Frank's Blog - Yes, Finally
The Cost of Marine - 20 November, 2016
Periodically, if you spend any time on the Interwebby, reading forums and posts by sailors or boaters, you will come across a rant about the cost of
the word "marine." In the post, the ranter rages about the fact that "slapping the word marine on a product raises the price by at least double."
Actually, the amount it gets raised by varies, depending on how angry the ranter is.
Now, at this point, I would love to give you some examples of the same item being priced at two different prices, just because it says "marine" on it,
but I can't. Here's why. It doesn't really happen.
What does happen is one of three or four reasons (depending on your viewpoint).
First, you have issue number 1 - different supply chains. Someone will say "I went to my local marine supply store and tried to buy a fratzenjam
plug. They wanted twenty dollars for it. So, I went to the local big box store and got the same plug for only twelve bucks! See, every time you slap
marine on something, they raise the price. It's a rip-off!"
Well, no. What you have is two different supply chains with two different cost structures. For example, there are 253 million cars in America, but
only 12.5 million boats. There is, in a lot of towns, at least one car parts store. On the other hand, most marine supplies are sold as a side line in
some other store. So, if they are ordering a fratzenjam plug for their wall of marine products, they are ordering through a non-standard supply
chain - which means it is a low-volume item that the supplier has to work to keep in stock. Additional work means additional cost.
Then, you have issue number 2 - different certifying agencies. Most home products, if they are certified "Safe," are certified by Underwriters
Laboratory or some similar organization. They have a fairly standard set of criteria to ensure that the product is safe to use in the home, around
children or pets. One of the things to understand is that, while you be able to see the UL listing is nice, it is more important that the company's
insurance provider knows that it is there. The UL mark (or similar mark in other countries) allows the maker to protect themselves in court against
the accusation that their product was inherently unsafe.
Marine products may be certified by the UL but, far more often, they are certified by the US Coast Guard, the ABYC, MarED or other similar
groups. This creates a situation similar to the different supply chain issue. If 90% of your customers are satisfied with the UL listing, but 10% want
the ABYC listing, then you have to do both. However, because of differences between the certification standards, you have to make small
adjustments in your process when you make the ABYC compliant items. So, periodically, you stop making the UL listed items, adjust your process
and make a small batch of the ABYC items. Then, you shift back and make the UL listed items again.
Now, there may be no actual difference in the end product. But the inspection systems or the material certification requirements are different
enough to make the changeover necessary. So, the manufacturer has to bury the costs of the extra effort in the pricing structure.
Why not just make all of the products UL and ABYC compliant? Some manufacturers do, but not all.
Issue number 3 is where we start to get into the area of "you pays your money, you takes your chances." This is when you have two products that
appear to be the same, but are not. The problem is that the difference is on some level that the end user cannot tell the difference. For example,
we have two different electronic components. The actual component board is the same, but the wire used to hook them up is different. Marine
grade wire is individually tinned to minimize the possibility of corrosion, household wire is not. So, looking at the already soldered connections,
there is no way to tell what grade of wire was used - but it makes a difference. Similarly, and as anyone who has worked on boats long enough will
tell you, it is impossible to distinguish grades of stainless steel by eye, particularly when it is fresh and shiny. But different grades last for different
amounts of time in the marine environment.
Now, in some cases, the extra money spent on producing a marine grade product may or may not be worth it to you. A professional who makes his
living using the gear may want the additional safety and security, where a weekend sailor who never gets out of sight of the marina may not care.
At the same time, your particular usage may be more or less rigorous. Consider the amount of corrosion that a houseboat on an inland lake is
going to see, compared to that of a sport fishing boat in southern Florida.
Finally, we get to the last issue, the one that I consider the most controversial. This is the cheapness of the owner. Most of the boat owners I have
dealt with tend to buy the marine products because, even though the don't like paying the extra price, they consider it an investment in safety.
They may not know what the difference is, but they are willing to believe that there is a difference and that the life of their loved ones may, at some
point, depend on that piece of gear being exactly what it says it is.
However, there is a small (but usually vocal) group that refuses to pay for "marine" products. They are absolutely convinced that there is no
difference or, if there is a difference, that difference doesn't matter. They are willing to bet their lives and the lives of those they care about on the
idea that "marine" is a marketing ploy designed to separate suckers from their hard-earned cash.
Maybe they are right, at least in some cases. Maybe there is no reason that the end-user needs to worry about for "this" particular part. Maybe
the fratzenjam plug from the big box store is just as good as the one from Eddie's Bait and Marine Supplies.
I will admit that I have two television sets aboard Rockhopper. Neither of them is a "marine-grade" television. They are simply off-the-shelf models
from Wal-Mart. Similarly, I have a microwave that came with the boat, but I am sure that it did not come from West Marine.
On the other hand, I have never bought a piece of safety gear that I had to rely from anyone other than a marine retailer. I may be a sucker. But I
sleep a lot better at night.