Loaning Equipment or Tools to Boaters Is a Liability and Taking Your Revenues

It’s happened to most of us at one time or another. One of the marina’s valued slipholders comes into the marina office or service department asking to borrow a tool or a piece of equipment. How are you going to handle that request? Even better, the customer goes directly to an employee requesting to borrow a tool. Of course, the staff wants to keep the boater happy, but at what cost? Loaning that tool or piece of equipment may have unexpected liability issues.

Lending a simple wrench, screwdriver or a pair of wire cutters may seem harmless enough, but consider the following questions: What is the condition of the tool? Is the tool being used for what it was designed for? Or, does the borrower even know how to use the tool?

While the boater is using the borrowed tool, the tool slips and he/she breaks a finger or they accidently cut a hot wire and receive a severe electrical shock, which creates an auto-reflex jolt in their body causing them to hit their head against the engine block.

More Boater Examples
Consider this scenario: a boater asks to borrow the marina’s engine oil changing unit instead of buying his own. Not realizing the engine held more oil than he thought, the oil changing unit overflows. The oil that has overflowed from the unit goes into the bilge of the boat and activates the automatic bilge switch on. The activated bilge pump discharges the extra oil directly into the marina waters.

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Here’s another example. The boater has left his ventilation blower on since the last visit to the marina, and the batteries have completely discharged. The boater borrows the marina’s battery charger to try and give the much needed boost required to start the engine. While connecting the battery charging cables, the boater incorrectly attaches the cables. When the battery charging unit is turned on, the navigational electronics onboard are ruined.

In the northern regions, many boats are stored on the hard at a marina or boatyard. The owner visits the boat during the middle of the winter to retrieve a few items left onboard from the boating season. The six-foot stepladder loaned by the boatyard, barely reaches the swim-platform of the boat. While transferring from the stepladder to the swim-platform, the stepladder shifts and the boater falls.

A boater is getting ready to repair a scratch on the hull of the boat. A marina employee allows the boater to borrow the floating work platform. While setting up the work platform, the boater uses what he believes to be good knots, securing the platform to the rails of the boat. An extension cord is plugged into an adapter, which has been inserted into a 30 amp outlet (with no ground faulty protection) and is strung out from the dock to the work platform. As the boater is trying to buff out the scratch, the knots unravel from the rail, the work platform drifts away from the boat, causing the boater to fall into the water with the electric buffer in his hands.

Most of these incidents end up as nothing more than an embarrassing moment for the boater. Then there are the times when the incidents end up with someone receiving a serious injury or property being damaged.
We buy the appropriate equipment to provide our employees the proper tools to execute their jobs. We provide the proper training on how to use the equipment. The equipment is maintained and maintenance records are kept.

Purchasing, training and maintaining the equipment comes at an expense to the marina. Most of the tasks listed above could have been handled by one of the company’s technicians and the boater could have been charged for the service. By letting someone borrow the company’s equipment, the company is incurring an expense, creating a liability and neglecting potential revenue. The practice of loaning tools or equipment does not create a sound business model.

Let’s temporarily ignore the expense and potential revenue for loaning out the tool and focus on the liability issue. The employee thought he was providing a service to a valued customer. That valued customer who was injured while using a borrowed tool might view things differently as he sits at home unable to work because he was injured during an accident, which involved the use of the company tool. Liability from loaning the equipment involved in an accident now trumps the issue of expenses incurred and revenues forfeited.

Employee Education
Remember, you are managing a marina, boatyard or a boat drystack storage facility, not a tool rental company. If you insist on helping a marina customer jump-start a boat with a dead battery, send an employee who is familiar in the use of a battery charger to jump the battery. Employees wanting to accommodate a boater’s request, may loan a tool not knowing that it may not be in the marina’s best interest to so. Management at the marina, boatyard or boat drystack storage facility needs to consider a policy addressing the issues of loaning tools and equipment.

Carl F. Wolf, CMM, is director of business services at Marina Management Services, Inc., in Boca Raton, Florida. He can be reached at or 561/338-5800.