Road Runner, Boats and Manuals

– By Steve Robins

Solution needed: boat operator manuals

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Beep Beep!

Solution stories abound – even on boats.  My dad has owned a boat for a while.  It’s a great boat from Sea Ray, the leading motor boat company in the U.S.  Generally the boat runs well and the boat’s features, fittings and accouterments are great.

On July 4 (of course), my dad ran into a problem though.  Once the engine was started, it began to emit a mysterious Road Runner beep-beep every 2 or 3 minutes and a mysterious “Check Engine” indicator appeared on the instrument panel.  Dad is an experienced boater and he tried everything he could think of, to no avail.  Eventually, a neighboring slip-holder came over and generously checked out the engine – and all looked OK – except for the Road Runner beep-beep of course.  Eventually, we decided to chance it and took the boat for quick spin.  Apparently, the beep-beep did not indicate imminent disaster and the boat returned safely to share at the end of the trip.

When in doubt, consult the manual?

Did I mention that Dad left all but one of the manuals at home?  They came in a very attractive briefcase for which Dad was most appreciative.  But it was a heavy and filled with about 30 different manuals – much more than he’d need or want to drag along… except if he was having a problem he couldn’t figure out, of course.

Worse yet, when I checked all of the many manuals the next day, I couldn’t find anything about the Road Runner beep-beep sound.  Nothing about beeps.  Nothing about the check engine warning (which seems impossible).  Nada.  Zilch.  Nothing.

Those manuals were pretty important since the boat dealership was closed, and since they were the only folks that would be able to diagnose the mysterious Road Runner code.

What exactly does this have to do with solutions?

You could say that cars, boats and other motor vehicles are in and of themselves, tightly integrated solutions that help people to achieve a specific goal (transportation, stratus, pleasure driving etc).  At the next level, each solution includes everything you need to successfully operate the vehicle… manuals, dealerships, dealer repair shops, after-market parts etc.  When combined with the products themselves, these complete ecosystems form solutions.

Most of my cars have included integrated manuals.  Think about it: a car is made up of hundreds of parts from countless suppliers.  And yet, all of that comes together in a single (or fewer than five) owner manuals.  Fewer manuals = simplicity = easier maintenance and operation = better experience.

Unfortunately, that is NOT the case for boats.  As we found, boats are comprised of a greater number of final components (such as the engine), each of which was its own manual and instructions.  And each manual is written and formatted (if at all) differently.  So understanding, operating, troubleshooting and maintaining a boat is far more complicated than it should be.

This is actually a major concern since boaters are far more likely to find themselves far from help than car drivers.  So they need to be able to diagnose problems and conduct minor services.

In other words, boat operator manuals should function like complete solutions, solving the operator’s challenge (how to operate, diagnose and maintain the craft) in its entirety, by including all information in a single document, rather than in a piecemeal (and thus useless) fashion.

How to build integrated operator manuals

You might be wondering how this could happen.  It’s easier than you might think: boat manufacturers would spec requirements for owner manual documentation, parts/assembly suppliers would supply that information to the manufacturers and then the manufacturers’ technical documentation folks would assembly and edit them into final electronic documents ready for publishing.  That’s how it’s done in the automotive and airline industries, and how it could be done in the boat industry as well.

I hope that the boat industry will move toward providing more complete – and useful — documentation solutions for boat owners.  A doc collection in a nice briefcase is not a solution.  An integrated binder that contains all necessary information is indeed a solution – and would greatly improve the boater experience.

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