O Captain! My captain, why are you keeping my deposit?

"The captain is keeping my deposit! Can he?"

Tim Clark chartered a fishing excursion to celebrate his son’s upcoming wedding. When inclement weather caused the entire trip to be canceled, he expected his $500 deposit to be quickly returned.

The captain had other ideas.

This case serves as a warning to consumers and business owners alike. A contract can protect the financial interests of both sides of this equation. And the absence of any clear terms can lead to misunderstandings, hard feelings and pecuniary uncertainty.

“Why is the captain keeping my deposit?”

“After the trip was canceled, we supplied the owner, John Sowerby, with two alternate dates which he informed us did not work for him,” Clark recalled. “Then he returned $250 and said I was lucky to get that back.”

Lucky? Luck shouldn’t have anything to do with whether Clark’s deposit is refunded or not.

I asked Clark to see his contract for this excursion with Caveman Sportfishing.

And therein lies the problem — there was no contract. Nor were any policies about the deposit communicated to Clark prior to the cancellation.

And he didn’t ask.

“I have no contract. Captain Sowerby told me that my canceled check would serve as my confirmation,” Clark told me. “Nowhere on his website does he state deposits are nonrefundable.”

I scoured the website, and there is no mention of what happens to a deposit if a charter is canceled because of bad weather.

The canceled check was perfect as a confirmation of payment of the deposit. But as an explanation of the terms of that deposit, it was a failure.

“He’s still keeping my deposit!”

The lengthy paper trail between Clark and Sowerby shows that initially the captain was on the fence about returning the deposit.

“Answer these questions in an honest truthful manner so that I believe you at least tried to reschedule and I will give you your money back,” Sowerby wrote. “I just need to know why so many of our customers manage to reschedule and you cannot.”

Sowerby’s terms and conditions for a refund appeared quite fluid.

As the days progressed the emails between these two became more heated.

“Do you get money back at a motel on vacation if the weather is bad?” Sowerby questioned Clark.

Uh, what side of this case was Sowerby arguing? The captain had canceled this charter and it was not available to Clark. If a motel closed for business because of the weather and canceled a guest’s reservation, a refund would certainly be due.

Following this train of thought, Sowerby had just proved Clark’s case.

And then Sowerby’s business model became even fuzzier when he announced his final decision on the subject: There would be no further refund.

The wife decides

What information had the captain relied on to determine that Clark was not eligible for the return of his full deposit? He asked his wife, of course.

“I had asked my wife to decide if you should get your deposit back as I have been fishing every day except today,” Sowerby wrote.

Unfortunately for Clark, Sowerby’s wife vetoed the refund.

I asked Sowerby for an explanation. It took several inquiries, but I finally received a response.

Sowerby told me that he never returns deposits unless the cancellation is because of the mechanical failure of his own boat. Further, he told me that he expected the Clark group to reschedule because every other customer had been able to do so. He found it curious that Clark’s group didn’t even seem interested in rescheduling.

What are the terms that allow the captain to keep his deposit?

When I asked to see the terms, policy or a contract that allowed him to keep the full deposit he responded:

We do not use contracts in our charter business. If a charter has to be canceled due to weather, our practice has always been to reschedule for another available date that works for the charter. We have never had a problem with any other charters in this situation in all the years we have been in business.

I have one of the very best reputations on the Jersey Shore and have hundreds, if not thousands, of customers from over the years who swear by how well our charter business is run. That is why I have been in business longer than any other charter service in South Jersey.

I spent so much time going back and forth with Tim Clark and even refunded half of his deposit just to end this thing. Believe me no other charter boat captain would have done that.

Capt John Sowerby

If a company’s rule is not written anywhere and not conveyed to a customer until there is a problem, is it a binding policy?

An unapologetic captain — he’s keeping the deposit

Most would argue it is not. But Sowerby was unapologetic. He told me no charter companies use any type of contracts.

While that may or may not be true, a quick search of the websites of Sowerby’s charter competitors in Cape May show that most have a “policies” section to address what happens to a deposit in this case. Sowerby’s website does not.

Despite my attempts to appeal to Sowerby’s sense of good customer relations, he stood firm and said that he would not be responding any further — to me or to Clark.

It is unfortunate that Clark did not pay this deposit with a credit card. If he had, he would have been able to use the strength of the Fair Credit Billing Act to have his credit card company fight this battle for him. With no written policy on Sowerby’s side, it is likely that Clark would have come out the victor.

Ultimately, this case may end up in small claims court where a judge — and not the captain’s wife — will decide if Clark is “lucky” to have received just half of his deposit.

Does Sowerby have a right to keep half of Clark's deposit?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Underwritten by

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirportParkingReservations.com

With nearly 20 years in the industry, over 128 airport covered in the U.S. and Canada, and over 1,000 Hotel and Parking Partners-we provide travelers the best options on how to get to the airport when flying. Whether you want to; drive yourself and park near an Airport (Airport Parking), stay the night before your flight at an airport hotel and leave your car (Hotel and Parking Package), or take a shared Shuttle/Private Car/Limo to the Airport- we got you covered. The best deals can be found online, and booking a reservation has never been easier. You can explore all of our options by visiting us at AirportParkingReservations.com, ParkSleepFly.com, AirportParking.com, and ShuttleFinder.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Cavalry Travel Insurance

Cavalry takes the worry of out travel by providing 24/7 access to medical and security professionals combined with the best medical evacuation and security extraction services. Cavalry gets you home safely when you need it most. Learn more at Cavalrytravelinsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Seven Corners

Seven Corners has helped customers all over the world with travel difficulties, big and small. As one of the few remaining privately owned travel insurance companies, Seven Corners provides insurance plans and 24/7 travel assistance services to more than a million people each year. Because we’re privately held, we can focus on the customer without the constraints that larger companies have. Visit Seven Corners to learn more.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at Sodexoinsights.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at Travelexinsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirHelp

AirHelp is the world’s leading flight delays compensation company, helping passengers apply for compensation following a delayed or canceled flight or when boarding has been denied. It is AirHelp’s mission to fight for passenger rights by holding airlines accountable for flights disruptions that are out of passengers’ control. AirHelp has already helped 5 million people, taking the stress out of applying for compensation and making it as hassle-free as possible for travelers around the world.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Insuremyrentalcar.com

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by G1G.com

Since its inception over three decades ago, G1G has continued to revolutionize the travel insurance industry by being the only aggregator to operate a customer portal, placing all of the user's primary needs in one place. We have continued to innovate and disrupt the market by reimagining the way travel insurance can be delivered to the end user in ways no competition can. Simply put, no one knows the market as well as its founders and no one else shares G1G values and mission.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at  Mediacomcable.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Arch RoamRight

Arch RoamRight is one of the fastest growing, most-highly rated travel insurance companies in the United States. Travel advisors love working with us, and travelers feel protected with our trip cancellation and travel medical insurance coverage. We also make it easy to file a claim online with our fast, paperless claims website. Learn more about RoamRight travel insurance.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit  Virtuoso.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

As a company that is constantly striving to simplify travel insurance, VisitorsCoverage, is on a mission to help travelers make the better decisions about purchasing travel insurance, quickly. VisitorsCoverage has helped millions of travelers globally to buy the suitable travel insurance and explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at  VisitorsCoverage. Lowest Price Guaranteed.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. Elliott.org readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by TravelInsurance.com

TravelInsurance.com makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at  TravelInsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on  Squaremouth.com to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International, SinglesCruise.com, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.

Send this to a friend