Bennington Warranty: A great company

tcpip95

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It's time I tell this story.  I have sat on this for nearly three years because I was VERY upset with Bennington, but wanted to give them a chance to get it right.  I made a comment in another thread about being away from the forum for awhile.  This is why.


I apologize ahead of time for what will be a LONG story.


In 2012 I purchased a 24SSL from a local dealer in SW Florida.  I will not name them - but I will say that they are not a dealer in Ft. Myers.  I ordered the elliptical pontoon option, including lifting strakes,heavy duty rub rail, saltwater series, and Yamaha F150. I keep it tied to the dock behind the house so have it bottom-painted (this will be important later).


Got the boat, took it out, broke it in per Yamaha specs and it was great.


When it comes time for my first service, the dealer comes and picks it up and brings it in for service.  At this time I had my dealer install some customized options: 1) Heavy-duty boarding ladder in the starboard-stern, that was custom fabricated and installed by the dealer (wife and I are scuba divers, so wanted to make sure we had a beefy enough ladder to board with equipment on).  2)Extra 19 gallon fuel tank behind the lounge seat.  3) 10 gallon fresh-water tank underneath the sun deck. 4) NMEA 2000 network for connecting my Yamaha F150 into my Garmin 541s.  5) Standard Horizon fixed VHF radio and antenna.  These were all things that we had agreed to at the time I purchased the boat, so no surprises here.


I get the boat back, check out everything they did and all is good.  Performance is great:  > 42 MPH.


Over the next few weeks I start noticing that the boat is listing ever-so-slightly to starboard. Hmmm.  I take it back to the dealer, and they see that the starboard lifting strake seems to have separated from the pontoon and was taking on water. The solid keel was also separated in a couple of places.  They claim that I must have hit something (to my knowledge I didn't).  Anyways, they send it off to their local guy who does aluminum work, is approved by Bennington, and they fix things up.


Back in the water we go.  Go for a couple more weeks, and low and behold, I've got another leaking pontoon, starboard side, with a list.  Back it goes into the shop, and Bennington replaces the starboard pontoon.  


Everything is fixed, and back in the water we go.  Have a couple more weeks of great boating, then come out to the dock one morning to see this: 



Yep, Houston, we have a problem.  TowBoatUS comes over and has to tow me to the ramp (they actually had to put a diver in the water to inflate some floats to get the boat back to level), so that the dealer can load it onto their trailer.


We get back to the dealer and get a look underneath the starboard pontoon.  that is a VERTICAL tear in the pontoon.





Here's what it looked like when the water finished draining:





That is a 7.5" tear in the pontoon.  WHAT THE HELL CAUSED THAT?  I know I didn't hit anything that would have caused that to happen.


At that point in time, I'm completely fed up with Bennington. I've had the boat in the shop more than I've had it on the water - or so it seemed to me.  I spoke personally with the VP of Sales for Bennington, Mr. Tom Cooper.  He completely understood my frustration and asked what could they do to make this right.  I said I was done with the elliptical pontoons - there's obviously a defect in them, so I want you to put the boat on a truck up to Elkhart and replace the elliptical pontoons with the Sport Performance Package.  Tom was happy to do so, and off the boat went.


[NOTE: I took a performance hit as a result of the additional weight of the SPS, and lost some RPMs in the process.  I alluded to this in a separate post on another thread , but didn't want to go into the details then]


I am an engineer by training, and my son is also an Aerospace Engineer who has access to a supercomputer.  We get to talking about this, and I decide to reach out to Bennington's chief designer, Mr. Brad Fishburn.  Brad and I talk, and I asked him if they had ever done any Finite Element Analysis modelling on the elliptical pontoon design (they had not), and that I'd be happy to do so if they would provide me with the design specs (aluminum grade, thickness, dimensions, etc.).  Brad is a great guy, and he got me the info we needed to do an FEA.


In looking at this, we noticed that the dealer was lifting the boat using straps and a gigantic forklift.  Basically, they would wrap the straps underneath the boat, one set towards the bow, and another set towards the stern, and lift the boat up to move it.  When we began to model this we quickly learned that BECAUSE OF THE ELLIPTICAL DESIGN OF THE PONTOONS, unless you lift this on a PERFECT 0° BUBBLE (i.e. put a level across the bow and the stern and ensure that you are lifting PERFECTLY LEVEL: think of a clock at 6.0000000 o'clock), you will be imparting loads on the pontoons off-axis.  If the pontoons are perfectly round (for example, 25") all load points in a circle are the same.  HOWEVER, if you get off-axis on the ellipticals (i.e. 6.011111), the load is now being imparted at A side angle, which creates a weaker point.  As we modeled this, we learned that this would eventually fail EVERY TIME.  I went back and took a look at the 7.5" tear - and it is RIGHT ALONG THE LINE WHERE THE STRAPS THAT LIFTED IT WERE (this is a photo of the port pontoon - the distance from the back of the toon to the front of the strap was exactly the same as the starboard tear):





Another factor that we modeled was the heavy-duty ladder.  The fabricator had directly welded it to the starboard pontoon to increase it's rigidity.  Unfortunately, a part of the ladder was submerged in the water, which would cause shock and vibration on the starboard pontoon.  It is my belief that the lifting of the boat using straps, along with the shock and vibration of the ladder were the main contributors to this failure.  This was also the reason for the solid keel pulling away, since it too would be pulled by side loads created by the off-axis loads.  If you look at the above photo, you'll see the gap between the solid keel and the hull (the white spot in the middle; that's light shining through between the bottom of the pontoon and the solid keel).  I also spoke at great length with the dealer, explaining both the science and the mechanics of why this failed, and why it would be MANDATORY that the elliptical boats be lifted with a fork lift beneath the decks - AND NEVER LIFTED WITH STRAPS.  He disagreed with my conclusions but PROMISED ME that my boat would NEVER be lifted with straps again by him.


Tom Cooper and I discussed this, and he had mentioned that Bennington had just come out with a new ladder, and that we were going to use that. We get the boat back from Bennington with the tri-toon SPS package, and I have the dealer bottom paint it - REMINDING THE OWNER that we agreed to never lift my boat again with straps. 


They deliver the boat to me - and sure enough, you could see THAT THEY STILL LIFTED THE BOAT WITH STRAPS.  You could easily tell because the bottom paint had not fully hardened, and the strap marks were clearly visible where they pressed on the black bottom-paint.  You could actually see the pattern of the fabric strap, and the exact width of the strap!


I showed this to the owner, who gave me the lamest excuse I've ever been given in my life: "I wasn't the guy running the lift".  


I have not taken my boat back to that dealer, nor will I ever.  I now go to the Bennington dealer in Ft. Myers - Marina Mike's - and they have been fantastic to work with.  I am also EXTREMELY pleased with Bennington in that EVERY STEP OF THE WAY, they have been more than willing to work with their customer - even to the point of providing design blueprints.  I don't know of many companies in ANY business that work as closely with customers as they do.


During all this mess, I was upset with everyone that had anything to do with Bennington, or the dealer where I bought the boat, or just about everybody in the world.  I "vented my spleen" on Tom Cooper one day, and he had to take it because "the customer is always right".  I've since apologized to Tom, and told him that I was wrong to dump on him when in reality it was the dealer that created this mess.


We have had the boat for 4 years now, and have not had any further problems  with it since going to Marina Mike's.


If you have elliptical pontoons, talk to your dealer about lifting with forks, and NOT with straps.  The elliptical design is a solid design, it is the method of lifting of the boat that is the problem.


Long live Bennington.  I'm glad to be back.
 
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BigKahuna

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Great story w/a happy ending! 


Why couldn't Bennington figure out that lifting a boat w/elliptical pontoons w/straps would put undue stress on them?!? Your boat couldn't have been the only boat that this has happened to........
 

hma95

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WOW!!  That's all I can say at this point.  Happy that Bennington was able to take care of you, but really, WOW.  Glad you're back!  :)
 

tcpip95

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Great story w/a happy ending! 


Why couldn't Bennington figure out that lifting a boat w/elliptical pontoons w/straps would put undue stress on them?!? Your boat couldn't have been the only boat that this has happened to........

In talking with Tom, he mentioned that - while rare - they had seen one or two cases where something similar had happened, but nothing approaching this level of stress.  We use our boat in the Gulf of Mexico and while we don't go out in weather of anything greater than 2-3' max, we'll occasionally get hit by some decent sized wakes.  These will all put loads on the boat.  Normally when these loads occur in an "as-designed" basis - such as waves, etc. - the elliptical design will flex in the proper plane, and they are actually quite well designed to accommodate those loads.  I had spoken with a couple of other Bennington dealers and asked them about lifting these types of boats, and they both said that they lifted them with forks, never with straps.  One guy actually looked at me wide-eyed when asked him "what about lifting with straps?".  He said, "no way!" And actually demonstrated to me how he simply went in and lifted one from the bow using a forklift only.


In talking with Brad, I understand that they have increased the thickness of the aluminum from .08" to .10" in the ellipticals, and have also improved the structural integrity of these as well, so I'm sure they've made them well; I suggested that thet send out a bulletin to dealerships but don't know if that was ever done.


I also believe that by having the ladder welded directly to the rear of the pontoon, and that ladder in the water, those conditions induced a good amount of load/twisting/torque on the pontoon which would have also accellerated the metal fatigue, leading to the eventual failure. 
 
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SEMPERFI8387

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Very interesting read. I'm sure your "pain" and research has helped others, including Bennington, for future (and past) owners who may run into a situation like this.
 

kaydano

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I agree with Semperfi. You have done a major service to the Bennington nation! Both the company and the customers!   I'm also an engineer, and I've spent  my career building computer models and running simulations. I've got nothing that even remotely compares to that story.  Well done!  I wish the forum had an award to give you for going above and beyond to figure this out. 


I also wish we could mail a box around and take turns taking a dump in it and mail it to your dealer.  Probably illegal. Totally appropriate though. Cudos to Bennington for working with you. Thanks for sharing the story!
 

lakeliving

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I agree with Semperfi. You have done a major service to the Bennington nation! Both the company and the customers!   I'm also an engineer, and I've spent  my career building computer models and running simulations. I've got nothing that even remotely compares to that story.  Well done!  I wish the forum had an award to give you for going above and beyond to figure this out. 


I also wish we could mail a box around and take turns taking a dump in it and mail it to your dealer.  Probably illegal. Totally appropriate though. Cudos to Bennington for working with you. Thanks for sharing the story!

I'll start the box. I don't want to be the last guy who gets it and has to open it up to add his/hers!!!!!!


Kudos for not killing anyone at the first marina. It is really sad how some people just don't give a sh!t about other peoples property and doing it right. I've had to work with Bennington directly in the past and they were great to us as well. As long as I am in the market for a boat....it will be a Bennington.
 

krcossin

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I appreciate you sharing your experience tcpip95, this is the best use of a forum, so we all learn from each other.  Lesson learned: do not allow a lifting strap to touch a toon, ask and verify, never assume others will take care of my things like I do.
 

FusionKing

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There are a couple of things here I would like to point out.


First, Yes Brad is a great guy and friendly to work with.


As far as the lifting strap issue goes here I would like to attempt to point out a thing or two. If you have ever been on the welding repair end of the deal, then you know that a forklift between the logs can do a serious amount of damage. I've repaired dealer accidents from this numerous times. The length of the forks to correctly lift a pontoon are very long, and the operator has very little "feel". Stern drives would be nearly impossible to do this with from the back because the transom assembly is far too wide, and the boat would be too rear heavy for many forklifts to lift from the front. 


I belong to several forums and love them, but there are many times people jump on a bandwagon and don't know all the facts. One being...the only "elliptical" log on the boat is the center one. It is the same height as the outer two round ones. so said strap would put very little if any on the inner or center log. I do totally get the science behind what the OP is pointing out and appreciate the knowledge it brings forth.


If you wanted to put a boat in the shop with a forklift and leave it, you would either have to pick it up from the front or put it in the shop backwards. Coming off of the customers trailer could be a problem here. Not impossible just way more hassle and therefor an extra charge to the customer. Sometime straps are the only alternative. (or the best)


If straps are used correctly, they are very safe. Lifting a boat using any method at all is a very  dangerous task and great care is of utmost importance.


Bennington is a great company, with a great warranty, but many times they choose to repair damage under warranty that really should have been turned into insurance instead. I see it every day on many other brands as well.


Just my 2 cents....take it or leave it.
 
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