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It is wise to have a comprehensive and well-organised tool kit and a supply of spares for your boat. This is both for routine maintenance and to deal with unexpected breakages and equipment failure at sea. Read on for some tips and advice on what you need…

You can get by with very few tools aboard a boat, as long as nothing breaks and someone else does all the maintenance for you. The previous owner of my present boat used it mainly for inshore racing and in order to save weight made do with a small ratcheting screwdriver with six double-ended bits, a large rusty hammer and very little else.

For all boats heading offshore this is not such a good plan. The greater the distance you travel the more you need to be prepared for dealing with breakdowns and equipment failure at sea.

Tools should be kept as dry as possible and safely stowed in secure lockers as low in the boat as possible – overhead lockers are not the ideal place to stow heavy tools and spares for obvious safety reasons.

Good hand tools will last a lifetime with proper care. The marine environment shows no mercy on cheap tools which can corrode in next to no time, so it pays in the long run to buy good quality and to look after them. It is a good idea to build up a collection of specialist tool kits for rigging, sail repairs, engine and electrics.

Power tools

A selection of cordless power tools are also useful. Cordless tools with lithium-ion batteries are the best, as their batteries retain charge almost indefinitely when stored. Potentially useful items include drill/drivers, saws, soldering irons, Dremels and angle grinders.

Tips:

  • Only buy tools that will withstand the marine environment.
  • Organise the storage of your tools wisely and make sure you know where they are kept.
  • If you plan to head offshore and go cruising, take a comprehensive toolkit to cover every eventuality, plus plenty of spares.

Below are some lists of specific tools and spares to carry on a medium sized cruising yacht. Personally I find the Leatherman multi-tool the most useful single item – mine is more than 20 years old and still going strong!

General tools

  • Allen keys.
  • Bolt cutters.
  • Bradawl.
  • Centre punch.
  • Chisels.
  • Drills – hand and powered plus drill bits for wood and metal, including stainless steel.
  • Files – wood and metal.
  • Hacksaws – large, small + spare tungsten carbide blades.
  • Hammers – 2lb lump + plastic mallet.
  • Hole cutters.
  • Knives – craft, palette + spare blades.
  • Mallets – wooden mallets are kinder to a boat than hammers.
  • Mastic gun.
  • Mole wrench.
  • Multi-tool – eg Leatherman.
  • Oilstone for sharpening blades.
  • Paint scrapers.
  • Pliers – various sizes and types, including circlip pliers.
  • Screwdrivers, various sizes and types.
  • Screwdriver bits, various sizes and types included Torx bits.
  • Socket sets – both half inch and quarter inch drives with metric and imperial sockets as appropriate.
  • Spanners, open ended, ring and adjustable types.
  • Tap and die set.
  • Torches, including a head torch.
  • Vernier gauge.
  • Vice – the type designed to fit on top of a winch is ideal.
  • Wire brush.
  • Wood saws.

General spares

  • Adhesives.
  • Abrasive paper (in various grades).
  • Duct tape.
  • Hose clips in a range of sizes.
  • Marine grade sealant.
  • Masking tape.
  • Petroleum jelly (Vaseline).
  • PTFE tape.
  • Spray can of lubricant.
  • Stainless steel nuts, bolts and screws in a range of sizes.
  • Washers (including large penny washers).

Electrical tools

  • Crimping tool.
  • Electrical pliers.
  • Multimeter
  • Precision (small) screwdriver set.
  • Soldering iron.
  • Wire cutters.

Electrical spares

  • Cable ties.
  • Electrical tape.
  • Fuses.
  • Heat shrink tubing.
  • Light bulbs, including navigation lights.
  • Solder.
  • Spare battery terminals.
  • Torch batteries.
  • Wire terminals and connectors.
  • Wire of different sizes.

Engine tools

  • Feeler gauge.
  • Filter wrench.
  • Injector spanners.
  • Oil change pump.
  • Spark plug spanner for outboard motor.
  • Torque wrench.

Rigging and sail repair tools

  • Cutting board.
  • Hot knife.
  • Rigging cutters.
  • Sailmaker’s needles – it’s worth noting that many of these are sized for rope work and only the smallest sizes tend to be suitable for sail repairs.
  • Sailmaker’s palm.
  • Sharp knife – consider a ceramic one as these maintain an edge for longer.
  • Splicing fids.
  • Swedish fid.

Rigging and sail making supplies

  • Blocks, including a snatch block.
  • Dyneema line – 2mm and 4mm.
  • Electrical tape.
  • Sailmaker’s thread.
  • Self-adhesive sail repair patches.
  • Self-amalgamating tape.
  • Shackles in a range of sizes.
  • Spinnaker repair tape.
  • Whipping twine.

One final tip is that it helps to store tools and spares in transparent plastic boxes clearly labelled with magic markers. Finding a tool or spare in a hurry on a pitching and rolling boat can prove very frustrating and seriously affect your sense of humour!

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