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If there’s one thing all boaters can agree on, it’s that boats break… a lot. What’s in your sailboat tool bag will determine how challenging your projects are and how long they’ll take.
We are DIYers. What’s in our tool kit helps us become our own mechanic, electrician, and plumber.
If you plan to do your own work, this list will ensure you have the right tools for the job.
What You’ll Find on This Boat Tool Kit List
The items below are in addition to your standard boat repair tools, such as screwdrivers, hammers, and wrenches. This list is for things you wouldn’t find in an average tool bag. They are more boat specific and helpful for reducing time, effort, and strain on your body.
Here are nine additions to your sailboat tool kit to help your projects go quicker and smoother.
1. Hemostat Set
You might recognize these instruments from your favorite medical drama, but they also pull their weight on a boat.
Made in both a straight and angled serrated tip, they are ideal for precision control of objects. The self-locking clamp makes for easier work in tough spots (basically everywhere on a boat).
Uses for Hemostats
BONUS: These are stainless steel, so they’ll hold up great on a boat.
These hemostats are a versatile item in your marine tool kit you’ll always want to have handy.
2. Compressed Air
Compressed air is our most used cleaning product on the boat. We always buy this compressed air in packs of four because we go through it so quickly.
Uses for Compressed Air
- Identifying a hose – spray the air through one end and have a person on the receiving end determine which hose the air is coming out of
- Cleaning various boat parts – this is especially good for cleaning out a bolt or screw hole to prevent thread damage
- Blowing dirt out of hard-to-reach places where a rag doesn’t fit
- Useful for saving your water supply for things you can clean with air instead of water
BONUS: This stuff is great for cleaning out beard and hair trimmers.
3. Borescope Camera
This unique tool allows you to see all the mystery spaces on a boat. Anything you can’t get into or inside the borescope camera can help.
How It Works
The borescope camera connects to your tablet or phone via WiFi. Insert the end of the borescope into the area you can’t get to and watch your mobile device for a live view of the area. You can also take pictures or videos to review later.
The waterproof camera, along with an LED light, allows you to get a view of the unreachable area. The hook and magnetic attachments give you the option of retrieving wires, metal, and foreign objects.
Uses for Borescope Camera
Because we love this tool so much, here are a few real situations where this tool has been a lifesaver.
- Found and removed clogs in the cockpit drain that had been plaguing us for months
- Retrieved wind transducer cable from inside the mast
- Inspected the inside of the sail drive housing and discovered a pin had fallen out – retrieved the pin so it wouldn’t cause damage
Here is the WiFi-enabled borescope we purchased. We use this tool less frequently, but when it’s needed, it can be incredibly helpful.
The borescope also made our list of the Best Useful Gifts for Sailors.
4. Ratcheting Box End Wrenches
Marine engine bolts and nuts can be difficult to access. The ratcheting box end wrench’s slim profile and ratcheting action are perfect for cramped compartments.
Why You Need Ratcheting Box End Wrenches
- This wrench is excellent for difficult angles. It only needs to be secured onto the bolt or nut once, not after every turn like a standard wrench.
- They will cut your time by 75%. They really shine in areas with little swing room – spots where you can only rotate a few inches in each direction.
- Its small profile gets into many places a standard ratchet and socket can’t.
There are a couple of things to be aware of when using a box end wrench.
- The bolt you are tightening will need some resistance. You’ll need to get the bolt started before you can use the ratcheting action.
- It is also easy to get confused about which side of the wrench tightens versus loosens.
TIPS FOR BUYING A RATCHETING BOX END WRENCH SET: Wrenches with a flex-head style where the box end swivels freely can pop off when adjusting a bolt. Try a fixed head or a high-quality flex-head set where the box end snaps into place at a 30 and 60-degree angle.
We suggest this Gear Drive ratcheting box end wrench set.
UPDATE: We exchanged our Habor Freight’s wrench set twice due to a seized box end before opting for the set at the link above. The Gear Drive set was worth the investment.
5. Transfer Pump
Water and other liquids make their way into all sorts of unwanted areas on a boat. This makes a transfer pump an irreplaceable tool.
Uses for a Transfer Pump
TIPS FOR BUYING A TRANSFER PUMP: There are electric transfer pumps available. We haven’t used them since having a manual pump is a more reliable option. Make sure your pump is rated for oil and fuel. We were glad to have this tool when we overfilled our diesel tank and needed to pump diesel out of the bilge.
We bought our first pump at Harbor Freight, but it didn’t last long. The second transfer pump we purchased was definitely an increase in quality. It is similar to the transfer pump here.
6. Lights and Headlamp
Most of us have a flashlight in our tool kit. But sometimes, we need just the right light for those unique dark holes we have to twist ourselves into on the boat.
Lights with various attachment capabilities are helpful. We also like to have a few different ways to angle the light. Here are the options we keep in our tool kit.
For times when you need to have full control of your light, a headlamp is a must. A necessity for boat projects, but it’s also handy when working past sunset or pulling up the anchor at night.
Many headlamps come with a red light setting for night mode, and some (like the one below from Fenix) are even waterproof.
Check out this Fenix headlamp, one of the best sailing headlamps you’ll find.
Lights You Can Hang
Our favorite lights with a hook are from Harbor Freight and are usually free with purchase and a coupon.
The hook is preferable to magnetic lights since there isn’t a lot of metal on a boat. There are plenty of hoses or wires to hang a small light from, especially in the bilge.
These are also perfect for hanging in wardrobes.
The only downside to these lights is they run on AAA batteries instead of recharging by USB.
A lantern is ideal when you need a lot of light in a dark space. It illuminates at 360 degrees distributing light in all the nooks and crannies.
When we’re in a tight, empty anchorage, we also like to hang this light in the cockpit overnight. It makes us more visible to fishing boats and other small vessels that might be out and about in the dark.
This lantern is rechargeable via USB and features multiple modes. It will even recharge your phone!
TIPS FOR BUYING WORKING LIGHTS: When looking for a quality light, we aim for an output of around 1,000 lumens to give you a nice, bright light. We try and buy lights that are rechargeable via USB. LED lights have become the standard. They stay cool and extend battery life.
7. Pick & Hook Set
These tools are ideal for precision work. They are handy cleaning aids and removal tools for unique boat projects.
Uses for Picks and Hooks
TIPS FOR BUYING PICKS AND HOOKS: We got our set from Harbor Freight. It was a plus buying the cheaper set. If we ruin one trying to clean an area or pop out a seal, it’s no big deal.
This is our pick and hook set from Harbor Freight.
8. Strap Wrench
Out of all our sailing tools, we’re surprised by the number of times we reach for the strap wrench. Besides being handy to open a pickle jar, it can loosen the most tightly assembled boat parts.
Anything that’s round the strap wrench can grip.
Uses for a Strap Wrench
- Removing the oil filter on the diesel engine – with the strap wrench, you won’t need a specific oil filter removal tool
- Put torque on a propeller while servicing
- Use this to grip a rotating part such as the pulley on the diesel engine water pump or a propeller – use the strap wrench to hold these in place while you remove the bolt
- Use on anything round where you don’t want to cause damage – the fabric of the strap wrench is gentle on fragile boat parts
TIPS FOR BUYING A STRAP WRENCH: We like the cloth strap over rubber since it’s more durable and gentler on the item you are turning. The 12-inch strap wrench we have is pretty large. We haven’t found a smaller, similar one. It hasn’t been a problem, but the current one would be difficult to get in a tight space.
You can get our 12-inch strap wrench here.
9. Butane Soldering Iron
If you want to do electrical work, a butane soldering iron is an excellent addition to your tool kit.
Unlike its electric counterpart, the butane soldering iron is a sleek tool. Do you need to solder wires together down in the bilge? This tool is much easier to handle in tight spaces.
Advantages of Butane Over Electric
- Integrated ignition trigger and safety lock
- Adjustable temperature and flame size
- 14-piece kit for soldering, melting, cutting, welding, and burning
- Tank is refillable (uses liquid butane lighter fuel)
You can see our butane soldering iron here.
IMPORTANT: Before using a soldering iron, you need knowledge of electrical safety. They get extremely hot. You will want to avoid doing damage to yourself or your boat.
What Other Tools Do I Need for a Sailboat?
Here are some other items that are handy for working on a sailboat.
- cable ties or zip ties
- various pliers including needle nose pliers, locking pliers (or Vise-Grips), tongue and groove pliers (Channellocks) or an upgrade we highly recommend is KNIPEX pliers
- Loctite Threadlocker (both blue and red) – blue will take care of 90% of your projects
- hose clamps of all shapes and sizes
- duct tape (but also have an assortment – Butyl tape, electrical tape, painter’s tape, Gaffer tape, etc.)
- multimeter and amp-clamp
- temperature gun, or an upgrade we recommend is a thermal camera that attaches to your smart phone
- torque wrench
- Deep Creep lubricant
- The Absorber chamois cloth for soaking up water (we have one for clean jobs such as defrosting the fridge and one for dirtier projects where oil or other liquids might be present).
This isn’t a complete list, but a few more items to help you get started.
Final Advice on a Sailboat Tool Set
Living on a boat requires more tools than almost any living situation you’ll encounter. When you have the right tools, maintaining a boat is more manageable and less stressful. Plus, you’ll save a ton of time, allowing you to spend more hours enjoying your boat and fewer hours working on it.
I hope this list has given you some ideas for multi-purpose tools that will be valuable additions to your boat tool kit.
NOTE: This list of sailors’ tools was written with a large amount of input from Captain Ross. He is the fixer and maintainer of everything on SV Sunnyside.
Want more ideas for boat accessories and gear?
For lists of essential sailboat gear, what to wear sailing, and more, view our complete guide.
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