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Value is measured in product longevity

In boating equipment, you DO get what you pay for, so look for marine-use products from reputable makers

The first thing I bought for a boat was an official-looking “Navy” anchor. I was 9, and I’d been admiring it for months in the window of the local hardware store. It was for my first boat, a 12-foot navy-gray wooden skiff. I wanted this anchor because I wanted to grow up and be in the Navy (still do).

Don't let the volume of choices in the aisles overwhelm you. Do your research and take your time.

That anchor would slide across the bottom like a one-legged cockroach on butter in August. It didn’t work for small skiffs, no matter how cool it looked and no matter what it did for big ships. That was my first lesson in throwing my bucks into that hole in the water. Figure out what you really want the product for, and do your research.

I researched by looking at what other boaters were using. Most boats were much bigger than mine, and I noticed mostly grappling hooks or Danforth-type anchors. I couldn’t afford either. (The hardware store wouldn’t take the anchor back.) I also noticed that sometimes these other boats also dragged. Finally, after examining what was in the bow of a commercial fisherman’s skiff, I got a big old cinder block — for free. My boat stopped dragging … sometimes.

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I learned another lesson. When I buy for my boat, I don’t necessarily have to buy a product specified for marine use. I’ve used many products successfully on board for years that came from NAPA, Sears, Walmart and many other sources. However, it is often critically important to buy certain products specifically made for marine use not only for durability but for safety. Products involving electricity are prime examples.

If a product is designed and manufactured specifically for marine use, it usually costs more to make and buy. Unfortunately, some products with “marine” stamped on them have nothing “marine” about them other than the stamp. But I’ve found that a marine product usually works better for marine use than a general market product. If the usage needs a marine design and build, it’s better to be safe than sorry and bite the bullet.

I’ve also learned that you usually get what you pay for, and sometimes you pay more in the long run when you buy cheap stuff. Take sacrificial zincs. For years I’ve been using Camp zincs, and I’ve been very happy with their performance. Camp zincs are specified as made to military specs, including specific requirements for the alloy, which, for example, allow a minimum amount of impurities and require certain percentages of good stuff. This has much to do with how well the zincs work.

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Also, Camp shaft zincs have copper contacts to ensure grounding. There’s a nylon retaining washer to keep the bolt from falling out, and the nut is cast in. If you’ve installed as many of these under water as I have, you know how important this is. Even if you have a yard install your shaft zinc, you don’t want to spend money having the worker crawling around looking for the nut he dropped.

But apparently some zincs on the market are not made to military specs and have a high level of impurities and other faults, such as improper tolerances for shaft size. These may erode more quickly or not at all. Lately I’ve seen more and more of these latter types on retail shelves, apparently made in … did anybody say China? All of this really hits home when you listen to boaters talking about hiring marine electricians to look for wiring problems they assume existed because their junk zincs were eroding so fast.

I’ve also learned that while you usually get what you pay for, sometimes vendors will stick a high price on a piece of junk to make you think it’s better than it is. So I not only research — the Internet is a good place to start — I also try to buy products made by companies I know.

New companies often make good products for less, but I want to be reasonably assured, so I’ll research the company and maybe call them. However, if I’ve found companies that have consistently made good products over the years, I’ll go there first. Among the many that quickly come to my mind are Camp, ACR, Pelican, Raritan, Fortress, Interlux, Surrette, Steiner Binoculars and Xantrex.

I also listen to the experiences of other boaters, not only as to how the product performs but how they’re treated as customers when there’s a problem. A company with poor customer service is bad, in my opinion, no matter how well it builds its product.

Above all else, my bottom line is safety. Being out on the water isn’t like cycling, hiking or touring in a car. The ocean is still untamed. You need the right stuff. And it’s seldom as simple as finding a cinder block.

See related articles:

- Shopping smart

- Choosing the right gear, by Bill Sisson, editor

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

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

This article originally appeared in the December 2009 issue.