To read Part 1 of our Boat Tools series, please visit:

Before I share the specialty tools gathered over the years, I think it worthwhile to cover the basics of what tools and assorted parts are generally considered necessary to have onboard a cruising boat. And while we’re talking about cruising, most of us think in terms of the Great Loop, Alaska or New England for the summer, a winter in the tropics, or a semi-annual migration up and down the East Coast. Not a circumnavigation.

Six weeks cruising the Great Lakes is considerably different from two months exploring remote wilderness coastlines far from land-based services. The demands on one’s resourcefulness and ability to handle whatever comes up ratchets down a couple of notches if one engages in pleasure boating in coastal regions in North America.

I previously presented my two-bag approach to carrying tools for everyday use. The first bag I covered is for mechanic’s tools. The second is for electrical projects, which I will soon discuss in subsequent post. The tools in these everyday bags are ones used for daily boating maintenance, and checking systems. They are what might be considered the tool bag equivalent of a Swiss Army Knife.

I carry additional tools, of course. They may not be needed during the season, but have sufficient value as to warrant being on the boat, just in case. They round out what would normally be expected in a complete toolbox.

I canvassed several experienced cruising friends and found we are all remarkably similar in what we choose to include in this general toolbox. So, I believe this list is relevant to every cruiser, no matter if they cruise the Tennessee River, Desolation Sound, or Biscayne Bay. Obviously, those who sail will have additional tools for maintaining proper adjustment of standing rigging and to make temporary sail repairs, but in general terms, we cruisers share the same needs.

Let’s review these basic tools for the boat.

Seen below: A Plano box of screws and bolts.

plano box of screws and bolts

There is a metal or heavy-duty plastic toolbox, or large ammo can, or some other sealed container located in the engine room or lazarette. It is secure, out of range of direct contact with spray or seawater and is immobilized so it can’t move easily due to the boat’s motion. This box often has a top tray and compartments for smaller items.

Somewhere close by are also several Plano-style plastic boxes, in which I carry nuts, bolts, screws, washers, split rings, cotter pins, electrical bits, and connectors. I have accumulated a lot over the years. (Back in my OCD days, I kept all the fasteners and screws organized by size and length. That lasted a long while until one day, one of my plastic (and slippery) Plano boxes slid off the hull stringer it was balanced on and the contents fell out into a big pile. After that I stopped being so focused on such a ridiculous level of organization.)

In the general toolbox, you will find:

• Hacksaw, or hacksaw blade in a handle
• Channel Locks in several sizes
• Crescent wrenches, large and small
• Complete sets of SAE and metric wrenches, open or box style, with duplicate wrenches for specific tasks that require them
• Socket sets for the full range of SAE and metric sizes, with ratchets and extensions, as well as any additional unusual sized sockets needed for special gear on the boat, such as a sparkplug socket for the outboard
• Several metal files, round, flat, and triangular
• Spare hose clamps
• Vise Grips of several sizes and shapes
• Four each screwdrivers: regular, small, jeweler’s, and stubby ( I have recently picked up a quality set of screwdrivers that share a single handle. It saves space and keeps things together. And I bought a small jeweler’s driver set that covers everything I might need for small fasteners.)
• Several pairs of pliers, including needle nose
• Diagonal cutters
• Specialty tools (which may require another toolbox to carry it all)


Seen below:Hacksaw blade and handle. 

hacksaw blade and handle 


In the upper tray, one will find:

• Knife
• Butane lighter
• Razor blade knife
• Rigging and emergency repair tape
• LED flashlight
• Measuring tape
• Heavy duty snips/scissors
• Mechanic work gloves
• Small tube of Locktite
• Small jar of Lanocote

Seen below: A small jar of Lanocote.


I also carry a lithium battery-powered electric drill, complete set of drill bits, driver bits, and charger. And a supply of micro fleece rags.

All of this is in addition to what is in my mechanic’s bag.

This basic collection of tools will suffice in most instances, especially if the repairs are only to get to a repair facility on shore. I would not expect to change major engine components or rebuild motors, compressors, or many of the systems, at anchor. That is best left to professionals who have the special tools and skills required for those jobs. My interest is pleasure boating, not fixing or overhauling machinery.

Of course, there is no limit to the kinds of tools one has aboard, and I have been guilty of crossing the line many times…it is often difficult to resist bringing yet one more tool, in case. But that is seldom justified, as most will engage a qualified yard tech to figure out the hydraulic leak or lack of cooling in the refrigerator or air conditioning system. It would be a different story, of course, if we were well off the beaten track, stranded off the grid. But that is simply not in the plans for most cruisers.

Seen below: Wera screwdriver set.

wera screwdriver set for boats 

There are some specialized tools necessary for some tasks, but they are not required to be in the ship’s general toolbox, and they don’t qualify as specialty tools to have aboard. A step wrench, for example, is necessary to remove or replace thru hulls and seacock flanges, but that is a job associated with the annual haul out where one can brings tools from home, as well as power tools and ladders for working on the hard.

Other projects, such as upgrading the water system to PEX tubing, are bigger in scope than general maintenance, and require a special cutter to cleanly cut the red and blue PEX hose. There is no reason to have it aboard for your summer vacation.

Seen below: Pex Tubing Cutter

pex tubing cutter

The beauty of a well-maintained cruising boat is that one only needs to carry enough to keep the boat running and performing at its best, not prepared for every imaginable disaster. This is true for a new or older boat, although the older cruiser will often surprise its owners with ongoing projects as things wear out or simply stop working.

If you are totally into self-sufficiency, feel free to go way beyond this basic inventory and put everything you feel may be needed onto your boat. The peace of mind may outweigh the additional weight, clutter, and, frankly, the hassle of having too much stuff aboard. Time after time, I hear cruisers complete their season’s dream cruise and return with all spares, tools, and supplies unused. I guess that is a good thing.

If you are planning more extensive cruising, consider my inventory just a starting point and go from there.

With the right tools aboard, and the knowledge of how to use them, life on a boat is quite manageable, even if there is always something that needs attention. Die-hard gearheads enjoy hands-on wrenching as a welcome relief from watching dolphins swim by or eagles circling overhead as everyone relaxes in the cockpit. It keeps the balance of cruising fresh, exciting, and full of adventure.

As it should.

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