Underway repairs are part of the boating lifestyle. Even if you have a boatyard take care of your maintenance, things can go wrong on the water, and a few well-chosen tools could save the day.
Of course, the tools you carry will depend on where and how you go boating. You won’t need the same tools on a 25-foot center console that you might want on a trawler yacht that spends weeks at a time away from the dock. I typically cruise for a week or two at a time aboard my 26-foot wooden sailboat, and the items included here have gotten me out of more than one jam.
A basic tool kit should help you take care of most routine maintenance tasks and some emergencies. Cheap tools often yield disappointing results, so buy the best you can afford. Buying any tools represents a significant investment, so it often pays to build your tool kit a bit at a time. Choose tools that have multiple uses, and that fit neatly into a plastic toolbox. Metal toolboxes and tubs may look nicer, but they also can corrode on board.
WD-40 This penetrating oil is so useful on board that I consider it a tool. It lubricates and frees corroded and frozen parts, displaces moisture and can prevent rust on an anchor chain and other items. It’ll even help you remove old reflective tape from life jackets.
Duct tape Adam Savage and Jamie Hyndman built an outrigger boat out of duct tape on an episode of Discovery Channel’s MythBusters — and successfully took it onto the water. That’ll give you an idea of its strength and usefulness on board.
Plastic insulation tape Use this to insulate electrical connections and other materials that conduct electricity.
Tape measure If you’re making repairs, chances are you’ll need to measure something. Measure twice, cut once.
Pencil It’s low-tech but handy to use with the tape measure.
Hand drill The ultimate hand tool requires no batteries and takes drill bits up to 3/8 inch diameter. I prefer a drill with a keyed chuck that holds bits without slippage.
Drill bits A selection of bits from 1/32 to 1/4 inch should take care of almost all the drilling you might have to do. Larger bits require an electric drill.
Matches These are a component of any survival kit that’s worth its salt, and I include them in my toolbox, as well. Among the uses is melting the cut ends of synthetic lines to prevent fraying. Pay a little extra and get wind- and waterproof matches.
Hacksaw A hacksaw is used primarily to cut metal, but it also can cut fiberglass and wood. Keep a supply of blades, as well.
Hammer This will help you persuade things to go together and come apart.
Locking pliers These function as a portable vise or adjustable wrench in a pinch.
Mirror on a stick We’ve all had to retrieve components from the bilge, and the first step is locating them.
Magnetic retrieval tool Once you’ve located the part you dropped into the bilge, you’ll have to grab it. Spend a bit more and get a retrieval tool with a rare earth magnet, which is immensely powerful, and a telescoping handle. Consider adding a tool with a claw in case what you’re retrieving isn’t ferromagnetic.
Multitool Worn on your belt, this keeps a knife, pliers, bottle opener and other tools close at hand.
File Mine is double-sided — one side is a metal file and the other is a rasp for wood and fiberglass.
Socket wrench and sockets I have one to fit just about every nut and bolt on the boat. Add a spark plug socket if you have a gas engine.
Multimeter This is an invaluable tool for electrical and fault tracing. Learn its functions and how to use it before you need it on board.
Screwdrivers I have a selection of Phillips and straight-head screwdrivers in various sizes.
Putty knife Use a stiff-blade putty knife for scraping and one with a flexible blade for spreading bedding compound and the like.
Circlip pliers You’ll need these to disassemble a water pump. The job takes ages without them.
Rigging knife A sharp rigging knife is the best way to cut lines and other cordage.
Adjustable wrench This is one of my favorite tools on the boat. Made from high-grade stainless steel, it not only loosens and releases nuts and bolts, but it also incorporates a shackle key and bottle opener in the handle.
Crimping tool A crimping tool cuts and strips wire and crimps new terminals onto cable ends.
Wood chisel A sharp wood chisel will also cut fiberglass, but you’ll need to sharpen it afterward.
Needle-nose pliers These are perfect for holding small parts, and the built-in cutter can snip seizing wire and small cables.
Allen keys These are the only tools that will tighten and loosen hexagonal socket-head screws.
There are countless tools that might come in handy, but this kit will usually save your hide.
This article originally appeared in the December 2016 issue.