Fate of NMMA, MRAA model-year agreement remains in question
In a landmark agreement, the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas and the National Marine Manufacturers Association recently reached consensus on a proposed regulation for boat model-year enforcement. It is now up to the United States Coast Guard to decide the next step.
The current model-year rule dictates that next year’s models cannot be sold until Aug. 1. In the past, the Coast Guard has rarely enforced that regulation, but after noticing a number of 2013 models at February’s Miami International Boat Show, it issued notices to manufacturers.
The notices caught the attention of manufacturers and the NMMA, which approached the Coast Guard with a request for clarification.
“If they were going to enforce the model year, manufacturers would abide by that,” NMMA President Thom Dammrich said. “But it would really cost manufacturers.”
Dammrich said a strict enforcement of the rule would cause manufacturers to shut down during the summer as dealers stopped ordering boats prior to the new model year’s release.
The Coast Guard agreed to discuss the issue and requested the NMMA partner with the MRAA to develop a recommendation for model-year regulation – one both sides can live with.
NMMA and MRAA come together
Boat manufacturers and dealers started from different positions prior to a June 7 meeting. Many manufacturers would prefer no model-year designation, while most dealers prefer a uniform annual date, with most advocating Aug. 1 or later.
After much discussion, the two groups came to an agreement that kept the Aug. 1 cutoff but allowed a 60-day window prior to that date when manufacturers could begin introducing next-model-year boats. The window gives manufacturers time to ramp up production of new models and prevent closing their doors during the summer, Dammrich said.
Matt Gruhn, president of the MRAA, said both sides sacrificed something to come up with an agreement that works for both parties.
“It wasn’t exactly what dealers wanted, it wasn’t exactly what manufacturers wanted, but it represents a compromise,” Gruhn said.
The recommendation to the Coast Guard also allows for models not previously produced and vessels more than 30 feet in length to be exempt from the model-year definition.
Dammrich said the National Marine Bankers Association also approved the recommendations, while BoatUS is neutral on the issue.
Gruhn said it was vital the marine industry was able to reach a consensus that it could bring to the Coast Guard for the final decision.
“This is a story of compromise. We did everything we could to come to agreement and compromise, and that’s a positive thing for the industry,” Gruhn said.
Decision rests with the Coast Guard
The Coast Guard will now decide the next step, which ranges from eliminating the regulation altogether to placing a “request for comment” in the Federal Register.
Jeff Hoedt, chief of the Office of Boating Safety at the Coast Guard, said the Coast Guard has sporadically alerted manufacturers of violations in recent years but assessed no penalties. When it noticed multiple 2013 models at the Miami boat show that were in violation, conversation on the issue ensued.
“We decided to look at it again and see what is the best thing for the greater good, look at it from all viewpoints,” Hoedt said.
Armed with the industry’s recommendation, Hoedt said the Coast Guard is considering a number of next steps.
In an effort to get all viewpoints, Hoedt said it may take the industry recommendation and go to the Federal Register to solicit general comments, or it could choose to make an in-house decision with aid from its advisory council.
Hoedt said the Coast Guard is also able to abolish the regulation altogether if it has no plans of actively enforcing the rule. Under presidential directive, antiquated regulations can be repealed or adjusted to be more functional, according to Hoedt.
Therefore, the Coast Guard is also determining how offenders would be penalized. Options under consideration range from no enforcement to a notice of violation, which could include penalties, Hoedt said.
For both the MRAA and NMMA, the quicker these decisions are made the better. Dammrich said manufacturers looking to introduce models not previously offered need to know if they can begin distributing on Jan. 1.
“Manufacturers are planning for introductions of models, and they need to know if this is okay,” Dammrich said. “Unless they provide an exemption, the Coast Guard needs to act on this in the next month. This is something that can take years to resolve.”
Hoedt said an important determiner of the time required for any resolution will be if a decision can be made internally or if it will require a regulatory change, which takes considerably more time. Solely the recommendations made by the NMMA and MRAA would not require a regulatory change, according to Hoedt.
“I will tell you that we are taking this seriously under consideration to try and move on it quickly,” Hoedt said.