Online Shopping, Used Electronics, and Other Purchasing Pitfalls: Part I

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People occasionally approach me to install used electronics or in search of various cables, knobs, brackets, etc. for used electronics. Often they bought the unit online, it was a gift, or it is being transferred from another boat. Rarely can they vouch for the condition of the unit because they have not seen it work. There are three prevailing reasons why used electronics are sold online – they are either obsolete, defective, or stolen. It is very common for people to knowingly market defective or stolen electronics online. As a result, I no longer install used electronics unless they are complete, have manufacturers marks and serial numbers, and I can bench test them before the installation.

There are three prevailing reasons why used electronics are sold online – they are either obsolete, defective, or stolen.

Even items marketed as new from some sources are old and out of date. One recent customer bought what he thought was a new chartplotter about a year ago from a Carrabelle merchant who sometimes masquerades as a mechanic and has a well-deserved reputation for chicanery. He then had it installed by the same person who clearly did not know what he was doing or did not care. When the customer called on me to rework the installation I found that the antenna he thought was new was at least a year old at the time of purchase and the software in the unit was well over a year old at time of purchase. These figures are very conservative and understate the case. The unit was probably much older. I discussed this with the manufacturer’s rep who told me the unit could easily have been two years old at time of purchase.

Additionally, the unit arrived without manuals and the serial number was nowhere to be seen. This was clearly not a complete new unit, may have been a return, or simply purchased from a private individual on ebay. Its true origins remain unknown. I have as yet to find a chartplotter, sounder, radio, or other major component that does not come with some semblance of a manual. Manufacturers spend a lot of money diligently producing these manuals to protect themselves legally and to try to avoid installation errors and operational problems. And all chartplotters have serial numbers.

These so-called “new” units may be returns to a legitimate retailer which are then sold off as salvage. They may be units a boater has purchased and then destroyed in the process of doing his own installation – something which happens all the time. They are then neatly packed up to look like new and sold as such. They may be out of date and discontinued models that sat on a shelf for years. You never know unless you buy from a professional, reliable source. I recently saw a Raytheon R10XX Radar for sale on Craigslist. It was marketed as new, looked OK, and pictures showed it in original packaging. Yet, no mention was made of the fact that Raytheon stopped making recreational marine electronics in January 2001 so the unit is at least thirteen years old.

Florida is the lightning capital of the country and boats throughout the region are struck on a regular basis. The defunct units may make their way into the marketplace, innocently or otherwise. Often, there is not apparent damage to the unit and unscrupulous individuals may sell them online. Or perhaps the owner gives away the bad unit to a friend for parts but the intact device may change hands, its history is lost, and it is sold off with neither buyer nor seller knowing its true condition.

Avoid Being a Victim:

  • Flush mount electronic units in console, locking electronics boxes, or thru-bolt mounting brackets.
  • Remove exposed, bracket-mounted display heads when boat is not in use.
  • Firmly secure exposed cables on console.
  • Lock access doors to keep thieves from getting to cables and wiring.
  • Photograph front and back of unit upon purchase and keep with receipt. Record serial numbers and register your electronics with the manufacturer.
  • Use indelible marker to place your name, boat name, and phone number or email address on back of unit.
  • Beware of unknown men cruising the waterways in small boats. They may be looking for targets. Take photos and be obvious about it!
  • Report thefts to police promptly.
  • Monitor online market places.
  • Post notice of theft at places like West Marine, marinas, clubs, and other local marine outlets.
  • Discuss the theft with local tradesmen and retailers. The thieves or their unwitting customers will be looking to replace the brackets and cables that were left behind.

This story was originally published in the Big Bend Edition of Coastal Angler Magazine. You can see second part of this article here.

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