This blog is big on saving money while doing restoration and improvement projects. I’ve literally saved a boat load of money by doing almost all projects myself, buying gently used parts, and shopping for bargains online. As of the time I wrote this post, I’ve saved over $10,000 compared to the suggested retail price of the parts and supplies that I actually used. If that sounds incredibly high, consider Chip Ford who has spent over $40,000 on his C-22 and is now trying to sell it. Boy, I hope he doesn’t have regrets. Good luck, Chip!
Even though I’ve saved 72 percent on average off of retail prices, that also means that I’ve spent a lot of money on the projects you read about here. You can do the math to estimate how much I’ve spent. It’s actually slightly higher than that because I’ve made some minor improvements that have no corresponding savings. So to me, being stingy doesn’t mean being cheap or a miser. If I were truly cheap, I wouldn’t have a boat at all! It just means not paying more than I have to.
In some of the posts here, particularly those that use specialized parts, I mention the sources of the parts and supplies that I used, but in most posts I do not. That’s primarily because in most cases, you can buy the parts and supplies from multiple sources.
Most skippers have their favorite sources for parts. You probably do too and so do I. But if you’re new to sailboat restoration and improvement or just to certain types of projects (such as canvas or electrical), you might be wondering what are the best sources. If that’s you, the following list will give you a jump-start on finding what you need at the best prices.
This is my favorite sources list. These sources are where I’ve actually spent the most money. I’ll give a short description of the types of parts and supplies that I buy there and why. When I buy new retail parts and supplies, I usually try to group as many items together from the same source to take advantage of free shipping offers or to lower the shipping cost of each item.
Understand that this list is very subjective. It’s based almost entirely on the lowest prices. These sources do not necessarily have the best choice of every type of part, the best customer service, return policy, lowest shipping costs, etc. Also, these are general parts sources, not specialists for things like rope, wiring, canvas, wood parts, and so on. I’ve also made many one-time purchases from other suppliers. If there’s enough interest, I might write a separate post about specialty suppliers.
So without further ado, I present a countdown of my 6 favorite sources of parts and supplies in classic Tonight Show ascending order:
What boat owner doesn’t know about West Marine? Their biggest advantage is that there’s probably a store near you. Second is they carry just about everything you could ever want. Their prices are usually the highest that you’ll find for most items but they hold frequent sales (usually during the holidays) on popular items like life jackets, electronics, and maintenance supplies that make them worth considering sometimes. For their best prices, watch their website home page for Fantastic Friday sale items each week.
One thing that I can wholeheartedly recommend buying from West Marine is rope. Once or twice per year, they put all bulk rope on sale around 40% off for one day. That beats everybody else by far and you can buy top quality rope for less than even lower quality brands. I’ve bought all my running rigging this way and saved hundreds of dollars.
For sailing gear, I’ve found that it works best to order items online and take advantage of the free shipping to my nearest store. I get a phone call the following Friday telling me that my order is in and I can go pick it up without worrying whether the items I need (or enough of them) are on the shelves.
The stores are run by knowledgeable, experienced, and friendly staff in my experience. I shop there when I can’t wait for shipping from online retailers, I just need a few fasteners to finish a project, or if I only need one or two items and the extra shipping costs to order them elsewhere cancel out the price savings. For example, when I ran out of varnish for my exterior teak restoration project, I bought more from West Marine instead of waiting for delivery from the east coast.
Plus, I like to support my local store a little to help make sure they’re around in the future. They benefit the local economy and provide a valuable service to the local boating community. It’s also about the only place in my area to see and try electronics like a GPS, chart plotter, or VHF radio before buying.
Sign up for the Silver (free) or Gold ($24/yr.) level of their West Advantage Rewards program and you can earn points back for qualifying purchases and receive other benefits.
Nautos USA is the US distributor for Nautos Industria Metalurgica Ltda, a manufacturer of sailboat hardware and accessories in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil. In my opinion, they make products that are every bit as good as their American-made competitors but at a fraction of the price. If you’re tempted to buy Chinese hardware because of the price, buy Brazilian instead. I’ve been very happy with the quality and they have a surprisingly broad choice of products. For some items, you can find more technical information to help make your selection on the Nautos factory website.
I purchased all the blocks for my lines led aft and cruising spinnaker projects from Nautos as well as some other hardware. Shipping from their warehouse in Florida has always been fast and their customer service is excellent. They recently introduced free shipping on orders of $50 or more. Download their PDF catalog and subscribe to their newsletter to hear about upcoming sales, which are often 20% off everything online. They also offer many of the same items in their eBay store.
If you need of any parts or accessories that are popular and common to both sailboats and motor boats, Wholesale Marine offers attractive prices. They also stock sailing-specific gear from Ronstan and Barton Marine. Although their selection isn’t large, they’re a good place to go for basic items. For example, when I did my complete rewiring project, I especially appreciated that they sell Ancor marine grade wire by the foot and connectors by the piece and don’t force you to buy more than you need. They too have an eBay store where you can sometimes find extra bargains.
An even better source for electrical supplies only is GenuineDealz.com.
Second only to West Marine in promoting their own brand, Jamestown Distributors is an old school chandlery that caters especially to boat builders. Their prices aren’t as low as some others, but their selection of raw materials and building supplies is unmatched. For example, when I refinished my swing keel, JD had all the supplies that I needed so I could place one order with free shipping, something none of the other suppliers could match. If you’re uneasy about mixing and matching products like resins, paints, primers, and adhesives, you’ll appreciate JD’s own TotalBoat line of products that all come with free shipping.
Like West Marine, JD promotes customer education through their many product demonstration videos and how-to articles. Their website is perhaps the most powerful of all the major retailers in that you can narrow down your search using multiple criteria such as by type, brand, size, price, and rating. The JD print catalog is great for wintertime project planning and seeing some good craftsmanship.
Defender has an excellent selection of general marine parts and supplies including sailing hardware from Andersen, Harken, Lewmar, Ronstan, Schaefer, and Samson ropes. They offer good prices and frequent sales but do not offer free shipping no matter the size of the order. Their customer service has been good in my experience, such as when I placed a special order for mounting parts for my Raymarine autopilot. Their website is relatively easy to use even though it requires you to drill down through category levels. Sign up for their email list to receive sale notices and for their print catalog, which makes good browsing material while you’re um…on the captain’s chair.
By the way, though not as economical as Sailrite, Defender is an alternate source for Sunbrella canvas.
For supplies like paint, resins, and adhesives or for small or specialized parts and fasteners, I usually turn to one of the preceding retailers. Otherwise, for hardware and bigger parts, this is the first place I look, specifically, the Sailing Hardware and Gear category. For example, I added a great bimini top to Summer Dance for an unbeatable price. For C-22 owners, I’ve seen almost every part of the boat except the keel sold at auction including masts, booms, and rudders.
If I know exactly what I need and can find new parts at auction or Buy It Now prices, the cost is usually lower than even the online retailers. There are exceptions, though. Some dishonest sellers list items at higher than retail prices, sometimes much higher. Or they will try to entice you with an extremely low listing price and hope you don’t notice the ludicrous shipping price that more than makes up for the difference.
Secret confessions of an eBay sniper
I try not to pay more than 60% of retail for used parts unless it’s something very rare. For used parts, it’s most important to know how to recognize excessive wear from normal use, what’s acceptable and you can refurbish, and what’s not acceptable and you should pass up. For that, it pays to do your homework in advance with online research.
For rare parts, you have to be patient and wait for listings to appear. I use search alerts extensively so that I’m notified by email when a part I’ve been waiting for pops up. If I’m lucky, it has a reasonable Buy It Now price and I’ll buy it immediately. If it’s an auction listing, I’ll try to snipe it in the last 10 seconds of the auction. Sometimes I lose, but I often win and lock out other bidders.
If you’re not already an active eBayer, you might be suspicious of getting ripped off, which can happen if you don’t know exactly what you’re buying or don’t ask the seller the right questions in advance. In my experience from almost 300 buying and selling transactions, I’ve only had a couple that didn’t work out as expected. Even those, I was able to work out to my satisfaction by being firm and patient. Trust is the foundation of eBay and their system works well.
Get in on the action
If you’d like to find out about special deals from these and other sources that I check regularly and are of particular interest to stingy sailors, subscribe to this blog using the Follow button in the sidebar at right. Then you’ll receive my occasional newsletters by email along with other exclusive content and offers just for subscribers. I list noteworthy sales in the $tingy Deals section of the newsletter.
Where do you shop?
There probably weren’t any surprises in that list for those of you who have been working on your sailboat for very long. Well, maybe the conspicuous absence of a popular online Catalina parts retailer, which is the last place I go for parts, but that’s a different story. There just aren’t many sources to choose from at the national level. Of course, there are some excellent regional sources as well.
Those are just my favorites for the way I shop and from where I live. But I’d like to hear what your favorite sources are. If everyone who reads this blog would nominate their favorites, we would have a pretty credible list of trustworthy sources.
This poll will only be open for the next seven days. After it closes, I will add the statistical results to the end of this post for everyone to read. Be sure to come back to this post after I publish next week’s post to find out how the voting went. If you’ve had a particularly good or bad experience and would like to let others know about it, I encourage you to describe it in a comment to this post. But please, keep it short, fair, and factual. I moderate all comments before they appear publicly and I will delete all that are flaming, snarky, or obscene so don’t waste your time writing them here.
Well, my pleading and coercion attempts didn’t work very well. You viewed this post about 130 times in its first week but only 17 of you voted or about 13%. You can see the voting percentages for each outfitter by clicking View Results below the poll. Four of you took the time to write in your favorites, which included Amazon, Sherwood Marine, and your local independent retailers. One voter qualified their vote for West Marine by adding that they had a friend who worked there and gave them a discount. That would be convenient.
So it seems that on the whole, you really do dislike polls but there were exceptions out there who, surprisingly, shop pretty closely to where I shop. We can only assume that they are representative of all readers.
Memorial Day weekend is coming up fast. I hope you have plans to get out on the water, I sure do. There will surely be some good deals to be had by the sources in our poll. What are you going to buy?