Unless you’ve bought a new boat, or a used one that’s been fully restored and updated by the previous owner, chances are you’ll inherit an annoying handful of broken parts and pieces aboard that can be difficult to find—especially on older boats. While some items—such as standard plumbing, electrical, engine, and mechanical parts—can be relatively easy to find, others can lead to long and frustrating searches.
We’ve owned and fixed up our fair share of well-worn boats in our time, and we’re here to help, whether you’re looking for an old Perko flag pole base or a joker valve for a 1560 series Wilcox Crittenden marine head. Read on to find out how you can get your hands on those difficult-to-find bits you’ve been digging around for.
Quick Tips on Locating Hard-to-Find Boat Parts
- Compare photos. Take digital photos of the item you need to replace and compare them with photos you find in Google Search –> Images. When you find a match, click “Visit page” in the image dialogue box. That will often get you to the source – or at least a step closer.
- Google the part numbers. Look for a part number on the item you need to replace. Even if you don’t know the manufacturer you can enter the information you do have in Google Search, e.g. “SPT 10-437A, 12-volt cabin light” and you’ll often get good results.
- Use Amazon. These days a tremendous number of manufacturers and distributors of marine parts have storefronts on Amazon, and Amazon has really superior search, reference, and logical abilities.
- Check with online groups. Most major boat brands and plenty of minor ones have owners’ groups online. Join the discussion on your own boat — or start one yourself. Facebook also hosts boat owners’ groups.
First, see if the part you’re trying to replace has a company name emblazoned on it. If you’re really lucky the part will have not only the manufacturer’s name, but also a part number etched, printed, or cast into it. With those important clues you can simply plug the information into Google to see if you get any results.
If you don’t get any search results on Google with a manufacturer name and part number, try heading down to your local marine supply shop with the offending piece, as well as the manufacturer’s name and part number you found. If yours is the kind of shop where we’ve worked, a skilled store clerk or parts manager should be able to identify more common pieces and parts. If not, he or she will have catalogs and other tools at their disposal to help track down and order the piece you need.
Unfortunately, tracking down some replacement parts can be more difficult. When this happens you need to be craftier. Great places to try are the online forums of owners’ associations, where you can post a picture of the part and then identify the type of boat you own. Others may have been through an identical struggle to locate the same pesky part for their boat and have information on where to obtain a replacement. Also consider online and local marine salvage yards. You’d be surprised how many hard-to-find parts you might stumble on at boat show booths run by these operations.
If you’re still unable to locate the part you need, you may want to consider starting fresh with a whole new fixture. A great example would be a navigation light with a broken lens you’ve been unable to locate. Sometimes you just need to throw in the towel and replace the whole unit. Still, we hope your search doesn’t get to that point. To get some more detailed tips on finding very specific replacement parts for the things that make your boat go, continue reading.
An extremely common failure point on many boats are original equipment manufacturer (OEM) and aftermarket parts such as latches, locks, and hinges. Often subjected to years of abuse either outside or in, it’s not a matter of if these parts will fail, but when they will fail. And replacements can be a real pain to find.
Thankfully some hardware companies are brazen about putting their name all over everything they make, which enhances your chances of finding the part you need. Be sure to look carefully for these identifying features.
The problem with water strainers on boats is that they’re generally made up of several smaller hard-to-identify parts such as O-ring gaskets, strainer baskets, and sight glasses. Thankfully, however, many of the water strainers found on boats—both fresh and raw water—have been around for ages and have been made somewhat continuously by a few key manufacturers—Groco, Perko, and Jabsco, to name the main ones.
As with other marine parts, be on the lookout for manufacturer names and part numbers on the strainer itself, as well as on the part or parts you’re looking to replace. Many water strainers also have service kits available for them, which often include all the gaskets or O-rings you’ll need. Strainer baskets and sight glasses are often available on the shelf right next to them. Be sure to bring a picture of your water strainer with you, as well as the offending parts that need replacing, if you can.
Unless you’ve got a dinghy or small Jon boat, there’s nearly a 100-percent chance that you’ve got some sort of hatch or opening locker on board. And many of these hatches have gas-assist struts to hold them open when you need to access whatever is beneath them. The good news is that with the right sleuthing you can find gas-assist struts not only in your local marine shop, but also in automotive and industrial shops.
As with other searches, look for a manufacturer’s name and part number first. Hint: A company called Associated Spring Raymond makes a big percentage of gas struts for both the automotive and marine markets. If you can’t find any identifying marks, you can take the part into your local marine supply shop. You may want to consider replacing your old rusty mild steel struts with stainless-steel ones. Keep in mind that these struts have a certain travel length and are able to support a specific amount of weight.
If you’ve not dealt with a leaky porthole before, we’re guessing you’re fairly new to the boat ownership world and haven’t had the unpleasant experience of trying to get comfortable down below in a rainstorm when you’ve got water dripping on your head or on the book you’re trying to read. Worse yet, constant leaks like this can and will damage your boat and the gear inside it over time.
While there are a ton of porthole manufacturers that have been around for ages, and finding screens and gaskets for their products can be generally easy, the older your porthole is, the harder finding parts can be. Taking precise measurements is key, as is noting any identifying names or part numbers. The best thing you can do is take in the offending part or parts to your local marine supply shop and see if one of the pros can help identify it. Gasket material is often sold by the foot, or in kits, while screens generally must be ordered.
Like a leaky porthole, a hatch with a bad gasket can make life down below downright hellish, especially if it’s right over your bunk. Even hatches that protect utilitarian spaces like engine rooms and tackle stowage can fail and ruin gear and equipment below, so it’s important that you check and replace any faulty gaskets as soon as you notice a leak.
Some hatches use generic, rounded closed-cell foam material that’s available by the foot at both marine and automotive supply houses, while others employ more complicated gasket shapes that can make your search all the more frustrating. You’ll be happy to hear that even these complex gaskets are readily available, even if you do have to spend some time tracking them down.
If we had a nickel for every time we came across a boat with a suite of engine and/or tank gauges that had one or two malfunctioning components among all the gauges… well, you know the saying. While some of these gauges can be fairly standard—especially if your boat is equipped with gear from one of the bigger manufacturers such as VDO or Faria—many older ones can be cause for a frustrating search. But a new set of gauges—whether your current ones are functioning or not—can be a great way to upgrade and enhance your boat’s look and value.
If you’re hoping that other vessels can see you while you’re underway at night, a set of fully functioning navigation lights is essential. Unfortunately, the plastic lenses and housings that many of these lights are made of can deteriorate and cloud over, or become damaged by impacts with docks and other objects.
You’ll be glad to know, however, that finding parts of these lights is not impossible. In fact, aftermarket replicas mean that if you’ve got a light that needs replacing that’s way old and no longer made by the original manufacturer, you can often find a knock-off that will work just as well. And you’ll likely need to replace a bulb now and then, so keep a few spares.
More on replacing nav lights or their parts. Before you know it, you’ll be glowing in the dark again.
Good hunting, and feel free to share your own parts-source discoveries in the Comments section below.