After 26 years of fighting for boaters' consumer rights, Boat Owners Association of The United States (BoatUS) Consumer Affairs Department Director Caroline Ajootian has announced her retirement. Seaworthy Magazine Editor Charles Fort takes the helm of the BoatUS Consumer Protection Bureau, which is the only consumer advocacy program dedicated solely for boaters seeking redress with manufacturers, suppliers or businesses. It also offers the only online database of consumer complaints and safety information as well as a free online Recall Safety Alert Registry.
(L) Retiring BoatUS Consumer Affairs Director Caroline Ajootian and (R) incoming Consumer Affairs Director and current BoatUS Magazine Consumer Editor Charles Fort.
Ajootian sailed on Long Island Sound and New England Coast as a child growing up in New York. She later worked at her family's wooden boat workshop and was a newspaper reporter and photographer before joining BoatUS in 1986. Many BoatUS members will recognize her name for her consumer-driven stories in BoatUS Magazine, and she was also fondly known among the users of the BoatUS online chat boards as the helpful 'Ask Caroline' moderator. In addition, she managed the BoatUS Salvage Arbitration Program.
'Almost everything else we know today about recreational boating and the businesses that produce, sell, and service boats is completely different from what it was 25 years ago,' said Ajootian. 'For example, today, while complaints to BoatUS about dealer and factory service haven't been completely eliminated, the egregious complaints of the past are rare. And the marine industry has gone a long way towards adopting consumer-service trends with things like comprehensive warranties, improved overall product quality, and ease of repairs. Today, you also hear much less finger-pointing between the factory and the dealer,' she added.
'Forging good working relationships with companies has been the cornerstone of our consumer efforts, and that makes them more than willing to help our members. And when appeals for customer service and fairness were ignored, we found the 'power of the pen' - an article in the largest circulation boating publication in the country, BoatUS Magazine - motivated many companies to come to the table with a positive resolution.' Ajootian investigated and wrote dozens of high-profile stories for the magazine throughout her tenure, often identifying emerging patterns of defects.
For Ajootian, retirement means more time to ride her horse and tend her garden at her home in Oregon's Willamette Valley and spend more time traveling with her husband.
In addition to his new duties as Consumer Affairs Director and Consumer Editor of BoatUS Magazine, Charles Fort will remain in his role of Associate Editor of Seaworthy magazine, the BoatUS damage avoidance publication. Prior to coming to BoatUS in 2002, Fort sailed the hemisphere for three years from Alaska to Panama with his family aboard a 30-foot sailboat, gaining hard-earned, blue water experience. He has a 100-ton US Coast Guard Captain license.
He has also authored stories for publications such as Sail, Cruising World, and Good Old Boat. Fort is a member of the boat standards organization American Boat and Yacht Council and serves on the organization's technical committees, and is also a member of the National Fire Protection Association, the Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors and is the Director of the BoatUS Salvage Arbitration Board. He currently lives aboard a 45-foot cutter and sails the Chesapeake Bay.