Use what your eyes are telling you: Sometimes it's the little things that give you a sign that the yard you are entering isn't the best. One BoatUS member took his boat to a repair facility and thought that the abundance of boats in the lot meant that the boatyard was popular. It wasn't until after the yard started giving odd excuses for delays and then made him pay for hundreds of dollars of ineffective engine repairs before releasing the boat, did the member notice that few, if any, of the boats in the lot had been moved in years.
All recommendations aren't the same: Online recommendations are a mish-mash of good and bad: more reliable ones have real names attached and specific details in postings. Fellow boaters are likely the best folks to recommend a yard, but go one step further: be sure that the repairs are similar to what you need. Another option is to ask a marine surveyor. These professionals are often knowledgeable about the quality of work in local repair yards, as long as they're impartial and unaffiliated with any shop or boatyard. Look for a boat surveyor having SAMS or NAMS credentials as these surveyor associations require their members to be independent. Another good sign to see is a shop that follows American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) guidelines for repairs, which ensures that crucial safety standards are met. ABYC technicians also get specialized certification in a range of boat systems.
Dealerships may offer more, but don't write off independents: There are certain benefits to taking an out-of-warranty boat or motor to a dealership, with the best training and equipment being at the top of the list. Dealerships also enjoy better parts connections. On the other hand, most well established independent repair facilities also produce high quality work – especially those run by former or current factory-trained technicians. And unlike a dealership, they must compete on repair business alone and their prices are usually lower.
Look for shops that specialize: Boats vary in type, size and complexity and so do repair facilities. Don't bring a 34-foot trawler for repairs to a shop that mostly works on trailer boats, and don't expect the guy living in a van down by the river to fix your high-tech outboard.
"Always check around first before doing business," said BoatUS Director of Consumer Affairs Charles Fort. "Many boaters only have the summer to enjoy their boats, so any problems could lead to a premature end of the boating season."