Call us: 031 569 1437 | 7 Days a week from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm

The Onboard Toolbox

As all boat owners are probably aware, simply owning the boat is the first base goal: Next, if you don’t want the thing to collapse gently around you and finally sink, you have got to keep it in good order. In other words, you have to maintain it. Usually, the end result is that the boat stays safe and keeps going, a bit like your car.

Whilst the word ‘maintenance’ is synonymous with ‘work’ there is usually the hard way to approach it or the easy way. The hard way is to grovel around in the dark, without the proper gear, using a kitchen knife to attempt to undo a screw that has been screwed tight enough to stop the undercarriage dropping off a Jumbo jet! This will not do. We have to be fully prepared for most scenarios and this is where a bloody good logical, sensible, onboard tool kit comes into the picture. I might add here, the emphasis is onboard. Not under any circumstances, to be taken ashore, to double up as gear for fixing the lawnmower or, God forbid, the fridge. This primary ‘piece of equipment’ may save you and your boat at some point in the future so it must always be at arm’s reach, night and day, a friend in need, as it were.

If you were to take any two boats in a marina and do a spot check on their tool kits you may be in for a shock. All owners appear to have differing priorities when it comes to D.I.Y. onboard. Remember too, we learn as we live. If you see something that might save your bacon on a terrible night, buy it and add it to the stash without a second thought.


Lighting – A rechargeable torch from someone like ‘Kambrook’ with thousands of candlepower units that can light every corner with stunning brilliance…even in daylight.

More lighting! – A ‘miners lamp’ type of headset torch can leave the hands free even in rough weather for tricky jobs.

Knife – A good sharp knife is a must. It matters not if the blade folds or is open, as long as it can cut well. A device for sharpening the blade is a must, like a Swiss tungsten steel ‘Istor’ for example (To be found in good hardware stores).

Scissors – In fact several different sizes, some throwaway, some good steel, they come in handy for all sorts of things and cut wire in a pinch.

Pliers – I like electrician’s heavy-duty, insulated handles with cutting blades made from good steel. They are expensive but invaluable. A good back up are needle nose pliers at least four inches long.

Screwdrivers – Every one has a screwdriver on board, don’t they? Trouble is, they are always too long, too short, bent and covered in grease or paint. Get a full-boxed set, flat bladed and Philips head and make sure they are at least ‘Stanley’ quality. Some people like reversible bladed types but beware the ‘Taiwan terrors’ that melt on contact with a screw head. Oh oh! Don’t forget a small set of watchmaker’s screwdrivers for those maddenly tiny screws that live in the back of electronic gear.

Hammers – Four different hammers are a priority. A nylon/rubber headed type for inflicting blows without damage, a small ball peen ‘toffee hammer’ type and a pointed ‘ice pick’ or welder’s hammer for rust and scale. The last is a good heavy sensible hammer for serious thumping when required.

Vice Grips – Two pairs, one eight inch, good quality stainless and a small pair of needle nosed type for awkward corners. Don’t be tempted to buy cheapo here, you will always regret the decision later.

Wrenches or adjustable spanners – Two or three types needed here. Cheapos wear quickly and allow play to ruin the holding quality of these tools. Two roughly the same size allow a nut and bolt to be undone. One really large one is handy for unexpected jobs such as loosening a tightening the gland nut on the stern tube or even the prop nut.

Drills – Two types here. One a cordless drill with a charger. Always use a keyless chuck. A drill without a chuck key is about as useless as the Titanic with an outboard motor. Note: If you have a cordless drill that the battery has died on, you can revive it by soldering two wires, positive and negative, onto the two battery terminals inside the drill handle. These wires can incorporate two alligator clips and be attached to a battery and the drill be used anywhere. Ensure the leads are at least a metre long. Finally, a decent set of metal twist drills with at least two spare small size drills should complete the set up for drilling. You can, if room allows, bring a hand drill for emergency use.

Spanners – It always seems like you have never got enough of the things. Ring spanners, metric and imperial, good quality, on a folding roll.

Electrical nylon ties – What a great invention these things are! Ensure you have several sizes from 30 cms to 5 cms long. They are lifesavers for just about every job where things need to be secured either permanently or temporarily. A quick snip with the pliers frees them instantly. I actually invested five bucks on a packet of ‘re-usable’ ones but the ones I bought from Bunnings actually work loose… a great idea, but no cigar this time!

Adhesives – Several types are a must. Super glue tubes, at least two or three. A tube of silicon or similar. Also a tube of 3M 5200 marine glue. I have also found that the two-pack waterproof epoxy all purpose ‘knead it’ by Selleys is superb for all kinds of quick repairs. Especially in wet areas, it will even cure underwater… a must! (Note: They have several in their ‘knead it’ range so make sure you get the one that states AQUA for wet areas).

Tape – Masking tape, electrical, brown parcel tape and self-amalgamating tape for those ‘must be dry’ jobs.

Axe – A good axe for severing ropes, cables and breaking free in an emergency.

Lubricant – A can of grease and a can of moisture displacing lubricant like WD40. Also a small jar of petroleum jelly for such jobs as reluctant ‘O’ rings and hose pipes.

Hose Clamps – A plastic box bull of various size 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 huge dividends in the long term reliability. A good pair of ‘side cutters’ with insulated handles for all size cables is also important for quick and efficient repairs. Red and black electrical cables (different amperages) and the means to solder them is really important, especially if cruising. A small butane or propane soldering torch (refillable) is advisable. Don’t forget heat shrink tubing for waterproof joins and it is really important that an electrical ‘multimeter’ be purchased and a good book on how to identify and fix onboard electrical problems. (Don Casey’s book on boat electrics 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 fix basic electrical faults could be the difference between disaster and success on any offshore trip. Also, don’t forget the soldering wire, self fluxing is good for fast, efficient joins.

Today we are lucky to have access to really good cheap 240/12 volt invertors to run your power tools. The usual power tools can be carried onboard but we won’t go into too much detail in this article about what to carry. Number one on my list however, would be an angle grinder/sander.

Hardware – This can vary enormously but should contain some of the following:

· Stainless wood screws (assorted)

· Stainless nuts, bolts and washers (assorted)

· Stainless split pins (assorted)

· Spare small size drills

· Fuses (if applicable)

· Bulbs for lights and torches

· Files, metal and assorted (needle files too)

· 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 to the very end two additions to the above so they may stick in your mind. One is a total must, the other a luxury, but nevertheless, worthy of note.

The absolute must is a set of serious bolt cutters for disengaging fallen rigging along with a good hacksaw and blades.

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

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 mate of mine, Kenny, who foolishly balanced his tool kit on the coaming whilst he unlocked a hatch after a break down at sea. After realising what the huge splash was, Kenny drifted for two days until he was discovered by chance. Kenny (whose box of tea bags went down with the tools) ruefully recalls that “Most people don’t realise you can get fifteen cups of tea from a used tea bag”….. Personally, I think he was lucky, very lucky!

If you liked the cut of this article and would like Terry to write one for your magazine or newsletter simply contact or if you would like to read similar articles go to

Source by Terry Buddell