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Choosing the right gear

sissonnewI learned the hard way many moons ago that buying the cheapest fishing tackle I could find wasn't such a good idea. What did I know back then? I was just a kid trying to stretch his lawn-cutting money as far as it would go.

What I thought were bargains invariably wound up failing far too soon when put into play in the real world. Salt and sun were tough on my "value" rods, reels, line and so on - that was a lot of learning.

What I did discover back then was that the best stuff typically costs more and, even then, you had to be diligent about taking care of it. Those remain good lessons.

gift_guideToday, I try to buy gear with a good track record from manufacturers with a reputation for quality and service. The goal is reliability, durability and longevity.

When in doubt, I ask others for their experience with a given product or equipment category. Word of mouth can be valuable. Get as many opinions as practical, especially from people you believe have a proven track record of giving solid advice. If several seasoned boaters all provide the same recommendation about a piece of gear, you'd do well to listen.

I've found that a good marine mechanic can really help steer you in the right direction. If they've been around, they know what works and, more importantly, what doesn't. The guy in the next slip may not have that perspective.

Online research is often a good starting point, but look for the credentials of the reviewer or person dispensing the advice. What is his or her expertise? Does the person seem to have an ax to grind? Does he put forth a reasoned, objective argument or critique, or is it mostly emotional rhetoric? Be wary of self-proclaimed experts.

Soundings technical writer Frank Kehr likes to get his hands on a product before deciding whether to buy it. That's good advice. For some gear, you can tell a lot just by the "heft factor," how it feels in your hand. Are the edges rough or sharp? Does it feel flimsy? Does it pass your tactile test? When possible, take a product out of its packaging or box and examine it closely. Obviously, that's a problem if you're buying something online and you haven't had previous experience with it.

Never play Scrooge when it comes to buying safety equipment. Invest in quality PFDs, flares, communications equipment and the like. It's the old story: When you really need something to work, it better work.

And don't skimp on the little things, either. Remember, not all hose clamps, cable ties, fasteners or fuel lines are created equal. Spend a little more for the best or risk getting bit on the backside.

We're all looking for bargains, but whenever I buy something for the boat based primarily on price, I'm usually disappointed. The old saying that you get what you pay for pretty much holds true. To be sure, quality doesn't come cheap in the marine marketplace, either. But you can also pay plenty for something designated "marine" and still not get the level of workmanship and quality either advertised or anticipated. Caveat emptor: Before you buy, evaluate and scrutinize with your eyes wide open.

See related articles:

- Shopping smart

- Is it durable? Practical? Fairly priced? by Chris Landry

- Internet research vs. hands-on trial, by Frank Kehr, technical writer

- Value is measured in product longevity, by Tom Neale, technical editor
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