We have no financial deals or arrangements with any of these companies, and we got no special deals when we bought their equipment. We have simply been satisfied with the performance of their gear. Product quality in the marine market is so generally dismal, we are happy to point the way to a few pieces of gear that really work well.
The gear in this list we would unambiguously recommend to other people:
Acco G4 3/8" chain. We have had it re-galvanized 3 time and I cut off the end link (which wears/rusts) every two years. The heat involved in re-galvanizing does reduce the chain's 'high test' strength so I think 3/8" is better than 5/16" unless you plan to replace the chain (every 3-5 years) rather than re-galvanize.
Acrylic floor to ceiling mirror in head. I thought it would scratch pretty quickly and have to be replaced but so far its been perfect - light and shatter proof.
Airmail software. We use the main Airmail program to format both our GRIB requests and our blog entries to Sailblogs and we use the attached Viewfax program both to view our GRIBs and when in wi-fi range to get them directly (using the 'get data' feature) without using e-mail.
Alpenglow overhead lights. Low energy use and reliable. We have had one capacitor burn out on an optional 'high/low switch' but the light still works on high and Alpenglow has offered to fix it at no cost (10 years after purchase). They have just introduced an LED reading light which I intend to try, as we have been very unhappy with our Aquasignal reading lights.
Ancor ratcheting crimper. Makes excellent connections, infinitely better than ‘automotive crimper’
Antal line driver. We use this with a three-to-one tackle to control our traveler. It has proven a perfect solution, though we also use stretchy climbing line to make sure to limit the shock loading during jibes.
Auto “rally” type chair (bought from an auto supply store). Very comfortable, excellent lumbar support, much more durable (for inside applications) than any marine/fishing chairs, and about a quarter the price of the marine products. These chairs should be on more boats because they are comfortable, designed to hold you firmly in rough conditions, long lasting and inexpensive. We got the idea after seeing one aboard a Vendee Globe boat. Beth has a standard swiveling office chair bolted to the cabin sole which has lasted equally well. The only issue with it is that it has no swivel lock, so we don’t use it on passage.
Balmar 100 amp alternator and MaxCharge regulator. Worked perfectly, delivered rated amps on two boats. Our experience with the Balmar alternators have been a little surprising because their reputation is not that high but I think that perhaps their smaller, single belt alternators (100 amps and under) are much better than the high-capacity models.
Blue Sea bus bars, fuses & circuit breakers, and battery combiner. We used Blue Sea equipment for all the high amperage protection. One breaker for the windlass did go bad, but probably because it got wet - I moved the replacement to an absolutely dry location. The Blue Sea bus bars are tin-coated and have been totally corrosion free over ten years. The battery combiner does a flawless job automatically connecting the engine start battery when we are charging and disconnecting it when we stop charging.
110lb Bruce anchor. No drags ever. The Bruce anchor always scores poorly on anchor tests but we have had flawless performance with both our 44lb and 110lb models. We recently sent out 50kg Bruce in for regalvanizing and they broke it (it came back with cracks all around the shank to blade join). So, we are now trying several of the new anchor designs plus a new Bruce design (made by Manson because the genuine Bruce is no longer sold).
Corian countertops with integral sinks and fiddles. Silk had corian countertops and we loved them, but the join between the countertop and the sinks gathered dirt and the sealant eventually gave way. On Hawk, we went to a DIY kitchen place and they fabricated countertops with integral sinks and fiddles which have worked perfectly over ten years.
Facnor code zero furler. Expensive but works much better than the drum “gennaker furlers”
Garmin 48 handheld GPS. We have three of these (as backups) and they have been around the world twice. They are very obsolete but still work perfectly.
Harken snatchblocks. Neat design which works well.
Heater-Craft engine driven heater (model 501-H-B) - This is a 'bus heater' that runs the engine cooling water thru a radiator, with a fan blowing over it. It's inexpensive, and provides free dry heat (when the engine is running), and has been completely reliable. It does an excellent job warming up the boat when we are motoring into harbour.K-Mart Essential Home 102-piece Flatware Set. I am not sure what grade of stainless is used in these but they have been around the world twice, washed in salt water most of the time, and there is not a single sign of rust. None have broken and they still look great, and they were inexpensive to start. Can't beat that.
Leatherman Wave. Surprisingly useful, nice design. Not as robust at the hinges as I would like.
Motorola Talkabout FV500AA. Two-way radio with VOX (voice activated microphones), lighter and less power hungry than marine VHF. We like the AA design better than the rechargeable because we can then have fresh fully charged batteries instantly, without waiting for the recharge time. We have not yet found a successful headset - the boom microphones pick up too much wind noise, and the throat microphones we have tried have been inconsistent.
NorCross HawkEye Handheld Depthsounder (Handheld Sonar System PX). Rugged, waterproof and accurate.
Norseman terminals. Disassemble and reassemble easily, totally reliable. Held for years even though some were improperly installed originally.
Paneltronics circuit breaker panels. We have three (main DC panel, nav-station DC sub panel, and main AC panel). There has been zero corrosion and zero failures. They are plain Jane with no meters or lights.
Petzl Tikka XP LED Headlamp. Bright, comfortable, reliable & long battery life. Headlamps are much more convenient that handheld flashlights when working on deck. The only downside is that you have to be careful not to look at anyone else or you blind them
Protech-4 50amp battery charger. Works perfectly on 110vt & 220vt and 50hz & 60hz, but no equalization function and lots of RF noise on start-up. The ProTech battery charger is not well marketed and few people know about it but it represents a perfect choice for the world cruiser who needs to deal with all sorts of shore power voltages and frequencies. We have just installed a new Protech 1240i, as the 50 amp unit is just a bit too powerful for our Honda 1000i. The new unit also has an equalization function, which is helpful for flooded batteries.
Racor series 500 diesel filters. Worked perfectly on two boats.
Refleks drip diesel heater. If you are looking for a simple, reliable, clean burning heater, this is it. It's not as touch button convenient, nor does it spread the heat around as evenly as the forced-air units (like Espar and Webasto), but it is much much more reliable and uses zero power. The Refleks also has a hotplate, which is a nice feature in cold weather cruising, to keep hot water ready for tea or hot chocolate on demand.
Robertson HLD2000L hydraulic autopilot drive. We started off with a rebuilt unit (we bought a new one but later discovered a rebuilt one had been palmed off on us) that ate seals and had an underpowered motor. But a few years ago we bought a new one directly from Simrad with a much faster motor and it has been perfectly reliable - eating no seals and requiring no oil top up - but it could have an even faster hard-over time.
Siemens 75-watt solar panel. A bit bulky, but delivers its rated performance flawlessly and has proven totally reliable through eight years of use.
Sony ESP Sport water resistant CD boom box. Bullet proof, better suited to the conditions that the Sony automotive CD player we had on Silk.
Sony ICF-SW77 all-band radio. Two different radios worked perfectly on two boats over the course of ten years including receiving weather faxes.
Spinlock xx0812 clutches. Work flawlessly and really solidly made.
Spinlock ZS jammers. Work flawlessly and really solidly made, gentle on lines, a bit of a pain to have to winch in line before releasing.
Tempered tinted 10mm glass in hard dodger. Perfectly clear and perfectly sealed after 10 years with zero maintenance and no special care.
Tides Marine UHMW rudder bearings. We ran our rudder on the rocks in Iceland and bent the shaft but there was zero damage/distortion to the bearings
Tides Marine dripless shaft seal. In ten years, we’ve never even needed to change the lip seal.
Vetus Metroliner barograph. Very useful, no need for paper/ink refills, a little RF noise. The MeteoMan seems to have replaced the Metroliner.
Weather Fax 2000 software. Good user interface.
West Marine vinyl boat lettering. Nice looking, easy to install and durable, just now after ten years on bare aluminum the edges are starting to lift just slightly.
West Marine Nonskid dinnerware (solid blue). Well designed and useful. After ten years the color has faded in spots and the surface has scratched in places, but that's pretty good life for plastic that gets used every day. After several years of use, the coffee mugs get crazed on the inside from the hot water, which doesn't look great, but we've never had one break.
Whale Gusher Galley MK3. We use two of these in the galley (fresh & salt water) and one in the head. They have been perfect. We also use a Whale Mk 5 Universal bilge pump with our Lavac head. It needs to be rebuilt every year or two to get rid of the calcium build-up, but that's not the pump's fault. It has performed perfectly.
WXtides32. A free tides and currents program, that works perfectly and has tides and currents for even the most remote locations.
Yanmar. We have had two Yanmar engines (44hp & 75hp) over 15 years. In that time we have only had one (minor) problem - a pin hole leak developed in the aluminum exhaust elbow of the second engine. The engine still ran just fine but leaked salt water over itself - we replaced the elbow and all was fine again. My only other complaint is that Yanmar's paint job is not very robust/rust resistant, and I have to constantly touch it up. But the engines have given great service and never failed.
We have had generally bad experience with equipment sold specifically for recreational marine usage. These products tend to be under-engineered and over-priced. We have had much better experience with commercial marine equipment and equipment made for entirely different markets, such as the auto rally chairs. In the recreational marine market we do not tend to find that reputation, price or market share are particularly correlated with quality. But we do find that little ‘one-man’ shops which have been around for a long while, such as Alpenglow, tend to have quite reliable stuff.
'A man who is not afraid of the sea will soon be drownded,' he said, 'for he will be going out on a day he shouldn't. But we do be afraid of the sea, and we do only be drownded now and again.'