Want to to know a great way to get boarded by a U.S. Coast Guard patrol or your local marine police unit? Run your boat around in the dark without navigation lights, or with one or two out. It’s also a great way to get into a bad boat wreck.
Want to know how to find the pieces and parts necessary for avoiding such encounters? Read on, DIY boat owner.
I’m going to assume most folks know what a navigation light is, but just in case you don’t, they’re the outside lights on your boat that alert other vessels not just to your location, but also as to whether you’re anchored, underway, sailing, or motoring, as well as which way you’re heading. And like most any exterior electrical fixture on a boat, they’re prone to failure.
OK, easy part first. If one or more of your navigation lights aren’t shining, it’s probably due to a burned-out bulb. The good news is that bulbs are relatively easy to source. Carefully open up your navigation light, making sure not to drop any screws, gaskets, lenses, or other parts overboard, and then remove the offending bulb. Look for bulbs at your local marine supply shop, but also consider sourcing them at auto supply houses, such as NAPA. Just be sure to bring your burned-out bulb as an example.
The next most common point of failure in a navigation light is its lens. The sun and salt can crack or cloud them, but sometimes they meet an unfortunate end with a piling, dock, or errant boating shoe. Another problem point is the bulb base. This is where the electric lead wires connect and the bulb snaps or screws in—these bases can corrode and fail. Boat owners with older vessels often find themselves looking for a replacement housing to match navigation lights with corroded housings or faded, pitted chrome finishes.
Now, if matching an existing fixture isn’t an issue, pass go, collect $200, and consider the fact that replacing it with a new light may be easier and less expensive than sourcing individual parts. But if you’ve got an older boat with lights that are set into the hull or deck, it’s often worth finding replacement parts to avoid making expensive fiberglass and gelcoat repairs to the areas where the old lights were installed.
No matter which bit you’re looking for, the easiest thing to do is take an example of the part or the entire light to the pros at your marine supply shop and see if they might have a replacement or can order you one. If they can’t, some research is in order. As with other pieces of marine gear, examine all pieces carefully, take pictures with your smartphone or camera, and note any possible identifying marks or engraving.
If you get lucky and find the manufacturer, you might be able to sleuth around their website, find your specific navigation light, and then contact them to see if you can order parts. You may also want to look in marine retailer catalogs to find a match. Here are some popular navigation light manufacturers, with links to their websites.
Still striking out? Try looking online for owners’ associations for your particular make and/or model boat. Those associations or groups typically have a discussion board where you can post pictures and ask questions about your own boat. Also give general boating enthusiast sites a try. And consider perusing one of the big box marine store catalogs—you may just come across your particular light and be able to order parts for it.
For more used-boat part sourcing ideas, see the following:
- Used Boat Part Sources: Latches and Locks
- Used Boat Part Sources: Gas Struts
- Used Boat Part Sources: Hatch Gaskets
- Used Boat Part Sources: Port Gaskets
- Depthsounder Transducer Cables: Airmar-Gemeco Retrofits
General tips for locating hard-to-find replacement parts for your used boat:
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.
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.
Boat Trader has plenty of Buying and Selling advice, but also check out the hundreds of articles in the Boating section, with tips on everything from seamanship to maintenance, how-to, where to find replacement parts, and much more.