offered to convert any of its competitors' boats at cost.


    Copyright 2001, The Arizona Republic. All rights reserved. This article graciously provided courtesy of The Arizona Republic.