Beware Marine Equipment Awards


In the last year or so I have evaluated a couple of pieces of marine equipment that have received industry awards. You know the ones: DAME, Pitmann, and Husick.

And while I find these awards useful as a way to learn about new gear, I’m often shocked…nay, appalled…OK, shocked and appalled by the breathless hyperbole about gear that is unproven and/or has significant negatives, at least for many of us. I’m not saying this is necessarily bad gear, but nothing is as perfect as these awards imply.

The worst example was an award given to the CrewWatcher, the text of which went on for several breathless paragraphs about how wonderful the unit was without ever pointing out that it relied on the consumer electronics Bluetooth protocol, with so short a range that it’s basically useless as a crew recovery beacon.

At the very least, anyone writing about the CrewWatcher should point out that there is far better POB recovery technology available in the form of AIS beacons, which have a range of one to two miles, using robust commercial grade transmitter and receiver technology, not a smartphone.

And, in the last few months, multiple awards have been given to Nigel Calder’s new generator replacement machine called Integrel, without any attempt to highlight possible reliability issues, or its value for money for various segments of the boating community.

In one case we are dealing with a safety of life issue and, in the other, a lot of money. Surely marine journalists owe readers a better effort at highlighting drawbacks (even just potential ones), rather than just writing breathless fan-boy awards.

Be Careful

Anyway, I strongly caution against putting much weight in these awards when deciding how to keep you and your loved ones safe, or where to spend your hard-earned bucks, euros, or whatever your currency is.

No Malice

One more thought. The interesting thing about this is that I have deep respect for most of the people who sit on these award panels. They are not fools, and I’m sure they mean well.

I guess it’s just a function of a system where most of the panelists don’t get paid—I was asked to sit on one of them, so this I know—so they really can’t put a lot of time into a thorough evaluation.  And the underlying organizations are advertising-based, meaning that mentioning drawbacks is contrary to their business interests.

By the way, there is a shining exception to this sorry state of affairs: When Practical Sailor magazine gives a piece of gear an award, I think I’m right in saying, it’s always after they have published a detailed evaluation, including both the benefits and the drawbacks.

Not a Hint

Of course, all that sounds like I’m coyly hinting that marine journalism that’s not advertising based (AAC and Practical Sailor) is intrinsically better. So let me be clear. I’m not hinting…that’s exactly what I’m saying.

Further Reading

And yes, you need to join us (US$2/Month) to read these. Why would you not spend that tiny amount? One of our reports deals with safety of life and the other with a machine that will cost you between US$15,000 and US$50,000, depending on configuration.

Comments

Please stay on topic. If you wish to discuss the CrewWatcher, or Nigel’s new machine, please do so on the above linked chapters, not here.

Disclosure

I pay the same subscription for Practical Sailor as anyone else would. Darrell Nicholson, the editor, used to edit Phyllis and me over at Cruising World, back in the day when the world was young and so were we. And I have huge respect for Drew Frye (who seems to be writing about 80% of PS these days) because of all the good common sense he shares in the comments here at AAC.

We currently have four corporate members, who between them contribute about 5% of our gross revenue.

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Meet the Author

John

John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

30 comments… add one
  • Dick Stevenson Mar 8, 2019, 10:38 am

    Hi John,
    I have long written that I consider marine journalists as choosing to drop the ball when it comes to protecting readers/sailors’ interests and this interest includes both their monetary interests, but, more distressingly, their safety interests: as you so nicely point out. Furthermore, I see this as an abdication of responsibility: more morally and ethically compromised than merely a business decision. I say “chooses” as these writers/publishers are smart men and women who, to my mind, can see the bigger picture and choose not to ruffle the feathers of those who control the money. I would also include in this criticism many brokers, surveyors, boatyards and manufacturers.
    I would suggest that, in the long run, that such choices will undermine the vitality of our sport. Boating is an optional expense, a recreation. And those that bump unexpectantly into problems, especially problems that need not be bumped into; that they should have been warned about: will take their interests and money elsewhere.
    I would suggest one more publication that is in the “admirable” realm. It is “Professional BoatBuilder”. Certainly, many of its articles are above my pay grade (I am, for sure, not a professional boat builder), but I always find articles informative and of interest and I think the attitude of the publication is admirable as well. (Some of its authors overlap with Practical Sailor.)
    My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

    • John Mar 9, 2019, 8:31 am

      Hi Dick,

      I agree, but one thing I would say is that blaming the journalists themselves is perhaps not fair. Rather I see this as a system failure. Bottom line, if people are incentivized to do poor work, that’s exactly what they will do—just look at the traditional investment “advisory” industry.

      So I feel strongly that the fault actually lies with the vast majority of readers who are not willing to pay the price of good content. The good news is that I think that’s slowly changing for the better as demonstrated by the success that good news organizations like the New York Times are having with paid subscription.

      • Dick Stevenson Mar 11, 2019, 3:13 pm

        Hi John,
        To me, what is not fair, is for journalists to be put in the spot they are placed in by their publications, by their advertisers and by other contributing pressures. Their organizations should support them to do good marine reporting. And they do not: quite the contrary, they are put between a rock and a hard place and then hung out to dry.
        That said, I am not sure I am being too hard on the journalist part of the system. For me, it is too easy (and too broadly unfocused) to describe the problem as a system failure, although, of course you are absolutely correct: it just leaves you with nowhere to go. And to contend that the fault lies with a complacent readership, poorly educated and unwilling to pay more for quality reporting also does not sit right with me. Where do they turn to do their due diligence? I believe a sizable portion of the marine reading public is not aware of what they are missing and I am not sure it is their fault.
        It may be, likely is, a bit too idealistic, but to my mind journalists should be thinking of themselves as answering to a higher calling (in addition to their other responsibilities): a juggling act to be sure, but not impossible. The publisher may be committed to the bottom line, the advertiser to selling the product etc. but the journalist is the one who ought to keep his/her eye on the readership and keep their interests in sight.
        My focus on the journalists is because, for the reading public, (and accurate or not) they are seen as the responsible party and they are the ones who gather (or lose) trust along the way. But, I am clear, they are not alone: they have the same dilemma/choices as the other marine professionals (also responsible to the public) who I see as often dropping the ball: surveyors, brokers, boatyards etc. and who often participate in not treating their public in good faith.
        My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

        • John Mar 12, 2019, 7:43 am

          Hi Dick,

          I guess we will have to agree to disagree on that one. To me expecting Journalists to “answer to a higher calling” after the way the market has treated them in the last 20 years is neither fair or realistic. And the “market” is, in the final analysis, all of us. Or to put it another way, if the majority would rather sell their privacy in exchange for free “news” and “information” on FaceBook and Youtube, rather than pay for good journalism, they deserve what they get.

          • Dick Stevenson Mar 12, 2019, 8:04 am

            Hi John,
            You may be correct in your analysis, but I think it is a shame to settle for journalists being a shill for the overall system and to not ask more of them, (and of surveyors, brokers, etc.): those who, to my mind, have some responsibility to the reader/buyer.
            And it would be quite wonderful if there was a way to help he real expertise out there: (and it certainly exists), to emerge, find a way to be recognized, and be much better compensated for sharing that expertise.
            My best, Dick

  • Steven D'Antonio Mar 8, 2019, 2:30 pm

    John:

    You’ve hit the nail on the proverbial head and my only gripe is I didn’t think of writing this editorial, just kidding, well, maybe not.

    Having been immersed in the world of marine journalism for nearly 30 years, I can tell you the dark underbelly of this segment of the industry is very dim indeed.

    While there are a handful of exceptions, fewer and fewer it seems, most magazines and websites that take advertising simply will not criticize a manufacturer, boat, gear or otherwise. In the business we call what they write “advertorial”, and it’s getting worse as the publishers of some magazines openly boast about “publisher/advertiser partnerships”, and the symbiosis it affords all parties (except the reader).

    I too have been asked to sit on some of those awards committees, pro bono of course, and as you say, there’s no way one can carry out a thorough review of the product much beyond reading the claims of their manufacturers. Knowing this, as I walk the awards halls at IBEX and METS, and scrutinize the recipients, I do so with a very jaundiced eye indeed. Some are legit, others not so much.

    If you think equipment awards are bad, don’t get me started on boat reviews, the editor of almost (I can think of two exceptions) every magazine for whom I’ve written boat reviews trembled at the thought of even remotely criticizing a boat builder who advertised with the magazine. The irony was, the reviews I wrote (many are now available on my website) always, always included constructive criticism, and in virtually every case those builders ultimately embraced them, and bought reprints to distribute, because they were deemed legitimate, readers actually took them seriously. The fact is, very few marine “journalists” today are skilled and confident enough to critique boats or products, and stand behind what they say. The fact that magazines don’t pay journalists enough, thereby not attracting the best and the brightest, plays into this equation. Some magazines have resorted to letting readers write these reviews (they can be paid next to nothing). This is a recipe for disaster, as few lay persons have the necessary at sea experience, technical boat building knowledge and editorial skills to accomplish this feat. As a result they play it safe, it turns into a contest to see how many ways the author can say, “beautiful”, “finely-crafted’, “precision”, “stable” and “magnificent”.

    You are right, AAC and PS are noteworthy exceptions. If I can be afforded a small boast, my site contains hundreds of articles, and I take no advertising, I cover subjects as I see fit, and occasionally make enemies along the way; it’s a badge of honor I wear proudly.

    • John Mar 9, 2019, 8:37 am

      Hi Steve,

      I agree boat reviews have now got to the point that they are simply useless.

      And sorry, I should have mentioned you alongside AAC and PC. Your news letters are the only other marine commentary I read regularly.

      • Steven D'Antonio Mar 9, 2019, 9:06 am

        Thanks John. I have had countless readers of conventional boating mags say the same thing, other than the pictures, boat reviews are of little or not value. A fellow journalist once said to me, “we’ve been instructed by our publisher to remember that the information we provide is more entertainment than absolute fact” ‘Nuff said.

  • Oliver Schonrock Mar 9, 2019, 6:09 am

    Hi John

    Very important general point, and not just for “marine”:

    “Of course, all that sounds like I’m coyly hinting that marine journalism that’s not advertising based (AAC and Practical Sailor) is intrinsically better. So let me be clear. I’m not hinting…that’s exactly what I’m saying.”

    Agree 100%. It’s sort of obvious, but many people fall victim. Exactly why I don’t mind paying a small amount for sites like this.

    Well done for saying so, and keep up the good work.

    Oliver

    • John Mar 9, 2019, 8:49 am

      Hi Oliver,

      Thanks for the support. One of the key bits of life wisdom I learned many years ago is “free information is almost always worth exactly what you paid for it”.

  • richard stanard Mar 9, 2019, 7:16 am

    here is hoping ur excellent article here will make a positive difference in the subj industry journalism, but i am not holding my breath waiting for this to occur 🤕

    • John Mar 9, 2019, 8:56 am

      Hi Richard,

      I fear you are right. That said, I do think that things are getting slowly better as more and more people realize that good content costs money to produce and that “free” content simply means that someone else, who has very different goals from the reader, is paying for it.

  • Peter Chandler Mar 9, 2019, 8:49 am

    John, I appreciate your comments and take them to heart. It occurs to me to mention another excellent source of how-to advice and criticism that your readers may find useful. I commend Rod Collins’ (relatively) new website: (https://marinehowto.com/about/).

    • John Mar 9, 2019, 8:59 am

      Hi Peter,

      I agree, Rod’s site is invaluable. I have donated to it a couple of times and often link to it, most lately as the definitive source for information on lithium batteries.

    • Dave Lochner Mar 9, 2019, 9:21 am

      Peter beat me to it, recommending RC’s site.

      RC generously gives of his time and knowledge to DIY boats. Much of what I’ve learned about boat systems comes from his website and online conversations. He ranks right up there with Steven D’Antonio, ACC, and PS/Drew Frye.

  • Jean-François EEMAN Mar 11, 2019, 5:40 am

    Dear John,
    When I read your article I thought : “Once again he hits the nail on the head and that is what we like about ACC…”
    One light in the dark or is it just a counter example :
    We are a comporate member of AAC (and we are proud to be) but except for that we have never spend a dime of our owners’ money on advertising in any magazine or site.
    And yet :
    In 2009 the French magazine “Voiles Magazine” elected the Boréal 44 “Boat of the year 2010”. Each year again the jury is composed of a panel of experts from the marine industry (only 1 person of the magazine is part of it), a panel of readers participate to the tests and although they have no right of vote there opinion is important.
    In 2010 the same Boréal 44 was elected “Zeilen, Boot van het Jaar” by the Dutch magazine Zeilen. Journalists and readers choose what they believe is the best boat amongst the ones they have tested that year…
    In 2015 the Boréal 52 was elected “European Yacht of the Year 2015” in the category “Blue Water Cruiser”. Initiated by German sail magazine YACHT it was first presented at Boot Düsseldorf in 2004.
    Today 12 magazines from all over Europe make up the jury, each of them a leading voice in their respective countries. In 2015 Boréal won with all votes but one (The French jury was not allowed to vote for a french boat) although our direct competition, supported by someone who likes to be called the pope of sailing, had and still has advertisements in each of the magazines…
    Last year our Boréal 47 became “Best Midsize Cruiser” and overall winner “Boat of the Year” in the US. The election is organized by Cruising world and took place after the Annapolis Boat Show…
    Granted the weather was ideal for us, 25 knots, gusting with squals and rain, choppy seas, conditons in which our competition would have preferred to postpone (They tried but the jury did not let them be swayed).
    Four examples of situations in which the logic of advertisement of lobby did not prevail…
    Too good to be true : Yes indeed. In 2010 our Boréal was nominated by the professional organisation of the maritime industry of a country (which I will not mention). The professional jury designated the Boréal as winner but few minutes before the ceremony the minister of economic affairs declared he would not hand over the trophy to a boat which was not from his country… and yes the name of the winner was changed.

    • Christopher Mar 11, 2019, 4:50 pm

      For compariosns sake: Here is what Jimmy Cornell has to say about the 2015 EYOTY award:

      ‘The Bluewater-Cruiser category was a new addition to the list of awards, and had five nominees: one catamaran – the Broadblue Rapier 550, and four monohulls: Boreal 52, Ovni 52 Evolution, Southerly 535, and the Exploration 45. To our profound disappointment, Boreal was declared the winner, and, as we found out later, it had been a close call as six of the jury members had cast their votes for the Boreal, and four in favour of the Exploration 45. On what criteria the judges managed to compare a 52 to a 45 footer is difficult to gauge, but having sailed during the last seven months over 10,000 miles on Aventura’s maiden voyage that took us from the Arctic to the Bahamas, I strongly believe that this was an unfair decision. Besides the fact that the Exploration 45 has more innovative features than any of the other nominees, it is also the absolutely safest cruising boat built at the moment.
      This may sound like sour grapes, and I am not denying that I am disappointed by the result. However, this is not for any personal reasons, but for witnessing the chagrin of my friends – the designer and builders of this outstanding yacht, who felt robbed of the recognition they fully deserve for having created a true boat for all seas and all seasons. At least they have the consolation of the Exploration 45 having won the two top US awards: the Cruising World Boat of the Year, and the Best Boat 2015 awarded by SAIL magazine. I can only presume that in their assessment the American judges may have been more discerning and attentive to detail than their European counterparts.“
      https://cornellsailing.com/de/2015/01/european-yacht-year-2/

      FWIW: I think the comparison of awards is childish from both sides. The Specific features of a yacht (single or dual rudder, cockpit layout, rig, chines, heating, storage, lifelines, KISS, …) should be the deciding factor and not the ranking done by a few jurors who spend an afternoon sailing the boat …

      • John Mar 12, 2019, 7:49 am

        Hi Christopher,

        A bit of back story to put that in perspective: As I understand it, when Jimmy was shopping for a new boat, he first approached Boreal asking them for a huge discount because of who he was. When they declined he took what he learned at Boreal to the builders of the Exploration 45 and they went along with his demands. Point being that his opinion might not be unbiased either.

        All that said, I agree with your final analysis completely.

        • Dick Stevenson Mar 12, 2019, 8:12 am

          Hi John,
          And yours and Christopher’s discussion is a good example of how disturbing it is to wonder/have a sense that those in the industry are not working in good faith.
          It does the whole industry harm.
          My best, Dick

        • RDE Mar 12, 2019, 10:19 pm

          Hi John,
          Back in the day when I was dry behind the ears and not too salty I had a beautiful book on my coffee table. It was entitled “The World’s Best Sailboats:” by Ferenc Máté (Published on April 19, 1995)

          A friend was the PNW importer for a very stylish line of Scandinavian yachts at the time. According to him his manufacturer had paid $20,000 to be represented as a “world’s best sailboat” as had all the other boats featured in the book. Guess that shows that fake news has been with us far longer than we would like to believe! Or that there is more than one way to fund your cruising budget.

          • John Mar 13, 2019, 6:35 am

            Hi Richard,

            I remember that book, and I I had no idea that builders had paid to be in it, either. Just another eye opener.

          • Marc Dacey Mar 18, 2019, 9:01 pm

            Well, I’m trying to cull my nautical library. I guess Ferenc’s books can go.

  • David Hoy Mar 11, 2019, 11:43 am

    These industry awards smack of the JD Power awards – is there anything more ridiculous than an “initial quality” award? How can you judge quality of a car (or boat, or any piece of equipment) in just the first 90 days, based on surveys of people who own it, and are unlikely to admit they may have made a mistake? In effect you get self-aggrandizing manufacturers getting dubious awards than mean absolutely nothing, and then touting those awards to show how good they are. Please keep up the good work calling out this kind of behavior in the marine industry, we’ll all be better off for it.

    -David

    • John Mar 12, 2019, 7:34 am

      Hi David,

      Thanks for the encouragement.

  • RDE Mar 11, 2019, 12:13 pm

    Hi David:
    I agree that the idea of an “initial quality” award is fairly silly. But what is one to make of a photo of the (shallow) bilge of a newly crowned award winner that features a thru hull penetration with no backer and just a little minimum surface nut, followed by a 90 degree elbow that has the color of red brass, a 6″ nipple, a stainless steel ball valve, a brass hose bib, and a single-clamped hose? Truly worthy of an award, but not one for best in the world!

    • John Mar 12, 2019, 7:37 am

      Hi Richard,

      I agree, the seacock installations on many new boats are, or at least should be, an embarrassment to the builder.

  • Evan Mar 11, 2019, 1:36 pm

    “Let a purchaser beware, for he ought not to be ignorant of the nature of the property which he is buying from another party.” I think caveat emptor is at the core of daily human experience and applies as much to marine gear as it does to electing politicians or choosing one’s partner(s). The fault here (if there is a fault) isn’t with companies, journalists or product awards, it is with us – the buyer.
    I suspect that more than half of what we spend in taxes is spent on socio-economic-regulatory programs intended to essentially protect us from our “buying” selves. Despite our expertise, our networks or resources, at some point, on some front, we have to make a decision on less than perfect knowledge… and live with the consequences.
    I value my subscriptions to AAC and Practical Sailor, and I am grateful to them, Marine How To, myriads of books and other resources for advancing my education and for information that helps me to be a better sailor and a better buyer/investor in materials and equipment that may improve my sailing experience. And any mistakes I make are my own. Cheers!

    • John Mar 12, 2019, 7:38 am

      Hi Evan,

      I agree, taking personal responsibility is one of the most important steps to good decisions.

    • Steven D'Antonio Mar 13, 2019, 9:11 am

      Evan, a very good point indeed, in the end the buyer is responsible for his or her own actions, and is responsible for the necessary due diligence. I routinely tell clients, “I won’t tell you to buy or not buy a particular boat, model or brand, rather I’ll give you the necessary tools to make that decision on your own”.

      I occasionally work with those who are entering the boat buying process, who see a pre-purchase inspection as something to simply be gotten through, assuming the sale is a forgone conclusion. That approach nearly always results in disaster, buyers should assume they need to be convinced to buy the boat during this process, rather than being convinced to not buy it.

      Buyers of all products, especially and including boats, marine gear and magazines, would do well to remember the quote you shared, ““Let a purchaser beware, for he ought not to be ignorant of the nature of the property which he is buying from another party.”

    • RDE Mar 13, 2019, 2:20 pm

      Evan,
      There is another side to the “let the buyer beware”, “free market libertarian” philosophy. If there are no consequences for lying then the only reasonable approach is to assume that all political propaganda, advertising, public relations, , “news” —- indeed anything that anyone says is simply a reflection of their self interest until proven otherwise.

      There are several problems with this outlook on life, not the least of which is that it is lonely and miserable. We can’t all be experts in all fields— in a world where truth has no value the “myriads of books and other resources ” that you rely upon to direct your choices will inevitably have feet of clay.

      Personally I want to live in a society where lying has consequences. When a political leader (or a writer of a marine guidebook) habitually ignores facts and seeks to mislead their public for their own gain they should be publicly shamed and that shame should carry sufficient social weight that he or she never attempt it again. And if the consequences inflict harm upon others, time spent in jail or picking up roadside litter should reinforce their learning process!

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