Boat Hardware: Seven Warning Signs To Look Out For

Boat hardware is proof that the devil is in the detail. A boat can be built like a tonne of bricks, but if it isn’t paired with similarly durable hardware, there’s bound to be trouble for the boat-owner later down the line. If boat-builders want to garner praise from the marine industry press (like a mention in one of our expert buyer’s guides, for example), they’ll need to make sure that their models are as sturdy as possible.

How Do You Spot Hardware That Is Sub-Par?

It can be tricky to identify sub-par parts. While spotting plastic cleats, or T-tops that sway wildly in the wind can be quite obvious, some signs of a shoddy vessel are not as noticeable. And when you’re looking for a new boat, it can be easy to get swept away with excitement and overlook the finer details. We’ve made a list of some warning signs to look out for when you’re next inspecting the hardware on a potential new boat.

Not Such a Steel: How To Spot Lousy Stainless Steel Fittings

Most sailors will know that 316 grade stainless-steel is the standard for boat fittings – any lower quality grades aren’t likely to withstand exposure to the rolling waves’ brininess for long. Most boat-builds intended for saltwater use will use 316 grade for fasteners and fittings, but some rogue builders will try to save a buck using cheaper steel. It’s advisable to exercise caution if a boat’s specification doesn’t specify that it uses 316. And if you aren’t sure whether a specific fitting is up to snuff or not, a handy tip is to use a magnet to test it out: when 316 grade steel is being made, the iron in the steel remains in an austenitic phase – in layman’s terms, this means it’s non-magnetic. So if you hold a magnet up to a fitting and it sticks, you’ll know that it isn’t the real deal.

Through-Hulls And Seacocks: How To Make The Right Decision

Since through-hulls and seacocks go through the bottom of your boat, failure in these fittings can be disastrous, and choosing the right through-hull fitting is vital to the integrity of your boat. While the marelon through-hulls commonly seen on boats are usually reliable for decades, serious problems can occur if a heavy impact fractures the plastic. To give yourself peace of mind, you might want to consider opting for a sturdier bronze fitting. Similarly, boat-builders sometimes cut costs by opting for cheap brass seacocks, prone to a form of corrosion called ‘dezincification.’ This involves zinc leaching from the material, rendering it porous and fragile. Opting for bronze or DZR is a much safer choice for this vital fitting.

Fuel Tank Vents: A Hidden Risk?

This piece of hardware is often overlooked, but it can cause significant issues. Many boat-builders will locate the vent on the side of the boat. While this works perfectly well in modern vessels, the vents are designed to sit flush against the boat and are made of sturdy stainless steel, older, more protruding fuel tank vents. If you have your heart set on a boat that has them, it might be worth considering swapping them out.

How to Choose the Right Bimini Top

While bimini tops may make your boating trips more comfortable and luxurious, sadly these features are notoriously flimsy. Pay attention to a few key details to help you prolong the life of your bimini top.

Opt for an aluminum frame, rather than plastic, and choose an antimicrobial fabric to ensure that the material on your shade doesn’t get worn away. The best way to see how well a bimini top is made, is to try it out. Put it up and take it down, and pay attention to how solid the supports feel. If you can feel them wobbling inside an ill-fitting mounting bracket, it might be a sign that your bimini top might collapse one day. Their primary function is to provide you with shade and they are not designed to be used travelling at high speeds. Remember that the less motion you see when you try it out, the better.

Spotting a Low-Quality Weld

When it comes to weld quality, you’ll want to prioritise rigidity and sturdiness. You’ll want to inspect the weld quality on your T-tops and towers closely. A lousy quality weld is bubbly and uneven, while a good quality weld is evenly-spaced, ‘roll of dimes’ appearance. Aluminium is tricky to weld, and it can be challenging to obtain depth and evenness. A well-executed welding job is a good indicator that care and attention have been applied to the rest of the boat’s fittings.

Hatch Latches: Common Problems To Avoid

It may seem like a relatively minor detail, but after you’ve owned a boat or two with cheap latches, you’ll know that this is a fitting you don’t want to skimp on. Stainless steel is preferable to plastic for this fitting. It’s advisable to test it out and ensure it feels secure, rather than merely depending on gravity to keep the hatch in place – especially if the hatch is expected to remain watertight! And beware of cheap pull-rings which can move easily, when the boat is running as they can vibrate and create a constant ringing noise .

Fasteners: Holding Everything Together

The fasteners on a boat are, quite literally, the thing that’s holding everything together, so you’ll want these to be as sturdy as possible. Through-bolts are almost always better than screws, as they’re less likely to back out and vibrate free over time. It’s also worth noting that exposed screw-ends are a sign of shoddy craftsmanship, and can be dangerous – there’s nothing worse than reaching into a dark space and encountering an exposed screw point the hard way!

In the case of through-bolts, nuts that are applied to exposed bolt ends should be the nylock locking variety, to ensure that they are as secure as possible. And any fastener securing a piece of hardware exposed to significant stresses should be reinforced with washers – full-sized backing plates are better, especially when it comes to critical parts like cleats and tow-eyes.

There are many factors to take into consideration when choosing a brand-new boat. But to qualify as a high-quality boat, the hardware does need to be up to snuff. And when you find that a builder used the very best hardware from bow to stern, it’s a good indication that the rest of the boat is built with a similar level of care and attention to detail.

Written by: Lenny Rudow

With over two decades of experience in marine journalism, Lenny Rudow has contributed to publications including YachtWorld,, Boating Magazine, Marlin Magazine, Boating World, Saltwater Sportsman, Texas Fish & Game, and many others. Lenny is a graduate of the Westlawn School of Yacht Design, and he has won numerous BWI and OWAA writing awards.