Tools That Should be On Board

hand tools, tools, wrench, hammer, screwdrivers

These tools are the bare minimum of what should be on a small boat.

Every boat should have a toolbox on board and any time of year is a good time to go through it make some upgrades. It needs more than tools. Supplies like tape, sealants, zip ties and the like are equally important during an emergency.

As a marine mechanic, I occasionally cringe when I see the types of tools and supplies that boaters keep onboard. I’ve seen socket wrenches with no ratchet, imperial wrenches for an engine that requires metric, oil filters that don’t fit, dried sealant and connectors that don’t fit the wiring onboard. Of course I’ve also seen some fine collections and that’s where I hope to take you.

So — here’s a wish list of items that every boater should keep onboard (whether you are handy or not); the must-haves that everyone can use, and are relatively inexpensive to buy and store. I’ll divide the list into tools, supplies and replacement parts.

WD-40, 3M 5200, lubricant, marine sealant

WD-40 can help with rusted fittings and 3M 5200 is a favored sealant of many technicians.


Adjustable wrench. Find a model that is of medium size that fit small and large bolts and nuts, and is of sturdy construction, preferably stainless steel.

Side Cutters. These let you to cut wire and zip ties and are handy for removing split pins and cotter pins.

Vise Grips. These locking pliers are handy to have and can act as a second set of hands to turn, pry or lock in place.

Vise Grips, Vice Grips pliers, locking pliers

Vise grips are one of the most versatile tools that should be on any boat.

A Hammer. Sometimes bolts, pins, levers, hinges, drawers, doors and bulkheads need a bit of persuasion

A Screwdriver Set. Flat head, Philips and Robertson are the most often needed


WD40 (or similar lubricant). It’s amazing how often this can make the difference between a bolt turning or not.

PB Blaster, penetrating fluid, penetrating catalyst

PB Blaster is great for loosening rusted fasteners.

3M 5200 – A sealant that can be used above or below the waterline and can continue to cure even when wet or immersed in water. Handy to seal holes, windows, hatches and acts as a bedding compound for deck fittings.

Assorted screws and bolts. Many sizes, in stainless steel. Often the difference between a quick repair getting done, or not.

Replacement Parts

Filters: Carry one replacement (at minimum) for every filter onboard (oil filters and fuel filters especially).

water-separating fuel filter, Sierra fuel filter

Having a spare water-separating fuel filter on board can mean the difference between getting home on your own or at the end of a tow rope.

Belts: Carry a replacement belt aboard to match your engine where applicable. This may be a single alternator belt or a complex serpentine belt, depending on the type of engine.

Spare Oil – 1 quart or liter or two. Enough to get you home in the event of a leak, accidental spill, or engine problem.

Coolant. If your engine has an internal cooling system, carry a jug of coolant (matching your engine specs) in case of an overheat.

Spare Impeller. The impeller draws water through the water pump to cool the engine. It is made of rubber and designed to be replaceable. In the event of an overheat caused by water not running through the engine, a new impeller may be just the trick.

We could list all the fluids, fasteners and spares you might need. But in the interest of saving space for enjoying your boat, we’ve limited this list to the “must haves” — the items that no boater should be without and can make the difference between getting back to dock safely or being able to leave for a cruise in the first place.

Andrew McDonald, Canadian Yachting, driving a sailboat

Andrew McDonald is the owner of Lakeside Marine Services — a boat repair/ maintenance firm based in Toronto. Andrew has worked in the marine industry for 12 years and is a graduate of the Georgian College Mechanical Techniques - Marine Engine Mechanic program.