Vintage OMC boat compass, $3.

One of the first things you learn in this business is that if it's intended to go on a boat, it's usually going to cost more than it should. Anyone who's ever owned a boat can attest to this. I guess it makes sense, since marine stuff of any kind generally suffers a more strenuous life than its landlubber counterpart. As always, though, this rule naturally bears a bit of expounding, else how could you explain the more generic marine items, like the $15 boat anchors and the $10 rod holders we can buy at Wal-Mart?

The fact is, you can go to any marine surplus store and buy all kinds of boat stuff, from steering wheels to seats to dock bumpers to bilge pumps to anything else you can think of, and all at very reasonable prices. What people are referring to when they talk of 'expensive' boat parts is the stuff that comes from the boat dealerships - the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) stuff that you can't pick up just anywhere. This is when prices take an interesting detour straight up.

A single piston for your outboard motor, for example, can cost you over $75, and that doesn't even include the $35 or more that you'll have to pay for the rings that go on that one piston. A few gaskets to rebuild one of the carburetors on your outboard motor will set you back $35. This is just an idea of what you can expect to spend on OEM marine parts.

OEM doesn't stop at the engine parts that come from behind the shop's parts counter. Just about everything in a boat dealership, whether an engine part, a propeller, a compass, or you name it, assumes a premium when it bears the name of a major manufacturer of boat engines: Mercury (or Quicksilver, which is also Mercury,) Mercruiser, Force, Chrysler, Johnson, Evinrude, OMC, Nissan, Tohatsu, Yamaha, Suzuki and Honda.

Keeping this general rule in mind, it's nearly always a wise thing to grab any new OEM parts that you can get on the cheap, because someone out there will want to avoid getting stuck with the outrageous dealership prices.

Now, let's talk a bit about this gnarly old compass, which is actually a brand new compass in a gnarly old box. What must have happened is that 25 or 30 years ago, someone bought this compass and never got around to installing it in his boat. It ended up in a shed or garage, where the box accumulated dirt and dust and was gnawed on by cockroaches. The compass inside, however, maintained its pristine condition.

Note that the 'OMC' on the box stands for 'Outboard Marine & Manufacturing Corporation' which, before being bought out by Bombardier back around 2001, used to manufacture both the Johnson and Evinrude brands of outboard motors, as well as motor parts and many boating accessories. I guess the next logical question is, Who would want to buy an old boat compass like this, even if it was never used? Well, other than the fact that it's a genuine OEM part, I can't really answer that one. But for only $3, I was certain that someone out there would want it and I was willing to take the chance!

This compass sold on eBay for $46.

Photo of vintage OEM OMC marine boat compass