Thursday, February 2, 2012

Marine Supplies and boat living

Today I stopped in at a marine supply store. It’s the last place I got to for boat parts. One would think it would be the first, but put the word “marine” in front of anything and the price triples. Usually, the huge markup isn’t worth it.

Things like stainless steel bolts, screws, nuts, washers, cotter pins are much cheaper at hardware stores. Best I can tell, it’s the exactly same stuff.

However, there are some bits and bobs that can only be purchased from a marine store. For those, all I can do is take a deep breath and pull out the wallet. It seems there’s an assumption that anyone with a boat can afford to pay through the nose.

That may be true for a some sailors, but that’s a thinning slice of the market. Now I’m running into people who are living on their boats because their house was foreclosed on. I’m sure they are not as free with their wallets as they once were.

Living on a boat can be a great and inexpensive way to live. Boats are efficient and self contained. Now it’s common to have solar and wind electrical power, composting toilets, water collection -they are basically off grid houses. They have an advantage that houses don’t have. It’s possible to raise anchor and bug out.

To make that affordable to the average Joe, the price of entry must come down. If you read the glossy sailing magazines, a cheap boat is $200,000. That ain’t right. To make it a viable cheap lifestyle alternative, the price should be 1/10 of that.

It is possible to buy decent older boats on the cheap. For many people that works. The only problem that older boats need repair. For some of those repairs, a person is stuck doing what I did today. They buy specialized parts from the marine supply store. Now my boat is small and parts are relatively cheap. The boat just doesn’t have all that many parts.

Thanks to Buehler's Backyard Boatbuilding, by George Beuhler, it’s possible to build an inexpensive boat from the ground up. Should a person build such a boat, they’d have a cheap reliable craft that can repaired without going broke. Buehler has some good designs, but they won’t suit everyone’s needs. We need more people like George putting out new designs for the sea hobo. Even if you don’t build a boat from the keel up, there are some good lessons to be learned from books like Beuhler’s.

Boats have to be more than play toys for the rich, expensive working boats, or floating retirement homes. Imagine a small sailboat that’s a home, but maybe well laid out for fishing, light cargo transportation, or even salvage work. My imaginary boat would be able to get into shallow waters, opening up opportunities not available to regular boats designed only as play things. This would be a boat for a working Joe who not only lives on his boat, but uses it to pay the bills.

Such boats won’t be heavily reliant on marine supply stores. Of course, if there are enough “working Joe” boats out there, some clever marine store will begin to cater to them.

Some marine specific equipment can be bought for reasonable prices. Electronics is one area where prices have come down. GPS units, marine radios, and other electronics can be had for reasonable prices. There is no reason to buy top of the line items when the cheap stuff is reliable and does the job. Resist the bells and whistles.

That’s the chain of thought I fall into when I buy a couple small bags of boat bits. It starts out as a small necessary purchase and has me thinking of a whole way of living outside the box.



  1. I hope you don't spend too much time fixing things but get back on the water.

  2. Dizzy: very minor problems. That's not what's keeping me off the water right now. Spending some time with my dad.

  3. Hardware store stainless is 304. Marine stainless is 316, a better grade. 304 works, but will get rusty after some years.

    I love that book, and Buehler's designs. I'd love to have a "Juno" to live aboard as he did...

  4. I've heard bad things about some Marine stainless -made in India and not quite up to spec. Stainless will corrode in low 02 conditions, so it should always be checked.