How to Beat "Marine" Label High Prices

By Tom Neale, 11/12/2009


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When I buy for my boat, I usually buy gear that is allegedly made for marine use.  There’s a reason. It’s basically that I’m more interested in hanging on to my backside than I am in hanging on to my bucks.  And much of the stuff made for use in houses and cars may, directly or indirectly, create a safety issue when used in a boat. So I’m ready to pay more for the marine product because it, in theory, costs more to make. But here’s the rub. Unfortunately, some products with “marine” stamped on them have nothing of “marine” quality other than the stamp. And we end up with a piece of crumbling junk for which we paid far too much.  How do we deal with this?

Broken Pencil Zinc Shows Porous Interior

A good example of the problem involves the sacrificial zincs on your shaft or hull or in the engine. Of late, some companies have been marketing zincs that, at first glance, look like the better ones but which clearly aren’t. And I haven’t noticed a significantly lower price on some of these cheaply made zincs. They are not as dense and they deteriorate much more quickly, and often they have other short comings.

To deal with this, I use a tried and true brand that I’ve known over the years. I use only Camp zincs. I’ve used them for many years and I’ve been happy with their performance. They are marketed as made to military specs. This includes specific requirements for the alloy which, for example, allow only a minimum amount of impurities and require certain percentages of good stuff. This has much to do with how well the zinc works. Also, Camp shaft zincs have copper contacts to insure good contact. 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 underwater 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 on his knees looking for the nut he dropped.  I may pay a little more for a Camp zinc (but not always), but I know it’s worth it in the long run. I’ve known of boaters who thought they had a serious electrolysis problem, not realizing that they had installed cheap look-alike sacrificial zincs. They hired marine electricians, had haulouts and spent a lot of money before realizing that their boat was the OK, it was just that the zincs were not. Sometimes paying more for a reliable tried and true product means that you save in the long run.

But, if I can safely use a product that is sold in general retail stores and will work well aboard, even though it isn’t designated as “marine,” I’ll save by doing that. However, this is a very slippery slope. More often than not, true marine-grade products work better and longer and are safer on a boat.  Certain products involving electricity are prime examples of when we should buy marine. One such product that quickly comes to mind is the battery charger. A charger built for topping up car or lawn mower batteries is normally not good for use on a boat.  It may cause dangerous gassing, damaging current leakage and many other problems. Years ago we had a brief but bad experience with an AC/DC refrigerator which was principally marketed for RVs. It introduced stray current into the boat’s wiring and would have caused severe electrolysis if we hadn’t caught it. 

Having said all this, we’ve found over the years that there are many products that have served us well which we buy from the shelves of regular non-marine retailers. These have included NAPA stores, Sears, Wal-Mart and other sources.  Non-marine products that we’ve used successfully aboard over the years have included our computers, printer/scanners, TVs, sound systems and “kitchen” items such as microwaves, toasters and blenders.  These products are “electric,” but not used like, for example, that battery charger I mentioned earlier, or an inverter. They’re used in a house-like environment, out of the elements and are not associated with running or maintaining the boat. We’ve also made a mattress for our bed from memory foam we purchased from Wal-Mart. We’ve made and hung curtain rods from material purchased at a hardware store. We use scraps of carpeting from carpeting stores, not only for our interior carpeting, but for chaffing gear.

Tom’s Tips on Finding Good Marine Products

1. Avoid products that are packaged to look like a similar well known tried and true product but that are not made by the original manufacturer.

Click Here for More Tips

But there’s yet another wrinkle to the problem. It seems to me that, more and more, some marketers, knowing that there are people who understand the importance of marine grade quality and who expect to pay more for a marine product, will stick the word “marine” on an inferior cheaply made product, just to get as much money from us as they can.  This is far worse than misleading marketing. This is activity that can hurt people. For example, I’ve seen some marine fasteners that were chrome plated zinc.  These don’t last long in a salty marine environment.

So when we buy marine grade products, it obviously helps to separate the products that are truly marine quality from those that aren’t. If I don’t already know, I do research. The internet is a good place to start.  For example, check out the sources on the BoatUS web site.  The drop down menus at the top open up many avenues of information. Click, for example, “Boater to Boater,” “Boating Info,” “Boating Safety,” and “Resources and References.” Also, I listen to the experiences of other boaters, not only as to how the product performs, but as to how they’re treated as customers when there’s a problem. If customer service is bad, in my opinion, I don’t want to buy their product no matter how well it’s built.

I also look at the warranty. My general assumption is that a product with a good no BS warranty will probably be better. Unfortunately this isn’t always so, in part because the customer service rep will jerk you around or is sitting half way round the world and very difficult to understand. But warranty can be an indicator of product quality. In comparing warranties, it’s important to compare apples with apples.  For example, the warranty for a piece of electronics that’s intended to sit outside may reasonably be shorter than the warranty for a piece of electronics that’s intended to remain below. But keep in mind, that while you can talk about warranty ‘till the cows come home, if a product breaks down at sea, that warranty isn’t going to do you much good when you really need help.

Therefore, as mentioned with the zincs, I try to buy products made by companies I know.  If I’ve found companies that have consistently, over the years, made good products, I’ll go there first.  A few examples of the many companies upon which I’ve grown to rely are Camp, ACR, Xantrex, Pelican, Fortress, Raritan, Interlux and Surrette. Having said this, I should also say that new companies may make great products for less money, and that we need new companies in this field. So, if it’s a new company, I won’t automatically exclude them, but I may do extra research and perhaps call them and ask some tough questions.

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. We need the right stuff.


Copyright 2004-2009 Tom Neale

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