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Is it durable? Practical? Fairly priced?

In the marine environment, a product must wear well, meet your particular needs and not  break your budget

Back in 2003, I had the bottom of my boat painted with two antifouling coatings — Interlux Micron 66 and Pettit Trinidad — one on the port bow and starboard stern and the other on the starboard bow and port stern.

The exercise was done as a long-term test when I was the editor of Powerboat Reports, a now-defunct, no-advertising newsletter that published articles based on product evaluations. The paints remained on the hull for nearly five years, and in the fall of 2008, I finally sanded them away. Yes, they had kept marine growth at bay all that time.

Sitting at my desk after toiling away with the power sander, digging out the paint dust from my ears, I was reminded of just how loathsome bottom painting can be. That’s why I chose to test two paints that I knew would last several years. Forget sanding and painting annually. (By the way, I painted the entire bottom with Micron 66 in 2009.)

I usually opt for the most durable or the longest-lasting products simply because I would rather use my boat than work on it. My Garmin combination GPS/sounder is 10 years old, a dinosaur in terms of marine electronics, but it still works well, as does my decade-old, fixed-mounted Apelco VHF radio.

I bought my 1998 Neptune walkaround with a trailer — a dual-axle model from a respected manufacturer, ShoreLand’r. I recently had the corroded suspension springs replaced, and I installed new carpet-covered bunks using pressure-treated wood and galvanized hardware. I expect the rig to serve me well for many more years.

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But how do you know if a product will be durable? Price is a good indication. Remember the old cliché: You get what you pay for, and that’s true whether it’s a life raft, antifouling paint or wire cutters. When I was testing for PBR, one brand of fishfinder consistently finished last. It was no coincidence this manufacturer’s products were always among the least expensive in the test group.

You often can tell the overall quality of a new boat by examining its fit and finish and its workmanship. For example, the wiring behind a Cabo sportfisherman’s electrical panel will always be meticulously organized and neat. The same should be true of gear and other equipment. Does the cowling on that 8-hp outboard fit snugly? Do those navigation lights come with tinned-copper leads? Will that multitool survive years of use — or abuse?

I avoid gear that must be coddled or replaced every six months. Give me the outboard that can withstand a half-dozen high-speed groundings, the double-stitched PFD with extra-wide vest straps, the hand-held VHF that can withstand repeated drops on deck.

When choosing gear, know exactly what you’re looking for. I bought a Garmin 72 hand-held GPS because I needed a durable, waterproof unit that displays large, easy-to-read numbers. I didn’t need cartography, a color screen or a sultry female voice telling me where to go. And use your head. Don’t buy a six-person offshore life raft for $5,000 if you hug the shoreline in a 25-foot pocket cruiser. There are certainly more reasonably priced life rafts that will meet your needs.

When it comes to cleaning products, the stronger they are, the more effective. Take stain removers. Those that pack potent acids usually outclean the less-toxic brands. Of course, cleaners with higher chemical concentrations are more hazardous to work with and are more likely to damage gelcoat, vinyl or plastic, so find the least-toxic product that still works well. ‘Green’ is great, but the product has to work well, too.

Chris Landry likes the most durable product.

Like many of us, I turn to fellow boaters for advice about gear, especially when it comes to fishing. A friend of mine who is a former charter captain recommended Ande fluorocarbon leader line. I use it. The fishing guide I met while reporting a cruising story on Florida’s Pine Island Sound told me about Berkley Gulp! saltwater shrimp, an artificial bait. I use them. Soundings editor Bill Sisson made me a believer in the Mini Maglite with Bite-a-Lite holder, a great one-two combo for night fishing, although I know he’s also added LED lights into his small-light inventory.

Sometimes, however, I ignore my friends. I still use a generic brand of 2-stroke oil for my 150-hp outboard, despite the protests of Erik Klockars, a marine mechanic and technical consultant for Soundings. I can hear him barking at me now: “The engine doesn’t run as clean as it’s supposed to with that junk!”

I’ve acted on many of his tips about other products though, like Ballistol spray lubricant, Mercury 2-4-C grease, and Racor fuel/water separators with those see-through bowls. Erik likes the Racor filters because they allow you to monitor the condition of the fuel. “You can see if there’s water in the fuel,” he says. “The water drops to the bottom.”

The bottom line for me when it comes to choosing gear: Products must be durable, practical and worth the price. Do your homework, consult other boaters, and make educated purchases.

See related articles:

- Shopping smart

- Choosing the right gear, by Bill Sisson, editor

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

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

This article originally appeared in the December 2009 issue.