Boaters know that it's expensive to buy personal gear and boat equipment at marine stores and chandleries. Here's a collection of tips for saving big bucks when buying sailboat gear and equipment.
Tip 1. Buy Used
Much gear and boat equipment is made to last, and often used items are just as good, or nearly so, as those bought new - usually at significant savings. Keep in mind that some items (sails, cordage, etc.) do eventually wear out and should be carefully evaluated, but even then, things only a year or two old are often still less expensive per year of life remaining. Here are some places to look:
- You can find great deals on eBay for many boating items. If you're not in a hurry, observe an auction or two through to the finish price to judge the market and prices before jumping in yourself to start bidding. Remember that an item that sells for $100 one day may go for $50 next time one comes up.
- Craigslist is the best classified listing for used gear locally, with the advantage that you can see it before you pay. It's also a good place for fire sales when people need money and are willing to sell low to sell fast. Fall is an especially good time for bargains.
- Check your local area (use online yellow pages) for used gear chandleries. Many boating areas have these stores, which typically stock a wide range of used gear and hard-to-find specialties. You'll pay more at a retail store, but it's usually still much less than new. Good Old Boat magazine maintains a national list of used gear chandleries.
- Search online for dealers in higher-priced used equipment. For example, there are several reputable used-sails dealers. It may seem odd to buy a used sail, but many racing sailors use a new sail only a season or two and replace it while it's still in very good condition - you might get a decade of use for a fraction of the new price.
Tip 2. Buy Non-Marine Products
If you can't find or don't want a used item, before buying new it's worthwhile to look around for non-marine alternatives. It's not just a joke that marine stores sell gear for two or three times the price of similar items elsewhere, such as in the big-box hardware stores. Here are some examples:
- Instead of those expensive open-finger sailing gloves with a leather palm, try on some batting gloves from a sporting goods store at half the price.
- Instead of that expensive nontoxic marine antifreeze used to winterize your boat's engine, holding tank, pumps, and waterlines and tanks, get some much cheaper nontoxic RV antifreeze from the hardware store and save big. It's identical.
- Lots of boat hardware, plumbing parts, etc. are the same as or similar to equivalents in hardware stores. Just make sure to buy marine-grade when it really matters, such as wire and 316 stainless steel fittings to endure in the harsh marine environment.
Tip 3. Look for Free or Low-Cost Alternatives
If you usually head first to the marine store for new gear, you simply might astonished at what's available as low-cost or even free alternatives. Take the time for some online searching and talk around. Here are some examples being used by many crafty, thrifty sailors:
- Do you really need to buy those expensive paper chart books and other publications? If you use charts only as backups or are just visiting an area, check out free NOAA booklet charts, sectioned for standard printer paper so you can print them yourself.
- It's crazy to pay for tide and current tables as well, when they're free online. Search for what's available for your area, such as these tide charts for the New England coast.
- Or why pay for a tide app for your iPhone when "tideApp" is available free in the iTunes Store? And speaking of free apps, you can make your own from online information, such as current sea conditions from NOAA buoy reports. Just go to the website on your iPhone, find the closest station for future information, and "add to home screen" where its icon now functions like a personalized app. Do the same with local wind forecasts from the free Predict Wind website or their free app for both Apple and Android devices.
And here's my favorite - how to avoid spending hundreds of dollars for a chartplotter:
- Use your old laptop (or pick up a cheap used on on eBay) and download the free OpenCPN or SeaClear navigation program.
- You'll also need an inexpensive GPS receiver (USB or Bluetooth), available everywhere online.
- Then download the free electronic NOAA charts that SeaClear uses. Your system now accomplishes all the crucial functions of a chartplotter. You'll likely never miss the bells and whistles of the expensive chartplotter and chart cartridges you don't have to buy.
Tip 4. Research Boater Email Lists
If you haven't already, sign up on some sailing email lists and watch the endless flow of information: you'll learn all sorts of ways to get gear cheap or do projects yourself. Start at Yahoo Groups, where at last count about 5000 lists are tagged as "sailing." Browse the group descriptions for your area, your type of boat, or your style of boating. Most groups are open to new members, and many have searchable archives of past messages. If you're new to all this, it's simple just to join, monitor messages for a few days, and then query the group about where to find used or cheap gear. You may be astonished by how many people will share tips and suggestions.
Continue to next page for more tips.