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Is It Easy To Get Boat Parts?

By The Ithaka - Published June 02, 2006 - Viewed 1806 times

Is It Easy To Get Boat Parts?

Mark L, from Quebec, sails with his wife Lorena, on their 1983 Valiant 40. They plan to take off in two years for an open-ended cruise. He asked, "How hard is it to get boat parts once you leave North America?"

From Douglas: Here in the western Caribbean, it depends on where you are. Cuba doesn't have ship chandleries; they barely have soap and toothpaste. What they do have, though, are shade-tree magicians who can successfully transplant a Russian tractor diesel into a Studebaker and keep it on the road for half a century, so chances are pretty good they can handle mechanical work for you and fabricate whatever you need for engines. For almost everything else forget it. The parts just aren't there.

In the Mexican Yucatan, Cancun has everything you could possibly need, and the marina in Isla Mujeres can do whatever work you want and order parts flown in. In Belize, there's a pretty well stocked marine supply house in Belize City, and they can order for you, but that always takes time.

In Guatemala, Puerto Barrios is a port town with basic industrial supply shops of all kinds and workers in all the trades. But its not a place to find yacht paraphernalia. The capitol, Guatemala City, has a pretty good selection of anything mechanical, and Mar Marine, in the Rio Dulce, is a very-very-mini-mini version of West Marine. Rio Dulce also sports a small used parts store, run by a former cruiser. In the Bay Islands and Honduras, there's the navy haul-out yard at Puerto Cortez, but its more for rough labor than fine work. There's a haul out facility (100 ton travel lift) in La Ceiba, and they have full service, some parts, and can place special orders.

The specialized odds and ends that constitute modern yachts are by and large not available around here. Many can simply be done without, but if there are things that must be had, which can be found only in industrialized nations, by far the two easiest ways to get them is either to go there on your own and carry them back by bus, or on the airplane (we recently carried an entire radar system); or by have a visiting friend haul the stuff in person with a low declared value. It's expensive to have things shipped by Fed Ex or DHL, but it can be done reliably, and most marinas and boat yards will accept packages for you.

The problem some folks run into when they order replacement parts or gear, and have it shipped into a foreign country, is clearing the package through Customs. Worldwide, workers in this profession consistently prove that, other than how they like to play dress up, there's no discernable difference between cops and robbers. Depending on the vagaries of the country, there may or may not be significant tariffs levied on equipment sent in, despite that its been marked "For Yacht In Transit" (which is supposed to mean tariffs are waived). We've heard of people paying anywhere from 10 to 40 percent of face value to get their stuff through customs. The costs may go down if you have a local agent process everything for you. Sometimes it's merely a matter whom you'd rather pay the mordita to, the government crooks or the civilian crooks.

The bottom line is the water line. Many cruisers seem to find it easier to load every part they can and just paint a new stripe a few inches up. In addition to the usual stuff like oil, fuel and water filters, impellers, hoses, injectors and tubing, we carry two replacement alternators, an extra starter, an extra compressor for the fridge, an extra set of solenoids, rigging, sail cloth, fuses, circuit breakers, radios, multiple hand-held GPS units, o-rings to beat the band, and enough wire to light up a small village. In this, we're not unusual.

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