What does the term mean?

Originally a chandlery was the office in a medieval household responsible for wax and candles. It was run by the chandler, a term later applied to candle makers. It had an important function at a time before electric light, when production of candles was carried out privately. Later, as soap was a by-product of candle making, most commercial chandlers dealt in candles and soap, many of them becoming general dealers. These shops usually provided ships with their stores, so chandlery came to refer to a shop selling nautical items and the person in charge was the chandler. They really came into prominence in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when ships were the preferred method of transportation for the fishing, whaling and cargo shipping industries. In their simplest form they acted as storerooms for hoarding supplies of wax and tallow candles, soaps, oils, paints, ropes and anything else that the sea bound sailor would need for their journeys. As business expanded the chandleries were able to increase their assortment of products and began offering other essential supplies for sea-going vessels. The business became vital to the survival and the social and political dynamics of the ports and their waterfront areas.

Today's Chandlers

In today's pleasure boat market, chandlery normally refers to parts for boats, but large chandlers also may supply boats, engines, trailers, electrical appliances, fishing accessories, gifts, clothing for boating, books, DVDs and software and all manner of maps and charts for the keen sailor. Anything remotely connected with boating may be able to be purchased from a chandler.

For commercial ships, which require a quick turn around, the services of a reliable chandler are vital. They need a high level of service and efficiency, as any delay can be highly expensive.

Where are they located?

Most largish towns, with boating and sailing connections, have a good variety of chandlers. Often these are situated in, or very nearby to a marina, yacht harbour or dock area, which is practically very convenient. Boats needing small repairs and maintenance will normally find the equipment and spares they need and visiting boaters will usually be able to pick up the part or item of clothing they have forgotten or didn't think they needed.

You may also find chandlers located inland, often catering more for the inland waterways and dinghy market.

The majority of chandlers have good websites and deal online, with extensive national and international mail order services, so even if there is not a chandlery in your area, you can usually find what you need by browsing the websites, comparing the prices and having your purchase delivered to your home or direct to your boat. Alternatively you can send for one of their brochures or catalogues and order from there. The best chandleries will have extensive marine experience and be knowledgeable about their products. They may also be able to give advice on fitting and repairs, or put you in touch with someone who can help you. As always it pays to shop around and don't necessarily go for the cheapest option. Sometimes good service, good follow up and good advice are more important than what seems like a good deal.

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