People occasionally approach me to install used electronics or in search of various cables, knobs, brackets, etc. for used electronics. Often they bought the unit online, it was a gift, or it is being transferred from another boat. Rarely can they vouch for the condition of the unit because they have not seen it work. There are three prevailing reasons why used electronics are sold online – they are either obsolete, defective, or stolen. It is very common for people to knowingly market defective or stolen electronics online. As a result, I no longer install used electronics unless they are complete, have manufacturers marks and serial numbers, and I can bench test them before the installation.
Even items marketed as new from some sources are old and out of date. One recent customer bought what he thought was a new chartplotter about a year ago from a Carrabelle merchant who sometimes masquerades as a mechanic and has a reputation for chicanery. He then had it installed by the same person who clearly did not know what he was doing or did not care. When the customer called on me to rework the installation I found that the antenna he thought was new was at least a year old at the time of purchase and the software in the unit was well over a year old at time of purchase. These figures are very conservative and understate the case. The unit was probably much older. I discussed this with the manufacturer’s rep who told me the unit could easily have been two years old at time of purchase.
Additionally, the unit arrived without manuals and the serial number was nowhere to be seen. This was clearly not a complete new unit, may have been a return, or simply purchased from a private individual on ebay. Its true origins remain unknown. I have as yet to find a chartplotter, sounder, radio, or other major component that does not come with some semblance of a manual. Manufacturers spend a lot of money diligently producing these manuals to protect themselves legally and to try to avoid installation errors and operational problems. And all chartplotters have serial numbers. (Since writing this article in 2013, most major manufacturers have stopped issuing printed manuals and now embed them in the chartplotter/MFD. This is an unfortunate move since it greatly complicates troubleshooting and installation. Additionally, if the unit is not booting up there is no access to the manual.)
These so-called “new” units may be returns to a legitimate retailer which are then sold off as salvage. They may be units a boater has purchased and then destroyed in the process of doing his own installation – something which happens all the time. They are then neatly packed up to look like new and sold as such. They may be out of date and discontinued models that sat on a shelf for years. You never know unless you buy from a professional, reliable source. I recently saw a Raytheon R10XX Radar for sale on Craigslist. It was marketed as new, looked OK, and pictures showed it in original packaging. Yet, no mention was made of the fact that Raytheon stopped making recreational marine electronics in January 2001 so the unit is at least thirteen years old.
Florida is the lightning capital of the country and boats throughout the region are struck on a regular basis. The defunct units may make their way into the marketplace, innocently or otherwise. Often, there is not apparent damage to the unit and unscrupulous individuals may sell them online. Or perhaps the owner gives away the bad unit to a friend for parts but the intact device may change hands, its history is lost, and it is sold off with neither buyer nor seller knowing its true condition.
So who can you trust? Well, there is a reason I spend so much money at West Marine. In fact, I purchase over 90% of my electronics, wire, fittings, sealants, etc. from West Marine. They are often (but not always) more costly than online sources but stand behind the product without reservation and offer an extended warranty. Recently, their prices on electronics have been comparable to or even lower than many online sources. Plus, I am face-to-face with the seller and he is not a nameless voice in a cubicle in Delhi. We can cultivate a valuable relationship that we are all anxious to preserve. That is worth a lot when you are in a small market with relatively few boating resources and where word-of-mouth means a lot.
If you want the convenience of shopping from home you can call the local store and they will take your order over the phone. If items are shipped to the store there is no shipping fee. If you want an item delivered to your home you can go to http://www.westmarine.com and they will ship to your home, office, or boat. The defining factor for me is that they back their products, enabling me to thoroughly warrant materials and labor. If a customer ever has a problem, I know I can make it right and that counts for a lot to the customer and it is everything to me.
NOTE: I am not an employee of West Marine and have no fiduciary interest in the firm, though I did work there part-time over seven years ago. I endorse the company because of their dedication to customer satisfaction.
If shopping online it is essential to be cautious and to fully understand the return policy before you buy. A few years ago I installed a nice chartplotter a customer had purchased from Defender. About nine months later the unit showed condensation inside the screen. In order to replace it I had to call Defender, get permission to return it, travel to Shell Point to remove it, and then ship it to them. Four weeks later they sent a new unit and I had to go to Shell Point again and install it. Had the customer bought the unit at West, I would have had a new one installed the same day and at no cost to the customer.
If shopping online, I recommend places like the GPS Store where personnel are helpful and knowledgeable. Consumer Marine Supply is also well regarded in the field. Defender has some good deals but keep in mind the anecdote above. Use caution as many online distributors are operating out of a spare bedroom and buying seconds they market as new items under warranty.
Bottom line – use caution. High or low, there is always a reason for the price.
Be Careful Buying Online
•Theft of electronics exploded with the advent of ebay, craigslist, and other online marketplaces
•Installers removing old but usable electronics tend to salvage the entire appliance – display unit, brackets, transducers, and cables.
•Vessel owners doing their own work on functioning devices try to salvage all components for resale or reuse or may cut wires
•Thieves rarely take the time to remove brackets and I have never seen an instance where they removed all power cables, transducers, etc.
•Buyers who acquire used and/or incomplete components online are taking a great risk since they have little or no recourse if the unit is defective
•Several times a year I will be asked to install used electronics. Often the customer says he got the device online or it was a gift yet rarely does the “gift” include mounting bracket or cables. The tech who accepts such work does so at great risk to his profession and integrity
•If someone attempts to sell you a display head with no cables or mounting bracket there is a very good chance it is stolen or defective
Avoid Being a Victim
•Flush mount electronic units in console, locking electronics boxes, or thru-bolt mounting brackets
•Remove exposed, bracket-mounted display heads when boat is not in use
•Firmly secure exposed cables on console
•Lock access doors to keep thieves from getting to cables and wiring
•Photograph front and back of unit upon purchase and keep with receipt. Record serial numbers and register your electronics with the manufacturer.
•Use indelible marker to place your name, boat name, and phone number or email address on back of unit
•Beware of unknown men cruising the waterways in small boats. They may be looking for targets. Take photos and be obvious about it
•Report thefts to police promptly
•Monitor online market places
•Post notice of theft at places like West Marine, marinas, clubs, and other local marine outlets
•Discuss the theft with local tradesmen and retailers. The thieves or their unwitting customers will be looking to replace the brackets and cables that were left behind