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Confluence warns dealers of leaky Tarpon boats

Paddlepsorts dealers must have had that sinking feeling when they learned in early May that certain Confluence-manufactured Tarpon kayaks sold this year could possibly leak.

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Paddlepsorts dealers must have had that sinking feeling when they learned in early May that certain Tarpon kayaks sold this year could possibly leak.

Mike Plante, general manager of Travel Country Outdoors, received a letter from Confluence warning him that several Tarpon boats in his inventory were part of a limited production run that had manufacturing problems. A redesign of the scuppers (drain holes) and seat posts had resulted in leaks with some boats. Travel Country, located near Orlando, Fla., sells hundreds of Tarpon boats every year, and Plante received the letter right after the shop’s big spring sale. Now, he’s busy tracking down customers who purchased the potentially faulty boats to notify them of the problem and how it can be fixed. “It’s going to be a bit of a headache,” Plante said.

SNEWS® has learned that the manufacturing problem first occurred in January 2007, but apparently Confluence didn’t realize it immediately. When Confluence did become aware of it, the company notified the Coast Guard, which directs boat companies on how to proceed in such matters. At the same time, Confluence developed a way to fix the problem permanently, and the Coast Guard approved the fix.

On May 7, Confluence sent the first of two letters to dealers. SNEWS® obtained a copy of this letter (click here to view), which had the heading “Notice to Halt Sales of Certain Tarpon Watercraft.” The letter requested that dealers “immediately remove and quarantine” Tarpon 100, Tarpon 120, Tarpon 140 and Tarpon 160 boats.

“We suspect that certain of these boats manufactured during a limited time period, and provided to you for sale may have a manufacturing issue that could cause unanticipated leaking,” the letter stated.

On May 18, Confluence sent dealers a second letter, which explained how to locate the problem area and fix it permanently. A letter went to consumers, as well, telling them that they would be required to take the boats to a retailer to get them fixed.

SNEWS® has been told that the solution offered to retailers has been incorporated into the Confluence manufacturing process, so the matter is resolved and no longer under review.

We were also told that Confluence was able to identify by serial number the boats that were made during the troubled production run, and the company was working with retailers to identify the potentially flawed boats in their inventories.

The May 7 letter requested that retailers “review your records to determine contact information for any purchaser of the subject kayaks, in the event that we need to notify these purchasers.”

Unfortunately, some retailers do not record which serial number goes to which customer, so they will have a difficult time tracking down customers before they, quite literally, have that sinking feeling.

“What this has done is shown me where I can really be a better retailer,” said Plante. “Bike retailers take your serial number down in case your bike gets stolen. But we haven’t really sold boats by serial number, and that’s something that we should address.”

In the meantime, he’ll reach customers any way he can. “We’re going to have to shoot out e-mails. Put up signs around the store for the next two years,” said Plante. He’ll also review his sales records going back to January to ensure that no other boats in his inventory were possibly faulty.

SNEWS® View: You think the aspirin bottle in the Confluence medicine cabin is just about empty? Well, this recall brings on yet another headache. We figure this latest incident will involve about 100 Confluence dealers. Of course, Confluence has to be frustrated that the design flaw involves a line of boats getting lots of attention these days with sit-on-tops gaining global popularity and the kayak fishing trend remaining strong. Even more so, it’s just another example of Confluence tripping over its own paddle. The SNEWS® team and the retailers who forwarded on the recall letters from Confluence are collectively laughing at the line in the letter referring to “unanticipated leaking.” Is there any other kind?

However, there is a positive aspect to all this—we hear that the Confluence reps in the field have done a solid job working with retailers to deal with this messy situation. But this goodwill only goes so far because multiple sources we spoke with from around the country also say that the company’s in-house customer service “stinks.” So, while Confluence may have been really proactive in fixing Tarpon boats, it’s failing to help dealers with the smaller things, like accessories, which are just as critical as high-ticket items.

A couple of other things about this situation—it brings to light the fact that, as Plante realized, retailers should have a system to connect customers with sold products and their serial numbers. You certainly want to be able to contact a customer, and do it quickly, should a recall ever arise.

Also, this incident comes at a time when government agencies are focused on the paddling industry and proposing higher levels of regulation through things such as mandatory boater education and boater I.D. cards. Idaho’s governor is even pushing for a tax on canoes and kayaks. It’s just not a good time for one of the most high-profile paddling companies to suffer a design/safety issue that could, rightly or wrongly, feed the argument that boating needs more oversight.

Finally, we’re not sure how much time transpired between the problem first occurring and Confluence realizing it, but retailers we spoke with questioned why it took until May to notify them. Perhaps the company needed time to ensure that it really had a problem, and had a solution, before it rang the warning bell. But that wide window of time has raised some skeptical eyebrows amongst dealers—and Confluence just can’t afford to further erode the trust between it and its dealers.