What you buy and where you buy it could make all the difference

Savings for Boaters

by Rich Finzer


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I've been an avid recreational boater since 1959, having earned my power boat operator's license at the ripe old age of 11. Additionally, for the last 23 years, I've operated a winter boat storage business. Yet despite all my boat-related experience, I'm still amazed at the pricing disparities between stores selling boating supplies versus stuff you could use in conjunction with your boat. Here are few more recent examples I've found:

  • Boat trailer stuff: The vast majority of recreational boaters own trailerable boats, and that's fine. A vessel small enough to tow provides a boater with many choices when it comes to splashing their craft for the day. Sadly, a boat trailer sometimes requires repair or maintenance to keep it roadworthy and safe. If you need to replace bulbs or tail light lenses on your trailer, you could visit the big blue marine store (you know the one). But, the same bulbs and lenses are available at many auto parts, farm supply, and big box home improvement stores, and generally at lower prices. It's at least worth a look. If you need to grease your wheel bearings, the same example holds true. I'll bet my pirate parrot and cutlass that the auto parts store will beat the marine store's prices six ways from Sunday.

  • Solar lights: To cut the bill for their use of shore power, many large sailboat/yacht owners install solar powered lights on their lifeline stanchions. The big blue marine store sells them. Each is equipped with an electric eye to turn it on at dusk, which is pretty handy and pretty expensive, too. Here's what I did instead. I cruised into Blank-Mart and bought a solar powered garden light for $4, and on my way to the marina, I picked up a couple of hose clamps at the local hardware store. The funny thing is that my solar light turns on at dusk too, and it doesn't care if I use it my garden or on my boat. The difference is not the installation location; it's the lower price I paid.

  • Decorations: Boaters love to congregate and show-off, I know I do. Additionally, many yacht clubs and marinas schedule boat "parades" over patriotic holiday weekends. Nothing looks snazzier than a line of boats decked out with colorful pennants, streamers, and American flags. The big blue marine store will be glad to sell you some, but here's what we do at my yacht club. We pool a combined order for strings of pennants and flags and submit it to the "Asian" trading company (you know the one). If our order is large enough, we even receive free shipping. We generally save enough money to fund most of the cost of our 4th of July picnic! So, which option sounds better? Expensive streamers or free hot dogs?

  • Painting and varnishing supplies: Vessels kept at a dock or mooring generally require bottom paint to protect the hull from marine growth or barnacles/zebra mussels, collectively referred to as fouling. Craft left in the sun also require periodic attention to their teak trim or "brightwork." Anti-fouling paint and marine grade varnishes are quite expensive and are sold almost exclusively by nautical retailers. But the rollers and brushes needed to apply the products may be purchased at hardware stores or even dollar stores. When last I needed some replacement mini-rollers for my seasonal bottom painting chores, I priced them at the marine store. A package of five sold for $11.99. Directly across the street at the orange home improvement store, the same rollers were selling for $4.99. Neither the paint nor the hull seemed to know the difference. Last, if you can purchase brushes at the dollar store, you can avoid the cost of expensive and highly flammable solvents to clean them. At a buck a crack, use one until the end of the day and then discard it.

  • Hull cleaners: Over the course of the boating season, many boats acquire a buildup of hard water scale. You could opt to clean your hull with stinky smelling muriatic acid, or you could buy a bottle of toilet bowl cleaner instead. If you don't use all of it on the hull, take the rest home and use it for its intended purpose.

  • Comparison-shopping: The big blue marine store promises to beat by ten percent any other advertised price for an identical item. So before buying, check around and save even more.

Remember that taking friends or family out for a day of nautical fun doesn't mean being taken to the cleaners beforehand.

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