Opinions…opinions…”Which (fill in the blank) is the “best”?

Opinions! Opinions, it has been said are like our rear ends–everybody has one and they stink. I am not sure if I would quite put it that way, but it is sort of humorous to supply it here for a bit of comic relief before I get down to business. When it comes to opinions from boaters about boating, especially as they are expressed online in various boating forums (of which there are almost as many as there are stars in the sky), and usually anonymously expressed are perhaps worthless if not just a step below.

Of course I am speaking in very general terms. Many online forums have highly experienced and honest boaters providing helpful information, but often it’s just a bunch of opinions, and not only starkly contrasting with each other, but just forms of self aggrandizement or chest puffing.

Recently I read one where a poster asked whether a Volvo was a good engine or whether it was better than another engine. Who cares what a handful or a dozen or so strangers in cyberspace think about whether one engine is better than another and what does “better” or “best” mean anyhow?

What about one anchor over another or one type of boat over another? Whether Fred makes a better Martini than Jane are really of little use. What is the “best” boat to cruise on the ICW? What is the “best” battery, or inverter, or alternator or chartplotter? My father liked General Motors. Two other uncles liked Fords. One only bought BMW’s. Which one was “best”?

Of course, this is just my opinion, which may be of little or no use as well, but here goes. There is little reliable or repeatable or empirical information or conclusions or correlations to be derived from such forums–only a bunch of opinions. Basically one gets a whole lot of…of what? Every boater has different knowledge, different experience and different use and situations etc. What about the boat’s use, running gear, maintenance and conditions etc.?

I think that any reliable answer or reliable set of answers might be much more valuable were they to be in context and answered with real details but that rarely if ever happens in the many online forums. In my experience, diesels are like SCUBA gear or RADAR–they are all pretty darn good–and they have to be! It seems that Volvos get a bad rap but that’s just “hearsay” while Ford Lehmans seem to be well regarded, but it is also “hearsay”.

I would not dare to say which is “better”. This gets me back to what is “better” anyhow? How could I know? I am not an engineer but trusted mechanics have offered me different opinions too and don’t be surprised if the Yanmar dealer really likes Yanmars while the Volvo dealer really likes Volvos. Hmmm…so where does this get us? Vast numbers of boats have Volvos, and perhaps even more–a whole lot more, have Yanmars so I am at a loss to understand how any serendipitous and highly biased comments here can be useful in deciding what is ultimately a very big and very expensive decision. “Best” is not just about performance but might also mean easiest to service and maintain, warranty features, cost and availability of parts, basic customer service etc. I’d like to know which one makes it easiest to check oil and bleed the fuel line.

Back in the old days before nearly every power boat had three, four or five outboards on swim platforms, the powerboats I knew had Mercurys, Evinrudes, Johnsons etc. Diesels were not as popular as gasoline engines but mainly we saw Detroits, Lehmans, Cummins etc. As I got more and more into sailing I saw auxiliary propulsion slowly change from gas to diesel. Where we once had lots of Palmers, Chryslers, Atomic Fours, we started seeing more and more Perkins, Westerbekes, Universals, and sometimes a Nissan, Mercedes or perhaps even the rare Bukh. Then more and more Yanmars which have come to dominate the sailboat market, as it appears to me. Maybe that means the customers think they are “best” or maybe they just have more effective marketing and sales personnel. Maybe customers want a gray engine (Yanmar) as opposed to a green (Volvo), red (Lehman) , blue (Perkins), copper (Universal) white (Cummins) or yellow (Caterpillar) engine.

So which is the best? The “best” answer is…..well, it depends on many things, but that is just my opinion after all. I ask why do so many pose such questions online to a wide ranging audience of anonymous strangers in cyberspace, many of whom are just know-it-alls or just providing a constrained viewpoint from narrow experience? Sometimes they pose questions such as “How much should I expect to spend on refitting this or replacing that?” I suppose on one level, however capricious or unreliable it may or may not be, a bunch of replies might possibly be helpful if one can sort through the chaff, but why not just ask a professional who might be doing the job to just give you a quote or an estimate? Then share those estimates online with details and ask for responses from anyone with similar experience? And more often than not, boaters posing such questions may be looking to do everything possible to not spend a dime and get something for nothing, or so they suppose, instead of hiring a professional who really knows his stuff and has an obligation to provide good advice–but for a fee. Ultimately “free” advice may only prove to be as valuable as what it cost–or it could be very costly.

Your mileage may vary. Buyer beware. Opinion seeker beware.

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