To start with Part 1 of our Boat Tools series, please visit: https://www.seattleyachts.com/news/boat-tools-how-do-you-keep-yours
To jump to Part 2 of our Boat Tools series, please visit: https://www.seattleyachts.com/news/boat-tools-part-2
As promised, I now want to showcase some of the special tools I carry in my boat’s toolbox, accumulated after years of experience. Not everyone needs all these tools on their boat, of course, but my point in sharing these is that we should be open to new solutions for the odd occasion when regular tools just won’t do the job.
I bought this more than 30 years ago from one of those cheap auto parts catalogs, yet it does what no other tool can do when I need to put tension on an engine belt. I originally bought this to adjust the belt tension on the small Yanmar 3GM30F diesel in my sailboat, and it has been on every boat since. While it is seldom used, it is nice to know it is in my toolbox.
I do not know how anyone can deal with circlips without these pliers. They are absolutely required to service a winch, an electric motor, or really anything that has parts that spin with a bearing. Removing or installing retaining rings is an exercise in frustration without these tools.
Most of us know how it feels to use regular pliers. One just asks for trouble as the circlip launches out of the pliers and goes into the water or deep into the bilge.
For most of us, that only needs to happen once.
There are so many uses for this adhesive tape that it is hard to imagine not having it on your boat. I’ve seen it used to fix tears in sails, canvas, seal leaking hatches, hold soles onto boat shoes, tears in foul weather gear, cover split or other broken hoses, and that is just to name a few. It is waterproof, lasts forever, and I can’t imagine going cruising without duct tape.
It always helps to buy name brand, as cheap, knock-off rolls of duct tape tend to get slimy as the adhesive melts in the heat.
Crowfoot wrenches are great to use on nuts and bolts that are difficult to get a regular wrench on. They are ideal for tight spaces.
They often come in sets of SAE or metric sizes, or one can use an adjustable crowfoot wrench, such as this one from Snap-On. Like most of the the other specialty tools, they are seldom needed, but they fit in spaces unlike any other tool. They work great on a ratchet or extension bar, or with a torque wrench.
Assorted picks can be very helpful when working with slippery and elusive O-rings, rubber plugs, and gaskets. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and you will wonder how you ever got along without them.
One of my biggest pet peeves on boats is the use of substandard hose clamps. Unfortunately, they are the most common clamp you find in marine and hardware stores. Even though many claim to be stainless steel, the screw is usually plain steel. The speed at which these cheap clamps rust, corrode, and fail astounds me. The perforations in these inferior bands actually speed the corrosion process.
When shopping for hose clamps, bring along a magnet. If it attaches to the hose clamps at the store, pass them by. You don’t want them on your boat.
In fact, when I think back over the past several years, every engine problem I have experienced on my boat or on a friend’s boat has been a result of a corroded, failed hose clamp, usually out of sight on the engine or cooling system.
I routinely replace these cheap hose clamps with much superior hose clamps from Sweden. The ABA and AWAB brands are the same product, from the same company, which manufactures expensive but outstanding hose clamps that are 100 percent 316 stainless steel. Best of all is that they use embossed threads rather than perforated threads that can cut into hose if they are overtightened.
While all hose clamps use a slotted screw for use by a screwdriver, it is better to use a dedicated hose clamp wrench to properly tighten or remove hose clamps. The green handled, Ideal wrench in the photo has a reversible driver on the end to handle ¼-inch and 5/16th screws, which are the most common hose clamps sizes. The Swedish ABA/AWAB driver, which came in the maintenance kit, has a 7mm driver which is used throughout the ABA/AWAB hose clamps range.
These 316 stainless steel ABA/AWAB hose clamps are expensive, but they represent a well deserved investment on the plumbing in your boat. When you want the best for ultimate reliability, these are the hose clamps of choice.
They are the most corrosion and acid resistant hose clamp available, and the strongest.
Having a common blue tarp on your boat can come in handy for many uses, and deserves a place in your locker. A tarp can cover leaking deckhouse or hatches, temporarily protect ongoing repair work on the exterior during rainy weather, even provide additional insulation over glass windows. A tarp makes a suitable drop cloth.
In an emergency, a tarp can serve as a collision mat if the hull is damaged, stretched out over the hull and tied off at the toenail. It won’t stop a leak but it will slow down the ingress of water.
While it may look tacky, one can ever hang the tarp over the boom or tied across an aft cockpit to shelter the cockpit from wicked sun in the tropics. You may not make new friends with the crew on the nearby Oyster or Grand Banks, but you will survive the sun’s harmful rays.
I wasn’t sure if I should include this tool, as I have yet to use it. I bought it years ago after watching the demonstrations at the boat shows over the years. While I fully understand the “value” this tool provides, I just haven’t had a need to use it over other solutions. There are many YouTube videos about how to use it.
If my hammer handle breaks, I will replace it rather than repair it with this tool. As I already mentioned regarding hose clamps, I can’t imagine an instance where I would not just use a hose clamp rather than what this tool can produce.
But I include it anyway, in the hope that someone finds it useful in some obscure application.
Getting a pesky gear, pulley, impeller, or arm off a shaft is often difficult, especially when it has been on for several years or exposed to the elements.
I made the gear puller on the right to get into a very tight spot where the regular tool would not fit. The windshield wiper came off easily with this tool.
Such tools save a lot of time and frustration. A prop puller is also worth carrying, as long as it is sized for the props on your boat.
A manual impact tool has been in my toolbox for decades, and when a nut or bolt refuses to budge, it comes out to do its thing. A wack on a ball peen hammer usually loosens the nut or bolt head.
In today’s world, I wonder if I will continue to carry this trusted tool much longer, however. I recently bought a cordless impact driver that uses the same lithium battery pack as my cordless drill and other tools. The proliferation of powerful, cordless tools has been significant in the last few years, all sharing the same battery and charger.
Will my manual impact tool go the way of my sextant and Walker knot log, which I sold some time ago? Not likely.
I will never go cruising without at least one LED headlamp. Whether I am grilling in the dark, or slithering around a dark lazzarette locker to inspect a funny noise from the autopilot, having a light on my head, which frees up both hands, is absolutely necessary. It also seems to protect my head from bumping into things in the dark.
Once you use one of these wonders, you will always have one close at hand. It also makes a great gift for a couple who just bought their new cruising boat.
A hose puller pick is one of those tools many don’t know about. But if you have ever struggled to get a hose off the barbs of a seacock or other plumbing fixture, you know how difficult it can be. And I am not even talking about if some fool applied 3M 5200 adhesive sealant to the connection.
This remarkably handy tool makes quick work of breaking a hose free from years of being pressed onto a fitting with hose clamps. It is usually fairly easy to remove the hose without yelling and screaming. Every toolbox should have one.
There are dozens of epoxy products that do all sorts of magical repairs, and most of us have them on our boat. But it is especially handy if the epoxy can be applied and cured underwater.
This is not for regular maintenance work but rather when something happens and you need to do some quick and dirty repair until you get to shoreside services. It is definitely something to have onboard.
And try to get the epoxy in white. For some reason it doesn’t show up on your clothes and skin as nasty as black.
I mentioned in a previous article to carry a small jeweler’s screwdriver. Even better yet, buy a small kit of small precision drivers. I started with the cheap yellow, blue, and red handled set years ago. In Southport Marina one winter to found the smaller kit that was even more useful, with a greater variety of bits, even though I quickly lost of the tiny bits.
When I saw the above Oria kit, which includes every imaginable type of small fastener and driver bit, I had to buy it. The other kits now sit in my office for when I need to fix eyeglasses or take apart computer hardware. On the boat I can do pretty much anything with the Oria kit, which is very well made and not particularly expensive.
A mechanic’s stethoscope is surprisingly useful for tracking down the source of a funny noise coming from running machinery. It can identify issues with worn gears, valves and bearings. And it is not expensive, like $5 in some catalogs.
I don’t use it often but am glad to have it, although I seem to use it mostly on other people’s boats. It quickly pinpoints where the sound comes from, and helps the troubleshoot process. Very helpful tool.
Every cruiser has a flashlight, but besides a handheld flashlight and my LED headlamp, I also carry this portable work light. The LED lights are super bright, the light hangs easily over my workspace, and the base has a strong magnet to firmly attach to the engine or other metal surface, vertically or horizontally. The batteries are long lasting, and it is just one of those tools you just use all the time when there is more than simple routine maintenance.
One year I replaced the windshield wipers on my car. Rather than throw the old wiper blades away, however, I decided to take them apart, only to find a stainless steel backbone in each wiper.
It is strong, flexible, and the little cut in each end helps me retrieve wires and nuts, and serves as a small snake device to pass wire through a bulkhead. I bent the one end for even more utility.
I always wonder how I survived without this homemade reaching tool.
If you ever raced motorcycles or sports cars, or hung around aircraft, the use and value of safety wire is already well known. Safety wire is the absolutely best and most secure way to keep nuts and bolts from oscillating loose. It is required on many vehicles where the risks from failure can be deadly.
While the machinery in a modern cruising boat many not involve quite the same quivering vibration as Steve McQueen racing a tiny Austin-Healey Sprite around Sebring, I carry the above in my toolbox in case I see a need.
Experienced cruisers know to mouse their anchor shackles with monel or stainless wire (or even zip ties these days), but there may be other applications where fasteners work loose, perhaps on a high-rpm generator engine. It depends on the boat.
Knowing how to properly use safety wire is one of those skills that makes you feel good, like making a well-executed splice in a dockline.
This is a set of tools that may not be worth carrying unless you already have them. If you grew up around gas engines, working on carburetors was part of the deal. Having a set of jet reamers was necessary to clean or resize the jets inside carburetors. Hot rod and sports car guys spent hours fiddling with their engines to get the best performance, and these tools were part of the secret weapon arsenal.
On a boat, the main use for these is dealing with carbureted outboard engines. The ethanol in the gasoline we have to live with causes all sorts of problems with carburetors on small outboards. These jet reamers, which range from 0.33 to 2mm, are very helpful to clean out the fouled jets.
There are many different tools that remove oil and other filters. I have several but the one that remains in my toolbox works the best. I won it in a raffle at Trawler Fest, as it was signed by Lehman guru Bob Smith of American Diesel. While his signature has mostly worn off, it was his favorite tool for removing the filters on Lehman diesel engines.
Using it reminds me of Bob, who was a legend in the trawler community.