As every boat owner probably knows, the basic goal is to simply own the boat – next, if you don’t want the thing to gently collapse around you and eventually sink, you have to keep it looking good. In other words, you have to maintain it. Usually the end result is that the boat stays safe and continues to navigate, a bit like your car.

While the word ‘maintenance’ is synonymous with ‘work’, there is usually the hardest way to approach it or the easy way. The hardest way is to crawl in the dark, without the proper equipment, using a kitchen knife to try and loosen a screw that has been screwed in enough to prevent the landing gear from falling off a jumbo jet! This will not do. We have to be fully prepared for most scenarios and this is where a good set of built-in, sensible logic tools comes into play. I should add here, the emphasis is on board. Under no circumstances, to be taken ashore, to double as equipment to fix the mower or, God forbid, the refrigerator. This main “kit” may save you and your ship at some point in the future, so it should always be close at hand, day and night, like a friend in need, so to speak.

If you were to take two boats into a marina and check your tool kits, you might be surprised. All owners seem to have different priorities when it comes to onboard DIY. Remember also, we learn while we live. If you see something that could save your bacon on a terrible night, buy it and add it to the stash without a second thought.


Lighting: A rechargeable flashlight from someone like ‘Kambrook’ with thousands of candle power units that can illuminate every corner with astonishing brightness … even in daylight.

More lighting! – A type of ‘miner’s lamp’ headphone flashlight can keep your hands free even in bad weather conditions for tough jobs.

Knife: A good sharp knife is a must. It doesn’t matter if the blade is folded or open, as long as you can cut well. A device for sharpening the blade is a must, like a Swiss tungsten steel ‘Istor’ for example (can be found in good hardware stores).

Scissors – In fact, several different sizes, some disposable, some made of good steel, are useful for all kinds of things and will cut cables in a pinch.

Pliers – I like electricians’ sturdy insulated handles with cutting blades made of good steel. They are expensive but priceless. A good backup is needle nose pliers at least four inches long.

Screwdrivers – Everyone has a screwdriver on board, doesn’t they? The problem is, they are always too long, too short, bent, and covered in grease or paint. Get a complete set, flat blade and Philips head and make sure they are at least ‘Stanley’ quality. Some people like the reversible blade types, but beware of the ‘Taiwan terrors’ that melt on contact with the head of a screw. Oh oh! Don’t forget a little watchmaker’s screwdriver set for those insanely tiny screws that live in the back of electronic equipment.

Hammers – Four different hammers are a priority. A type with a nylon / rubber head for hitting without damaging, a small ball “candy hammer” type, and a pointed “ice pick” or welder hammer for rust and scale. The latter is a good heavy sensitive hammer for serious hits when needed.

Jaws – Two pairs, one eight-inch, good quality stainless steel and a small pair of needle nose for awkward corners. Don’t be tempted to buy cheap here, you will always regret the decision later.

Adjustable spanners or spanners – Two or three types are needed here. Cheapos wear out quickly and allow play to ruin the clamping quality of these tools. Two approximately the same size allow to undo a nut and a bolt. A really big one is useful for unexpected jobs like loosening and tightening the gland nut on the horn tube or even the support nut.

Exercises: two types here. One, a cordless drill with a charger. Always use a keyless chuck. A drill without a chuck key is just as useless as the outboard-powered Titanic. Note: If you have a cordless drill that has depleted the battery, you can reactivate it by soldering two wires, positive and negative, to the two battery terminals inside the drill handle. These cables can incorporate two alligator clips and can be connected to a battery and the drill can be used anywhere. Make sure the cables are at least one meter long. Finally, a decent set of metal twist bits with at least two small size replacement bits should complete the setup for drilling. If space allows, you can bring a hand drill for emergencies.

Wrenches – It always seems like you’ve never had enough of things. Good quality metric and imperial ring wrenches on folding roll.

Nylon Electric Cable Ties – What a great invention these things are! Make sure you have various sizes from 12 “to 2” long. They are life savers for almost all jobs where things need to be secured permanently or temporarily. A quick cut with the pliers releases them instantly. I actually invested five bucks on a ‘reusable’ pack, but the ones I bought from Bunnings are running loose … great idea, but nothing neat this time!

Adhesives: several types are required. Super glue tubes, at least two or three. A silicone tube or similar. Also a tube of 3M 5200 marine glue. I also found Selleys’ two pack multipurpose waterproof epoxy ‘knead it’ is great for all kinds of quick repairs. Especially in humid areas, it will even cure under water … a must! (Note: they have several in their ‘knead’ range, so be sure to get the one that says AQUA for wet areas.)

Tape: Masking tape, electrical tape, brown parcel tape, and self-adhesive tape for those “must-dry” jobs.

Ax – A good ax for cutting ropes, cables, and breaking free in an emergency.

Lubricant – A can of grease and a can of moisture displacing lubricant such as WD40. Also a small jar of Vaseline for jobs like o-rings and reluctant hoses.

Hose Clamps – A plastic box bull of various sizes of stainless steel hose clamps … as many as you can afford.

Electrical Requirements – These can be many and varied, but you can’t go wrong with the basics. Good quality electrical connectors and crimping tools pay big dividends in the long run. A good pair of ‘side cutters’ with insulated handles for cables of all sizes is also important for quick and efficient repairs. The red and black electrical cables (different amperages) and the means of soldering them are really important, especially if you are cruising. A small butane or propane (refillable) welding torch is recommended. Don’t forget about heat shrink tubing for waterproof joints and it is very important that you buy an electrical “multimeter” and a good book on how to identify and troubleshoot electrical problems on board. (Don Casey’s book on ship electricity called ‘Sailboat Electrics Simplified’ published by International Marine – McGraw Hill available from Boatbooks, (Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne would be a good guide.) A working knowledge of how to understand and troubleshoot basic electrical faults It could be the difference between disaster and success on any offshore voyage.Also, don’t forget the solder wire, autoflow is good for fast and efficient joining.

Today we are fortunate to have access to really good and inexpensive 240/12 volt inverters to power your power tools. Common power tools can be carried on board, but we won’t go into too much detail in this article on what to bring. However, number one on my list would be an angle grinder / sander.

Hardware – can vary greatly, but should contain some of the following:

Stainless Wood Screws (Assorted)

Stainless nuts, bolts and washers (assorted)

Stainless steel pins (assorted)

Small size replacement drills

Fuses (if applicable)

Bulbs for lights and flashlights

Files, metal and assorted (also needle files)

Iron or steel wire

Plastic spring clips (large and small)

G-Clamps (Assorted Sizes)

Before you start writing … I know that each and every person may have priorities, but I have left two additions to the above until the end to stick in your mind. One is a must, the other a luxury, but nonetheless noteworthy.

The absolute must is a set of serious bolt cutters to unhook downed rigging along with a good hacksaw and blades.

The luxury item that I love most of all is my variable speed grinder and sander, Ryobi and Bosch. I can say that they have saved me more time and effort sanding, cutting and repairing boats than I would like to think about …..

Your onboard tool kit is more than a convenience, it is a total number one priority to be treated with respect and care. Ask a friend of mine, Kenny, who foolishly balanced his tool kit on his coaming while opening a hatch after a breakdown at sea. After realizing what the big splash was, Kenny was adrift for two days until he was discovered by chance. Kenny (whose box of tea bags fell off with the tools) regretfully recalls that “most people don’t realize that you can get fifteen cups of tea out of a used tea bag” ….. Personally, I think he was lucky, very lucky!

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