Marine Supplies from Unlikely Sources

by Rich Finzer

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There's just no doubt about it, the care and feeding of any boat, but especially a good old boat can be a pricey affair. Boat stuff is expensive because marine dealers understand fully the attention that owners routinely lavish on their vessels. And, they price their merchandise accordingly. They get away with it because many boaters assume that only stuff from a boat store is boat stuff. Well, yes and no. Now while you won't find Harken blocks or Lewmar winches at the dollar store, many items found on both sail and powerboats are actually quite generic and have additional uses besides just marine applications. Sometimes they even have different names, depending on just what kind of a store is selling the item.

My now ongoing quest for low-priced boat stuff began quite suddenly about 10 years ago. I was in a local marine supply, seeking fresh spark plugs for my outboard "Old Smokey." When the man at the cash register told me that they were $11.95 each, I told him what he could do with his spark plugs. Incensed, I drove to a nationally known auto parts store run by these three dudes (you know the one). There I found the same plugs selling for $2.47 or 80% less than my smiling neighborhood marine dealer was demanding. At the prices he was charging, small wonder he was always smiling. I've never been back to that marine store, and when I recount the incident to all my sailor buddies, they vow to a man never to shop there either. Since that day, I've discovered many other atypical sources for marine supplies. Here are a few examples.

Let's say that you need some swaging ovals. At the big blue overpriced marine store, they will run you a dollar or more depending on the size. You can buy them at the big red farm supply store (you know the one) for about half as much, except that they call them fencing connectors. Farmers use them to connect strands of barbed wire. I can generally pick them up there for about half a buck.

Maybe you need a new fire extinguisher. Well, the big blue marine store has them, but so does the big orange home improvement store (you know the one) for considerably less. God forbid that you ever have a fire onboard, but if you do, rest assured that the fire won't care where you bought that Kidde extinguisher or how little you might have paid for it.

If you're a cruising sailor, then anchoring is part of your daily routine. When you decide you need more chain rode for your hook, there are a lot of places to buy it. You can go to the big blue marine store, the big orange home improvement store, or the big red farm supply. They all sell hot dipped galvanized chain and shackles. Chain, after all, is just chain. It's sold by the link size. The chain you bought at the farm supply will never even realize it's been attached to an anchor.

No sailor is ever going to venture far without tools to fix the inevitable breakdowns that occur. You could pick up a set of custom "boat" tools at the big blue marine store. They'll probably come in a fancy-schmancy blow molded plastic case with cute little cutouts for each one. And, you'll end up paying a king's ransom for them. Or, like me, you could go into the discount tool store, buy a $2 plastic toolbox and fill it up with the same chrome plated, drop forged tools for much less. Recently, I picked up a set of 13 screwdrivers at just such a place. The cost was $6.99. Funny thing about inexpensive tools, they seem to last forever and they make no unusual sounds, as opposed to any expensive tool which makes a terrible kerr-plunk noise when you drop it in the drink. Expensive tools sink faster too.

Another way to save even more money on some of these generic items is to do a bit of comparison shopping. On the rare occasion when the big blue marine store has a lower price, I still don't buy the item there. If the big orange home improvement store has the same item, they will beat any other price by another 10%. Think about this too. Not only will you save money on the same identical item, but you'll end up paying less in sales tax.

So now you ask, "What am I gonna do with all the money I've saved?" Well, you can replenish the cruising kitty, start a war chest for some new sails, or buy a really decent bottle of premium dark Jamaican rum (you know the one).

Take the Next Step:

  • If you're a boater in need of few supplies, look around for supplies outside the marine supply store. You just may find what you need at a fraction of the cost.

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