9 boat toolbox essentials

Always be prepared on the water with these must-have items

By Jessica LewisJessica Lewis


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Keeping an organized boat tool box can prevent you from cursing the fact that you left a wrench or flashlight on the mainland when something goes wrong. Plus, you’ll be able to fix many common problems without having to call for help. Here are the 9 most essential items to keep on board.

1. Multi-tool

No matter the shape or size of your tool box, a multi-tool will always fit. More complex than a Swiss Army Knife but easier to figure out, a multi-tool conveniently combines tools, including a screwdriver and a pair of pliers. Multi-tools are more expensive than stand-alone tools, especially those made out of stainless steel, but are well worth their price.

2. Oil

Have a stuck screw or wire? A bit of oil will smooth things over. “The ubiquitous [choice] is WD40 in a can,” says Henri De Cotret, a boating consultant and former editor of Quebec Yachting. “If a screw is stuck because of a little corrosion or a wire doesn’t slide easy on your engine, you can just spray it on. It’s a handyman classic.”

3. Tape

Duct and electrical tapes can be lifesavers out on the water. “[Tape is] a quick and dirty fix,” says De Cotret. If you find a hole in your small watercraft, De Contet says: “You can bring it onto shore, turn it over, dry it as much as you can, and apply tape. That would be enough to get you back home. Even if a little water seeps through, you’ll be able to bail the incoming water and stay afloat.”

According to John Gullick of the Canadian Power & Sail Squadrons, you can also use marine tape for small fixes, which only sticks to itself. This makes wrapping the tape around wires or pipes easier, and keeps it from sticking to you.

4. Wrenches and screwdrivers

Two of the more necessary tools to keep on board for any type of boat are the wrench and the screwdriver. Both are adjustable and come in handy for a large number of fixes, like replacing spark plugs and tightening loose bolts.

5. Spark plugs and a toothbrush

It’s always good to keep a few extra spark plugs around, but what’s crucial is being able to keep them in good condition. Gullick recommends a toothbrush for cleaning plugs when they’re fouled or a bit wet. “I use it probably more than anything else in my toolbox,” he says. “You can brush [spark plugs] off and you’re back in business.”

6. Pliers

“If you need to hold something or want to apply a lot of pressure, pliers will lock on the part [you’re working on]” says De Cotret on his preference for devised grip pliers. He also suggests, if possible, using the small sizes because they can get into tight spaces that aren’t easily accessible. But he says: the bigger the boat, the bigger the pliers needed.

7. Flashlights

Getting stuck out on the boat at night can be worse without a flashlight. “You should have one in your kit because it’s required by law, but having another is always a good idea,” says Gullick. Having a backup flashlight saves you if one flashlight’s batteries die and gives your companions some light as well.

8. Extra batteries

Having these is so important, especially when you’re far from land. Keep an extra set of batteries for any electronic tools you may have, such as a portable GPS, handheld radio, or flashlight. You can also purchase rechargeable batteries and charge them at home before your boat ride.

9. Extra gasoline

If your boat takes gasoline, carrying extra supply should be a no-brainer. Running out of gas is “often the major cause of a mechanical breakdown,” says Gullick. “People don’t realize how much they need.”

This article was originally published on August 31, 2010

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Jessica Lewis