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Good, Better, Best: How to Get the Most Value Out of Your Marine Systems

We’ve heard the old sayings: “You get what you pay for” or “Buy the best you can afford.” The most recent NMMA report showed that consumers spent $35.4 billion in boats, engines, accessories and related costs. How much of that money was yours and was it spent wisely?


If you are outfitting your new vessel with soft goods, replacing dated electronics or buying a new generator you will have to ask a very important question:


Good, Better or Best?


Knowing when it is appropriate to buy “on the cheap” versus “buying the best you can afford” is learned behavior. We spoke to your fellow boaters and industry experts. Here is what they had to say.


Rely on a proven electronics manufacturer that builds quality equipment for use in a marine environment. “Cheap crap” is never the right brand for the electronics that guide you home, tell you the water depth or allow you to call for help.


A good $500 chartplotter might be just fine if all you need is to know where you are and where you are headed. The best $5,000 chartplotter might be full of features you’d love to have, but simply don’t need. Figure out what features you really need before you fall in love with the 24 inch display screen. It comes with a price tag.


Darryl Matfin, Recreational & Commercial Marine Electronics Consultant suggested you look at individual needs. “If you’re cruising, running a sportfish or working far from shore, don’t skimp on coms gear. And I don’t just mean your radio on the bridge. Communications equipment includes your antennae and backups too. When you need help, you don’t want to rely on the cheap stuff and it can get lonely out there real quick. The inshore guys and the near shore trawlers can spend less money for something less powerful. But, if you’re going to cruise and explore in shallow water, or work where the cut isn’t in the same place it was yesterday, you’ll appreciate having bought the best sounder you can afford.”


New electronics can hit the market without all of the bugs worked out.  The best time to buy is 6 to 8 months after the product launches.  This will give the manufacturer time to respond to any issues that surface.


Remember, just because you’re spending the most money on the newest technology doesn’t mean it’s the most reliable or the best.  If you’re the first to have it, you might also be the first one to send in a warranty claim.


If downtime costs you money or the product performs a critical safety function, buy a trusted brand from a trusted dealer.  The knowledge, service and support will save you money in the long run.  On this note, Brian Vesely with Northern Lights Marine Generators offered some great advice:


“Value is derived from many factors, price is only one.  Many times a lower initial price hides added maintenance and reliability costs.  For instance, some generators are sold on a dollar-per-kilowatt basis, but they may not be of the highest quality. Often, if you examine total cost on a dollars-per-kilowatt-hour ($$/kWh) basis you will find that higher quality sets come out ahead.  Look for a manufacturer that has engineered out extraneous hoses, isolated cooling system components so there are no anodes needed, and drive the raw-water pump via the engine gear-train to increase belt life. On the electrical end look for over-sized generator windings and insulation along with discrete control components for clean power that is reliable, and will protect the thousands of dollars of customer’s equipment that we power. In short, you should take your generator set seriously, and invest in a brand that does so, too. Remember, if there is a problem with your power supply in a marine situation, you can’t exactly walk home!”


If you are buying something that could be dropped overboard make your decision based on the fact that it probably will be.  This is why many sportfish charters don’t let charter guests handle the rods until the fish is hooked up.   If you need some rods and reels to take the family fishing you can purchase a great rig without spending $1,000.  If you are a tournament boat that regularly competes for purses worth hundreds of thousands of dollars (or more), $1,000 isn’t likely to get you anywhere close.  And once again, if your flea market reel explodes while you fight a tournament winning fish worth $750,000, how much did it REALLY cost you.


Evaluate your needs, the features you actually need and the type of boating you do before you decide the answer to “good, better, or best”.  Consider the long term expenses of short term savings when it comes to ship systems like diesel generators and don’t be too eager to buy the widget with the most bells.  Let the neighbors work out the kinks first.




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