What should I have on my boat? Part 2 – Mechanical Tools


This is a continuation of a series on things you should have onboard to prepare for an emergency. To start from the beginning, be sure to go back and read: What should I have on my boat? Part 1 – General Rules for Tools

Just to reiterate a point from my first post (and I’ll do this each time) this could not possibly be a full list that fits every person, boat and boating situation. You should use this as a starting point and add to it based on your personal needs, the needs of your boat, and things you’ll need in the situation you’re boating in.

In my last post, I covered some basics and general rules for tools. I’m now going to cover the basic types of tools you’ll want.

Wrenches and Sockets

You’ll want an assortment of wrenches and sockets in your toolbox. This seems like pretty straightforward advice, but it’s not as simple as that. Obviously, we can’t have as large as an assortment as we might keep in our garages or workspaces at home. We have precious little space to spare. So you’ll want to consider the types of operations you’ll perform with the wrenches and the clearance you’ll have for those operations. Let’s consider the types of operations:

Open-ended Wrenches

Open ended-wrenches are the most basic wrench you can find. They are useful if you can only slip this over the sides of the a nut. They can slip, so there are some alternatives to help you get more secure leverage.

Box-end/Ring Wrenches

Slightly more useful is the box-end wrench. These wrenches slip over and give you ultimate grip around the nut. The downside, however, is that sometimes you cannot get the clearance to completely slip over the nut from the top. In those instances you may have to go back to an open-ended wrench and slip it over the sides of the nut.

Ratcheting Box-end Wrenches

Even if you have the clearance to get a box end onto a nut, continuously slipping it on, twisting, then slipping it off in order to loosen or tighten your target can be a time-consuming and exhausting experience. This is where the ratcheting box-end wrench comes in. Typically these wrenches only spin in one direction but freely turn on the reverse direction. That allows you to tighten or loosen a nut without removing the wrench. You can reverse the direction either by turning the wrench over, or by flipping a lever to change the ratcheting direction.

Combination Wrenches and Angled Wrenches

Often times you can find these wrench ends combined into one tool. They come in varying combinations. For instance, you may find an open end on one end of the wrench, and a ratcheting box-end on the other.

There are other times when a straight wrench handle just won’t due because of clearance issues. For these jobs, you can find variations of hard angles, adjustable angles, and curves on wrenches that will help you.

wrench-objstructin wrench-offset

Adjustable Wrenches

An adjustable wrench is effectively an open-ended wrench with a There are those times where you just don’t have the right size. These wrenches don’t grip the nut as solidly as a box-end or even as well as an open end.



Sockets are the next of kin to a ratcheting box-end wrench. A socket connects to a “ratcheting wrench” whose ratcheting direction can be controlled by a lever on the wrench. Rather than having multiple wrenches, you can connect any number of sockets and connections to a single wrench (one at a time, of course). The upset of saving space finds a loss in functionality when it comes to clearance.

Allen Wrenches

These guys are invaluable in just about every aspect of life. Whether it’s assembling Ikea furniture, putting cabinet hardware on, or tightening the brake system on your bicycle. So, it stands to reason that you’ll also need these on your boat. It’s best to keep a decent set of these in various sizes in your kit.


There are various types of pliers you’ll want to keep on your boat. Some are very specialty items, others are more general.

General Pliers

Pliers will come in handy in a number of instances, most often just for gripping odds and ends while you tighten something else around it. These are often misused, however, to hold onto a nut while tightening a bolt. This can damage the nut, or just about anything else you’re holding onto. So, don’t use pliers on parts made for precision instruments.


Retaining Ring Pliers

Sometimes known as “circlip” pliers, this tool is meant to help you remove or fit retaining rings in place.

Needle Nose Pliers

Needle-nose pliers are made to get into those really tight clearance areas. They can also be used to bend or reshape wire without cutting it. On a boat, tight clearances and wiring abound, so these are a definite “must have” on board.

Locking Pliers

These pliers can be adjusted using a bolt at the end of the wrench to change the spacing between the two sides. As The user squeezes the handles, the lock into place and cannot be backed out on their own. These pliers also contain a lever that will release the pliers when they no longer need to be locked to the target instrument. These are invaluable to use as clamps or to get a grip on irregular sized items such as pipes and stripped bolts.


Slip Joint Pliers

These pliers don’t have the range of vise grip pliers, but they do have a pivot point that can be changed to increase or decrease the range of the plier jaws.


Screw Drivers

Screw drivers are one of those items that you just can’t seem to have enough of. Sometimes you need long handles, sometimes you need short ones. You need a variation of sizes from extremely small to fairly large. They come with large grips and small grips. And no matter how many you seem to have, you’ll hit a situation where you wish you had some other combination. This is one that takes some time to get right for your boat. Generally speaking you can get by with a smaller set, but it isn’t always easy to work with them in tight quarters.

Flat Head (slotted)

Flat head screwdrivers are the single slotted screwdrivers. It’s important to make sure you use the right size slot on the right-size screw head otherwise you risk stripping the screw head and leaving the screw firmly embedded in place.

Phillips / Cross-head

Phillips head, or cross-head if you prefer, are the screwdrivers with a tip that looks a bit like an “X”. These are often more stable than a flat head because the head can be held more firmly in place. However, it’s also easier to strip these heads, so once again, having the right size is extremely important.

Manual Impact Screwdrivers

Apart from regular screwdrivers, it’s a great idea to have impact screwdrivers on your boat. Impact screwdrivers can be used to loosen corroded or over-tightened screws. Obviously corrosion can play a big part in boats, but as mentioned in the previous post, having manual impact drivers instead of power drivers may prove more useful in an emergency situation.

Cutting Instruments

I was surprised to find out how many people found a need to put holes in a perfectly good boat while on the go. Cutting pipe, drilling pilot holes, or cutting wire, you’ll want to make sure you have the right tools for the job when you need to destroy something.

Hack Saw

I watched a few dockside pipe changes this summer. Amazing what happens when people are away from their home port or someone they trust to do work for them. There are a number of reasons to keep a hack saw on board. Make sure you keep extra blades on hand!

Hand Drill

Sticking with the manual tool theme, you’ll want to get a hand crank drill. These come in various types so find one you think you can use in an emergency. These aren’t always easy to find in hardware stores, strangely enough. If you’re having trouble, give a local wood working shop a try. Don’t forget to keep a variety of drill bits on hand too!

Utility Knife and Blades

You’ll never know when you might need to cut through dock line, fishing line, wire, or canvas. Keep a utility knife in your bag and don’t forget some spare sharp blades!

Miscellaneous Tools

We haven’t covered everything and some things just defy mass-categorization. So we will just throw them in the inevitable ‘miscellaneous” pile here.

Impeller Puller

If you need to pull an impeller on a trip, having the small tool will prove invaluable. Best to keep one in your bag!

Telescopic Magnet

Boats have all sorts of nooks and crannies for “things” to fall into. Having a telescopic magic on hand can help you retrieve a tool or screws from an otherwise tricky-to-reach spot!

Riveting Tool

Rivets abound on boats. Sometimes not as evident as they may seem. If they’re on the boat, then they may also come loose. Have a tool handy to get the job done, but also make sure you have rivets on hand when you need them most.


Hammers are an obvious need everywhere and a boat is no exception. I feel a bit silly adding it here, but the post wouldn’t be complete without listing it here. Keep one on hand and make sure it stays dry — particularly if it has a wooden handle. Nothing worse than swinging a hammer and watching the head go flying.



We’ve covered a lot of what may seem like generic information about mechanical tools. But I didn’t have all of these tools and I know others that don’t carry ANY tools on board. Someone went so far as to say doing so was bad luck. As a former Boy Scout, I prefer to be prepared. Don’t worry, we aren’t done yet! Next we are going to cover electrical tools, safety gear, and spare parts you’ll want to have on board in future posts.

As I said, this isn’t a complete list for everyone. So I’m open to amending this list. What mechanical tools do you keep on board?

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