Spare Parts—Which To Buy and How To Keep Track Of Them

S/V Morgan's Cloud in the slings at the Selfa Arctic boatyard at Rødskjær.

Picture this: Phyllis and I have just hauled Morgan's Cloud in Arctic Norway, at vast expense, to inspect the shaft log. We've removed the rudder (not a trivial task) as it's in the way of extracting the propeller shaft, removed the propeller and coupling, pulled the shaft, and cut the old cutless bearing out.

Finally, we are ready to install the new cutless bearing. I go to fetch it from the locker in the engine room where I stowed two of these special and hard-to-get bearings—ours have fibre carrier tubes, not metal, because our boat is aluminum—just before we left North America two years before. And...they're not there!

We then go through two hours of panic-driven boat dismemberment before said bearings turn up stowed in a plastic box in the bilge under the head floor where some evil Norwegian Troll moved them just to make us crazy. (I refused to believe that an absent-minded skipper could have anything to do with this relocation.)

That was the day we decided that the task of creating a parts inventory, that we had long delayed, was job one. Easy to say, but amazingly hard to do well. In fact, it took us another three years to actually get it done.

Read on to learn about our parts inventory system and to download the spreadsheet that's at the heart of it for you to use on your own boat.

And, finally, you can also download the same spreadsheet populated with the parts we carry on Morgan's Cloud to give you a starting point as you decide what spare parts to buy.

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Dick Stevenson

Hi John, We do something quite similar and it is immensely helpful.It is a great winter project and you are quite right in pointing out it’s evolving nature. I look forward to the downloads which I can’t do quite yet.
Dick Stevenson, l/v Alchemy

Stan Carlyle

What an amazing list of materials. I contemplate doing the same thing and my mind goes into a spinning blank. You also have to constantly keep it up to date or it has no value. A huge amount of work to create it and steady work to keep it current. I’m impressed.
Excel is a powerful program and I use it daily. The keystrokes CTRL “F” bring up a search menu to find things within a spreadsheet. I can see it being useful to help find something within your inventory.

Stan

Bill Attwood

Hi John,
This really is a valuable post. Some skippers may consider adding a system of code for the locations. Marine Infantry are sometimes embarked on naval ships, and I can confirm from personal experience how difficult it is on a Commando Carrier to find your way around. All navies use a logical system of numbers and letters to designate compartments, and each compartment has its designation on a label affixed to the bulkhead. The same system can be applied to stowage on a yacht. A Google search will supply any details needed.
Regards,
Bill

Erik Snel

In preparation of our trip to the Azores this summer, I have decided that such an inventory list is also long overdue. I would like my list to have a physical counterpart, but would also like to be able to build/change it very easily. Also the system needs to be very accesible to others than myself.
Therefore I am now looking at an iPhone app called sortly. Advantage of this app is that you can connect parts to pictures with descriptions. Those pictures could be the different places we stow things. As you can easily print a list from Sortly, it would give a very easy way and recognizable way around all our lockers and storage area’s. And because the list starts in the app, things can easily be added and changed.

Eric Klem

I will admit to having never kept a good written inventory but I have always kept extremely detailed lists. These lists include projects, gear that needs to be brought on or off the boat, shopping lists, etc. When I was working aboard different boats, these were all paper based lists which were a bit of a pain once they grew over a single page as I would have to transcribe them occasionally. The biggest problem that I had was when I would think of something while my list wasn’t with me. I actually know people who keep scratch paper in their wallet to deal with this but I do not.

Now, I keep my lists in google doc spreadsheets which works reasonably well for me. The real advantage is that I can access it from many devices and the revision history has saved me a few times. I often create an initial entry in a spreadsheet from my phone on the boat that might look like “replace windlass solenoid”. When I am home and on my desktop computer, I will then put in information like where I should buy it, the price, when I need to buy it by, any additional stuff I might need like nuts or butt connectors, special tools that I need to grab from my shop for the project and then I have a field for general notes that don’t fit other categories. From this spreadsheet, I do my ordering, pack the car when going to the boatyard, check it every time I am at a hardware or marine store, etc. There is an obvious flaw in this for going to non-populated places in that google docs are not available without an internet connection so we print stuff out or move it temporarily to Excel. The other problem as John mentions is that typing on a phone is really annoying but this method allows me to input a teaser bit of information from wherever and then do the real entry on a computer.

Eric

Dick Stevenson

Stan, The list has value even if not kept constantly up to date. We find that an unhurried attentiveness gets the job done on a regular basis. For example, when doing the yearly cleaning of nooks and crannies, it is easy to get up what “should” be in that locker and see how close you are. A little bit of getting into the habit, before storage, of recording the products details is again not onerous but becomes everyday. Every 5 minutes of this recording saves hours down the road.
It is a valuable tool for thinking about your boat as well, as these stored items touch on every aspect of keeping a vessel seaworthy.
Finally, if you have a tad of OCD, the task can be quite gratifying.
Dick Stevenson, l/v Alchemy
Ps. OCD = obsessive compulsive disorder

Westbrook

Photo looks as if Phyllis does the work while you take the pictures. Depending one’s point of view, not a bad division of labor.

Marc Dacey

While some would find all this notation a touch OCD, I think that’s actually a good thing for sailors leaving sight of land. Thanks for this post, as your set-up is more “evolved” than mine in terms of categories. As for drawings, why not just get a high-res jpeg or tif or PDF of the line drawings of the boat (which must exist of Morgan’s Cloud) and, using a simple graphics program or Adobe Acrobat, append and annotate it with labels that you can link to the appropriate Excel entry? I have done this in terms of safety (labelled locations of extinguishers, PFDs, medical gear and items like seacocks and plugs) and stowage (Dymotape labels on locker lids, logically coded as you do. Then you keep the “top-down” lists in the logbook: If you are disabled, a reasonably bright crew can quickly narrow the search for gear knowing that Locker Port Midships Settee contains “Medical: Splints” (PMS, Med/Spl.? Why not?).

We also use Excel for provisioning, and I have a sheet that reads green when we have two crates of favourite item X, and which turns yellow at six tins, left and red at two. These are simple ways to eyeball when one is running low, before one has run out. I wrote on this some time ago after seeing a cruiser where EVERYTHING got labelled and notated. http://alchemy2009.blogspot.ca/2012/10/stow-low-and-go.html

Eric Klem

Hi John,

Out of curiosity, do you keep a true boat manual? This inventory seems like a great addition to one if you do keep a manual. I have been aboard a few boats over the years that have really incredible manuals which basically mean that someone who has never been aboard before can do a reasonable job of operating the vessel within a few minutes of arriving.

The spreadsheet looks very good and maybe it will finally get me to keep a proper inventory. I am planning to study what you keep for spares as well and I think it should be really interesting.

Thanks for sharing this.

Eric

Bob Muir

What a timely article! We just started a spreadsheet list ourselves after spending several hours looking for a spendy Ultra Bilge Pump switch I had stashed for a future project.

This spreadsheet will definitely get us up and running.

BTW, the spreadsheets I downloaded have MC unpopulated while AAC has the populated parts. Perhaps you mis-named them?

Ted Simper

Good post. My wife uses excel for her food supply list ( extensive as we are cruising long term in the South Pacific). I am using the ‘What’s On My Boat’ app on my iPad to keep track of my spares, tools, etc. I have found it easier to work with and the iPad is more user friendly for a non computer oriented guy such as myself.

Bruce Savage

Hi Ted
Like you, my wife and I use the “what’s on my boat” app on our iPad. Although it has its limitations I find the ability to associate a photo with an item very useful. I try to take the photo in context of the container the item is in, which makes finding it easier.
We have locations named like “aft cabin starboard locker shelf 5” to try to nail the exact location well without need of a labelling system.

Erik de Jong

Hi John,
Great post again!
I keep something very similar for Bagheera, and have some extra tabs in there which ‘reminds’ me for maintenance that needs to be done. I went through all manuals of all equipment onboard to see what regular maintenance is recommended by the manufacturer, like replacing seals, bearings or liquids. I keep track of that as well, and the sheet reminds me about three months ahead that certain jobs are upcoming, or are overdue. It also helps greatly to put a maintenance budget together, as well as giving a good impression for the insurance when you can present data like that with just a click of a button.

Keep up the good work,
Erik

pat synge

Thanks for the reminder and the spreadsheet. This is something I should have done years ago and since I’m currently undertaking a refit and have a lot of the gear ashore this is the the right time.

Pat Kelly

John
VERY useful suggestions and system. When I get back up to Maine I’m going use your system and Excel spreadsheets as a templates for my own boat. Thanks for posting it.
Pat

Dennis Jud

John, this really is a thorough spreadsheet. We do something very similar, but I really like the “system” column;” I will add that to my spreadsheet. In order to find items on our sortable list, also in Excel, I have designated each hold or compartment with a name that correlates to a crude, Excel “drawing” of the boat and all it’s compartments more than 40 separate comps.) above and below “cushion level.” An example would be PA#2 IB for port aft (second forward from sternmost hold) inboard, under the bedding in that berth. That way, when it’s hotter than hell in that quarter berth, I can remove only the stuff in the way of that hold to get what I need. Holds that are not buried are decidedly easier, like SM#2 (starboard Midship, second in, behind settee cushion). The bid stuff (spare raw water pump) is easier to find and remember it’s location than two spare o-rings for our dive tank.

Cheers

Dennis Harjamaa

Hi John,
Very timely post from my point of view. Having just moved onboard the job of building up necessary spares for everything has started, this spreadsheet is very welcome indeed and may I add, represents a value far greater than a year of subscription to AAC so anyone moaning about the recent changes pay attention 🙂
Might I make a suggestion you develop a version of this spreadsheet specifically to suit the Adventure 40. Might be a first in the industry…
Thanks!

Marc Dacey

That is an excellent idea, John, not only for the benefit of your readership, but because such a document represents a form of “stage directions” for any contracted builders, and you also get to glean the best-in-show ideas of the readership to apply to the A40 form. I am fairly vocal in my dislike of most modern production boats due to flimsiness, shortcuts and ergonomics (where are the handholds, where are the holddowns? Why is this thing capable of dropping me 14 feet across the beam with nothing to stop me?), but I have seen and “borrowed” many great ideas for stowage, plumbing runs and hidey holes that are truly better ideas. If you start keeping a list of what should ideally go where (and *why*), you will do yourselves as big a favour as you will for your contributing readers, who frequently have suffered under other builders’ sub-optimal planning.

Rob Withers

Has anyone got decent system for keeping track of maintenance and repairs? We’ve got a good checklists for regular end of season and pre-launch maintenance, but not so good for the things that are done occasionally. If I wanted to know when , for example, the anchor chain was regalvanised, I’d have to rack my brains and try to picture where the boat was at time – not 100% reliable

Marc Dacey

There are multi-year calendar applications to which you can append to-do lists (February 2016: Inspect tangs!…that sort of thing, and which will bug you until you check them off. They are essentially very stripped down versions of the planning software that airplane builders or civil engineers use to predict events like “back of envelope to first test flight” or “initial survey to opening of vast hydroelectric dam”. I can’t see a huge objection to relating this to logged information, such as putting it hour meter readings and having “100 hours since last oil change” pop up, with a prompt to action and an automated reduction in the “spares” section of however many jugs of oil get used. Working with databases isn’t remotely as tough as it once was for the average computer user, and a floating world like a yacht on passage could do worse than to keep track of these needs, actions, events and stores in a relational way. Think of it as an extension of the paper log, but with the ability to lower your insurance, because if you keep fastidious records of where you did what and when, I suspect that’s the sort of detail that gets you a discount.

Erik de Jong

Hi John/Rob.

I use a spreadsheet for maintenance/replacement intervals. These could be related to running hours, sailed miles or passed time. I have narrowed it down to three stages: regular maintenance, overhaul/rebuilt and replacement. What ever applicable, is linked to a time interval as recommended by the manufacturer. I fill in dates of when i do maintenance, and the spreadsheet tells me when the next time is going to be. In order to pick things up easily, I use conditional formatting to have upcoming chores and a different color set for overdue chores. Works very well.
It is a bit of work to set it up.
I use engine hours, sailed miles, days at sea and for some equipment running hours as starting parameters for the spreadsheet to judge usage.

Marc Dacey

I have kept paper maintenance and deck logs as long as I have owned boats. They have sufficed for essentially daysailing out of Toronto and I wouldn’t bother going to a device-based version: if I need things boaty, I can get 99% of them in person at local suppliers. The value of taking “a bit of work to set it up” comes prior to the “adventure cruising” phase, and is part of what makes that phase attainable in the first place. Just as many long-term cruisers buy in bulk when they find a bargain, so the mark of the canny cruiser is not one or two spare filters, but two flats of 12 purchased at a discount. Or the sight of a prop puller buried in a locker with other serious, specialized tools. In other words, the value of putting in the time to stay organized with both the location of tools and spares and the supply of boat consumables and food is related to the ambitions of the voyage. It’s why I am considering just buying and vacuum-packing a rebuilt starter, because I have heard so many times that “I had to wait six weeks at Expensive Island Marina waiting for customs to clear”. You can bet I will, should the time come, want to know where that starter was stowed, and memory ain’t cutting it anymore.

Bryce

Hi John,

Thanks for the leg-up on the spreadsheet design!

I’m just checking-in to see whether you’ve had a chance yet to update your inventory spreadsheet with maintenance tabs? If so, I’d love to see it. We’re just putting ours together and it’d be good to start off with all the tabs in place.

Regards,

Bryce.

Dick Stevenson

Dear John and all,
I suspect that those with real computer skills could integrate a parts inventory with a maintenance log to good effect, but there is something to be said for having all the important tasks right in front of you in hard copy, hard to ignore. So, for maintenance recording and ticklers I prefer a hard copy.
We have designated every task into 2 areas, those done on a regular basis and those done on an hourly usage basis (engine and genset and outboard). Those regular chores are listed based on whether done weekly, monthly, quarterly, semi-annually, annually, 2, 3, 5 and 10 years (renewal of some licenses) and prn (as needed such as re-varnishing the cabin sole or sail replacement). (Daily chores such as oil check and bilge chk are left out as I would not record doing them anyway.) There is space left for notes and a check space for the tasks completion. We then print out a year’s (or a season’s) and keep those pages with the hourly maintenance sheets. An example of our monthly chores is as follows:
MONTHLY Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec
o Zincs: _________genset, ________Maxprop, _________hull_______Spurs
o Engine & genset inspection: connections, hoses, clamps, drips, etc.____________
o Propane integrity test (do when putting newly filled tank on)_________________
o Check EPIRB battery & test___________________________________________
o Superlube toilet, ____________________________________________________
o Clean shower strainer prn_____________________________________________
o Run Espar prn______________________________________________________
o Test CO monitor____________________________________________________
o Outboard; controls smooth?, remove cover, inspect and spray________________
o Charge handheld vhf________________________________________________
o Reefer: ___clean vents and fans, ___defrost/scrape reefer/freezer plates ________
o Check/oil wood trim hatches prn_______________________________________
o Computer: ___A1disk clean-up, ___Microsoft error check (p.185), ___defrag- (p.187), ___system restore (p.198) _______________________________
o Vacuum out vents: ___ battery charger, ___computer, ___reefer_____________
o Charge battery packs for drills________________________________________
For me, having all maintenance chores in a few pages right in front of me facilitates my thinking and planning in a way that having this on a computer would not for me. I would be happy to share the complete maintenance log if that was thought to be helpful and feasible in this format. We will see how this comes through.
Dick Stevenson, l/v Alchemy

Kirsten Roos, s/v Night Music

Dick,
I would be very interested in getting a copy of your complete maintenance log if your offer to share is still good. I’m trying to create one now and having one to start with would be so handy!

Bryce

Hi Dick,

I’m also very interested in having a copy of your maintenance tasks as a starting point for us.

Regards,

Bryce

ruthndave

Hi all,
Dave and i looking to go cruising (for me, again) have found this site incredibly valuable.
i have looked at a program called yacht manager by Al Winn at http://www.mvosonegro.com/YachtMgr.html but with no own boat at present, not really in a good position to review! It does have inventory, provisioning, maintenance etc, and Al has a free version and a low priced pro? version. If anyone has used it?
Maintenance, inventory programs are being used in the marine industry to great advantage.
thanks for your own version, John and Phyllis.
looking, looking for the right boat…
Newcastle, australia

Kirsten

We are just returned to the boat for our second season and are constantly learning about what we have and what we need. This spreadsheet looks very helpful. So far I’ve been putting our documents on Google Drive so we can get to them anywhere. Is it possible to do this with Excel as well? Sure would come in handy to access it online when we get to the parts store and realize we forgot to write down the part number other important info.

Mike Meador

If you create a link to a resource and publish that link outside your website, you need to make sure the link remains active. For example, your spreadsheet contains a link to the instructions, but that link no longer works because you updated the instructions, and that action created an updated URL for that page — different from the URL link to that page in your spreadsheet.

Denis Foster

Hello John,

Going through your spare parts xls I noticed you carry aircraft led bulbs. Could you tell me more about it in pariticular is the socket fittings the same like B15YD or similar found on our boats.

Thank you.

Denis

Denis Foster

Thank’s John

I had a look at plane taxi and landing LED lights in 24V on aeroLEDS they seem rugged and extremely bright. A serendipity.

In Europe getting good no mess fire extinguishers brought us to get aviation grade HFC fire extinguishers rugged and lightweight, compact. Perfect for boat.

Barry Kennedy

Hi John,
I recently purchased a new boat that has an M92B. I’ve just started to purchase voyaging spares. Your spreadsheet was a gold mine, most of the items were on my list but a few where not. Is there anything you have added or to Perkins spares ( things that had to be replaced unexpectedly) since that was last published on the site?

Barry Kennedy

Did your motor have the preheat option? I didn’t see the Perkins version of a glow plug on your parts list.

Rob Gill

Hi John,
Interested in this response to Barry. Our Volvo Penta D2-55 is a rebadged Perkins 55 hp engine from 2003. Our manual says to pre-heat the engine every time you start the engine from cold (first click of the key). There is even a beep after 10 seconds to tell you when the key can be turned the next click, and the engine started.
Given you sail in much colder waters than us, any thoughts as to why the difference please?
Rob