Wouldn’t it be handy to come across hardware stores on the water?
When lady luck doesn’t turn in your favor, you best be prepared to make do with what’s on board. Let these tools give you the confidence to take on obstacles when they inevitably and inconveniently present themselves.
Foremost, a good emergency kit is paramount. You need to make sure you and your passengers are safe and secure after misfortune strikes.
Also, since storing items with limited cargo space can clutter, it’s important to be conscious not to bring too many tools on board.
Emergency Boat Tools You Need
When all attempts at maintenance fail and a survival situation is at hand, these tools will be life savers.
1. Waterproof Flashlight
If your boat suffers a failure at night, a waterproof flashlight (Available on Amazon) is your best friend. It gives you clear vision to make repairs and a way to signal your presence to other boats, so make sure the flashlight has a full battery and is in operating condition.
For safekeeping, look into waterproof flashlights with lumen ratings of 500 and up (the one shown right provides 700 lumens). That way, help can see you at long distances.
Also, it would be wise to memorize Morse code for signaling SOS with a flashlight just in case your signal cannot be interpreted from a distance.
2. Tow Line
If you are stuck in the wonderful situation of being adrift in the water, tow lines (Available on Amazon) are your ticket out. Signal any passing boat for help by waving hands or flashlight and let them tow you back to land safely. If they are unable to do so, you are already prepared for someone who can.
I can testify to this: On a friend’s Larson, having the tow line saved hours getting back via trolling motor. Our first time on a new lake, we ran into a big seaweed patch trying to navigate to a fishing spot. Though sheer momentum got us past the patch, the motor overheated and wouldn’t start back up. We were stuck.
Moving at a snail’s pace with the trolling motor a long way from the launch, I was tempted to fashion a sail from my beach towel until we flagged down a pontoon boat for assistance. The weekend cruiser was happy to help us out and didn’t mind the 30-minute tow that interrupted his schedule. Without that line, we would have been out there for an hour or more using that puny trolling motor to get back home.
3. Jumper Cables
Got a finicky battery that leaves you dead in the water? Jumper cables will help you get back home safely. Signal another boat for a jump or use your alternate battery to make it back to home port. These jumper cables (Available on Amazon) even come with a case to protect against corrosion.
4. Flare Gun and Flares
Flare gun kits are crucial for emergency situations when boats need to send a signal to rescuers. It’s up to your preference for what flare will suit you. A flare gun will be able to signal from afar and a standard flare will make enough smoke to signal an emergency situation to any passing by boats. Also, with rare use and exposure to the elements, regularly check to be certain they’re not damaged and still in good shape.
5. Fire Extinguisher
Even surrounded by water, fire is a danger that can get out of hand. Flames can rapidly spread without the right equipment at the right time. Keeping a bucket on board is not enough. Take no chances and keep an up-to-date marine fire extinguisher (Available on Amazon).
Recommended Extra Boat Tools
If the boat is safe but out of commission from one issue or another, these tools will help you stand a fighting chance at fixing most problems on the water.
6. Phillips and Flathead Screwdriver
An obvious but often overlooked choice you need is a good multi-functional screwdriver (Available on Amazon), which helps to inspect repair issues under the floor or take off a panel to investigate a troubled area.
Since boating exposes screws to the elements often, cheap material screwdrivers may strip or be stripped by the screw. Ditch the dollar store cheapos! It’s important to invest in suitable material like marine-grade water-resistant steel screwdrivers instead.
7. Long Needle Nose Pliers
Good for fishing as well as fixing, needle nose pliers (Available on Amazon) are a convenient tool that can hold a screw, pry a hook out of a fish and twist a small item into place.
Also, they can be used to fish out any dropped part from the bilge. Their versatility and need on a boat is virtually endless.
8. Locking Pliers
Locking pliers (Available on Amazon) supplement for hundreds of different sized wrenches in one. Therefore, the ability for them to save space in this capacity make them essential for a boat. Grip and twist any stubborn nut of any type to make a repair in a jiffy.
9. Ratchet and Sockets with Spark Plug Match
There’s no getting out a spark plug properly without its fitted socket. Keeping a ratchet set (Available on Amazon) and a spare spark plug on board will save you the hassle of calling for help for an easy fix.
Also, don’t forget the wobble extension (Available on Amazon) to give a little more leeway in claustrophobic repair situations. Boat engine bays are especially unforgiving because there’s no dropping the part through to the ground like a car, so it pays to get the luxury of not losing your tool to the bilge.
10. A Rigging Knife
Rigging knives (Available on Amazon) are perfect for boating and more useful than their commonplace counterparts. The addition of a marline spike is extremely practical for undoing pesky knots. Though some may be content with an old folding blade, the added attachments of a rigging knife yield more utilitarian value on the water. Space saving is a must. Get more done with less.
Also, don’t forget to keep it sharp to cut through line if needed. If stuck in rising and rough waters with no time to untie from the dock, the knife will be essential to your boat’s safety. Cut that line to save your boat!
11. Hose Clamps
Though leaks from worn houses and punctures may give you trouble, having spare hose clamps on board will be able to stop most leaks from bad seals. Take the Phillips screwdriver and tighten these clamps down on a problem area so you can make it home to diagnose the problem. But be sure to pick up corrosion-resistant hose clamps (Available on Amazon).
I made the mistake of putting a simple automotive hose clamp on a bilge pump hose because I noticed corrosion on the old one. Of course, I forgot about them for two years or so until lo and behold, the hose failed from a bad clamp. I didn’t make the same mistake twice.
The combination of water and electricity scare away boaters, but don’t be afraid. A multi-meter (Available on Amazon) can help diagnose electrical problems fast and painless. Track down that short or dead wire with ease. Read up on the proper voltage for your boat and since most boats use the same voltage for all appliances, it will be easy to isolate the problem. ‘
13. Wire Stripper
Once the problem is tracked down, quality wire strippers (Available on Amazon) will do you good to have. Since precision is important in electrical, it’s best to invest in a better quality pair to give you neat strips. Look for that’s water resistant with multiple wire diameters to last a lifetime.
14. Electrical Tape, Wire Nuts and Extra Marine Wire
Keep these three must-haves zipped up in a bag to prevent them from straying away in the toolbox. You’ll need all three for competent electrical repair work. Using the multi-meter to first track the problem down, cut the power and carefully strip the wire as needed and make your repair.
Depending on the situation, use electrical tape (Available on Amazon) and/or wire nuts (Available on Amazon) to complete the connection. Extra wire (Available on Amazon) can be used for a full replacement. Also, keep spare boat fuses for any other electrical issues that may arise.
15. Zip Ties
Zip ties (Available on Amazon) have many uses on a boat. For one, boats move and cargo jiggles. Tie down cargo getting too unwieldy with zip ties. Also, tying a zip tie on some anchors between the chain and a link welded to the end of the shaft can enable your anchor to be retrieved if stuck on an object on the bottom. Pulling hard enough will break the zip tie and give your boat another leverage angle to pull up the anchor.
16. Prop Wrench
Reflective water makes it difficult to see floating debris under the surface that can seriously chip or mangle the prop. However, don’t let an entangled or broken prop stop your plans. Break out a prop wrench (Available on Amazon) and a spare prop you should be keeping on the boat and give them a switch to move on with your day. Don’t forget to measure the prop nut to get the right fit.
Also, if you are a klutz like me, pay a little bit extra for a floating prop wrench (Available on Amazon). Trust me, it’s easier than living with the shame of dropping one overboard.
17. Moisture Meter
These meters are essential for long-term boat living. If you noticed a leak but have no idea how to track it down, a moisture meter (Available on Amazon) will do you good. Fire it up and compare readings around the ship. The problem area will reveal itself so you can isolate it.
For preventative measures before you hit the water, develop a checklist to ensure avoidable issues and repairs won’t tie you up.
Don’t quiver with the first sign of inconvenience on the water. If you have the tools, get to work.
Dennis Burck is a freelance journalist in the Detroit area who boats on Michigan’s many lakes. With family history in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula marinas, he enjoys Chris Craft wooden boats and studying Great Lakes shipwreck history.