Another Man's Treasure

By Scott Henze

Nine thoughts on the search and the research for parts that can't be found.

photo of replacement ship's wheels

Whether you just bought an old fixer-upper or still meticulously maintain the boat you bought brand new in 1995, you're going to need replacement parts. Some are going to be easy to find, some are not. As your boat gracefully matures, finding parts for her will continue to become more challenging. Unfortunately there is not a giant place where all of the obsolete, hard-to-find parts congregate, waiting for you to come and pick through them. For some people, finding replacement parts for a vintage boat can be like the quest for the Holy Grail, while others are happy with whatever will get them back on the water. Whatever your approach, here are some things to consider as you begin your search.

Define Your Goal

Are you maintaining a museum piece or a functional recreational vehicle? Regardless of how old or rare your boat is, original replacement parts can almost always be found if you are willing to invest enough time and money. I know plenty of people who are willing to spend countless hours hunting down a period-correct flag pole socket and pay $200 for parts, shipping, and re-chroming, while others are content with a perfectly acceptable $10 replacement that is available off the shelf.

Be Realistic

If you are restoring an old classic boat, it may be worth the cost and effort to track down original replacement parts. Most boats are not investment projects. If you accept the fact that you stand virtually no chance of turning a profit on it when you go to sell it, it becomes easier to make legitimate parts substitutions. I'm not questioning the validity of paying $200 for a flag pole socket; in some cases, it may be the right move. Just understand that you will never recoup that investment.

photo of old boat parts Tracking down the parts does not guarantee the condition it will be in. Unless your part is lost or damaged beyond repair, reconditioning your old parts can often be an easier solution. Replacing a broken cleat may be as easy as sifting through a bucket of these which is commonly found in boatyards.

Don't Take No For An Answer

If you have committed yourself to the project of tracking down a hard-to-find part, be tenacious. When you're talking with a parts supplier, understand that he may not share your passion for the quest and the easiest thing for him to do is to tell you that the part is no longer available. That usually means he just doesn't know. Ask specific questions: Who manufactured the part? Where were they made? When exactly did they stop making them? If a supplier can't answer these types of questions, move on to the next guy.

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