Boat Water Strainers

If you’ve ever been bilge-diving in your boat, then you’ve likely been face-to-face with a water strainer at one point or another. Designed to filter out everything from seaweed to Styrofoam, these devices keep debris from clogging all sorts of boat pumps, including engine, bilge, air conditioning, and freshwater pumps—and beyond.

Like all boat parts, they have a tendency to wear and fail, with the primary culprits being seals, sight glass bowls, and baskets. Luckily, many of the strainers installed on boats over the last few decades have changed very little, and that means means finding repair parts and kits can be relatively easy.

A Groco raw water strainer and its commonly replaced parts. Note the plastic strainer basket and cap; yours may be stainless-steel and bronze, respectively. Photo courtesy of Groco.
A Groco raw water strainer and its commonly replaced parts. Note the plastic strainer basket and cap; yours may be stainless-steel and bronze, respectively. Photo courtesy of Groco.

The most common type of strainer found on inboard powerboats or sailboats with auxiliary engines is a raw-water strainer. These are used to keep jellyfish, plastic bags, and other debris from clogging your engine’s cooling pump, and are generally made out of bronze, with a plastic sight glass and a stainless, plastic, or Monel strainer basket. Plastic ones are becoming more and more popular, especially on European-built boats. You might also find raw-water strainers on air-conditioning or wash-down pumps.

The strainers used for bilge pumps, shower sumps, and freshwater pumps are common on all types of boats, and generally are made entirely of plastic, except for the strainers, which are mostly stainless-steel. That means their overall low replacement cost can make finding individual parts difficult; sometimes simply buying a new one is more realistic than tracking down individual parts.

All of these strainers share some common replaceable parts. These include, as mentioned, the sight glass, strainer basket, and sealing gaskets. Some of them, especially raw water strainers, have an access lid sealed by a gasket that allows the strainer basket to be removed for cleaning. Yours may also have a drain plug and seal. Others, like bilge and freshwater strainers, have sight glasses that simply spin off, and are often sealed by a simple O-ring.

Finding individual parts for plastic strainers like these can sometimes be difficult. Plastic strainers are most often used on smaller pumps, such as those used for fresh water, or for raw-water wash-downs. Photo courtesy of Jabsco.
Finding individual parts for plastic strainers like these can sometimes be difficult. Plastic strainers are most often used on smaller pumps, such as those used for fresh water, or for raw-water wash-downs. Photo courtesy of Jabsco.

Depending on what ails your strainer, first snap a photo of it with your camera or smartphone; most strainers have lots of identifying marks or labels. Next, take the offending part(s) and your snapshot to your local marine supply outfit. Gaskets and O-ring seals are usually available in an off-the-shelf repair kit, while baskets and sight glasses are less common and often must be ordered.

There’s not much substituting to do with most of these parts, but you can often find generic O-ring seals at an auto supply house or hardware store. Just make sure they are exactly the same size and shape as the old ones; more than a few boats have sunk from faulty seals on raw-water strainers. Also ask for nitrile rubber O-rings, as they are solvent-resistant. Some strainers use cork seals, which are harder to find substitutions for.

If you strike out on finding repair kits or individual parts, the first thing you need to do is decide whether you have the time and patience required to track these bits down, versus simply buying a whole new unit. No time or patience? Have your marine supply shop pro spec out a new one for you. But if time and patience are on your side a bit of research can make you more knowledgable, and maybe save you money.

If you know the manufacturer, try sleuthing around their website to find your particular strainer model (refer to those snapshots you took with your smartphone or camera), and then contact them to see if you can order the parts you need. You may also want to look in marine retailer catalogs to find a match. Here are some popular strainer manufacturers, with links to their websites.

If you don’t have any luck, don’t worry; there are still some options. 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 strainer model and be able to order parts for it.

For more used-boat part sourcing ideas, see the following:

General tips for locating hard-to-find replacement parts for your used boat:

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.com

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.

 

Boat Navigation Lights

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.

Parts for high-end navigation lights, such as these models made by Aqua Signal, are generally easyto find. You can usually find and buy individual parts right down to the Fresnel lenses, gaskets, and bulb bases. Photo courtesy of Aqua Signal.
Parts for high-end navigation lights, such as these models made by Aqua Signal, are generally easyto find. You can usually find and buy individual parts right down to the Fresnel lenses, gaskets, and bulb bases. Photo courtesy of Aqua Signal.

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.

Finding individual parts for generic deck-mounted navigation lights such as these can be difficult, mainly because of the low overall cost of replacing the whole unit. Photo courtesy of Sea-Dog Line.
Finding individual parts for generic deck-mounted navigation lights such as these can be difficult, mainly because of the low overall cost of replacing the whole unit. Photo courtesy of Sea-Dog Line.

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.

12-volt bulbs for navigation lights are generally easy to find at marine or auto supply shops. Take an example along to make your search easier. Photo courtesy of Aqua Signal.
12-volt bulbs for navigation lights are generally easy to find at marine or auto supply shops. Take an example along to make your search easier. Photo courtesy of Aqua Signal.

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.

Hella Marine 

Aqua Signal 

Perko 

Sea-Dog Line 

Attwood Marine Products 

 

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:

General tips for locating hard-to-find replacement parts for your used boat:

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.com

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.

 

Boat Latches and Locks

This is the underside of an old latch on an anchor locker cover. Luckily the Southco name was molded right in and easy to spot.
This is the underside of an old latch on an anchor locker cover. Luckily the Southco name was molded right in and easy to spot.

One of the hardest things to do when you buy a used boat is source replacement parts — especially when things are out of warranty, or worse, when the builder is out of business. I don’t mean sourcing easy maintenance stuff like filters, belts, zincs, etc. Even most engine parts can be relatively easy to find, depending on the manufacturer, dealers, and distributors. The tricky parts are things like latches, port lenses, cabin lights, steering parts, head and galley fixtures, gas lifts, even hatches – all the things that builders put on boats without really considering what will happen a decade or so later when those things need to be replaced. Not that they are obligated to consider those things. It’s really up to the parts makers to figure out ways to identify their equipment – with labels, stamps, etc. – so that when these things need to be replaced, there’s a way to figure out how to replace them. Far too often, these parts are unmarked and anonymous.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time doing detective work online, trying to source parts for the boats, and thought it might be a good idea to share some methods and discoveries. I’ve already mentioned the Gem Electronics arm of Airmar, the transducer makers. The wizards at Gem can make up power/data cables to connect instrument systems to existing depth and/or speed transducers.

Here’s something else to share. A whole bunch of latches and locks that we see on boats are made by a company called Southco, in Concordville, PA. It’s a big company, with global sales and distributors, and they sell to the automotive and RV world as well as the marine industry and others.

The new latch is installed -- and sealed better than the last one.
The new latch is installed — and sealed better than the last one.

I found the Southco name on the bottom of an anchor-locker latch that was kaput and needed replacing. I took photos and measurements of the latch, then went to Google to look for images, with the search term “Southco latch.” The correct one showed up right away, and I ended up buying a replacement from Teak Isle, a Southco distributor with an Amazon storefront.

Here are some general tips for locating hard-to-find replacement parts for your used boat:

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.com

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.

There are plenty of other sources for hard-to-find boat parts, and we’ll be mentioning some of those down the line.

Feel free to share your own parts-source discoveries in the Comments section below. We’ll collect them, make new posts of them according to parts categories, and — with luck — save ourselves some frustration down the line.

Good hunting.


 

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.