The Online Magazine For Amateur Boat Builders














From The Drawing Board
by John Welsford

The Effective Toolkit

“The crescent spanner is in the locker” Yeah, Right! Under a whole lot of wet rope and fenders, its been there rusted solid for a season or two, the screwdriver has been used as a cold chisel to undo some rusted nut or other, the pliers are cheap ones that bent the first time any weight was applied and a pair of vicegrips would be really handy right now.

This sort of scenario is not the sort of thing you want when the motor is unwilling and the anchor is dragging onto a lee shore!

But think about your toolkit, generally the “good” tools are in the workshop, proudly kept where you can use them for fixing the shower or the lawnmower, where admiring friends can see the full set of expensive spanners up on the wall, the cordless drill in its charger ready for use and the rest of the gear arrayed purposefully on the shelf awaiting the call to action.

Heres Houdini awaiting my boarding before the next leg of the cruise, although in this case only about 30 miles from home it was worth having enough gear on board to cope with breakages. Even if its only a small boat, a designated set of tools and spares might just save you a long walk home

Hang on a minute, where is it likely that you will need a comprehensive and effective toolkit in a hurry? Yes! Not in your workshop, the boat doesn’t break down at the marina so you can slip home and pick up the gear needed, “Murphy's Law “ ensures that your toolkit will be needed most when miles away from any possibility of outside assistance so why is it that we all of us have toolkits which are made up from all the discards and junkshop refugees? Poorly stowed, poorly maintained and poorly matched to the job, the typical boating toolkit is too often near useless.

Without the resources available when shorebound, the ability to say, “Hang on, I’ll just nip home and get the (tool that you absolutely can't do the job without)” your boats toolkit needs to be both complete and capable.

“Complete” does not mean you need to bring the entire engineering kit from a nuclear power plant, but you should make an effort to have those tools that are required to complete the repairs that you could be expected to cope with at sea. For most coastal and harbour cruising craft this does not mean a full engine overhaul but would include bleeding diesel injectors, changing fuel filters, adjusting things and tightening things.

Engine manufacturers are logical people; they don’t actually use many different tools in their factories. My current engine only uses 5 spanner sizes and most confine themselves to 10, 13, 14, 17 and 19mm, or similar range of imperial sizes. The same goes for allen (hex) keys and screwdrivers.

There may be a special filter spanner, and now is a good time to find that out rather than when you are trapped in a rough anchorage with the condensation from the bottom of the tank clogging a fuel line, same goes for any other special purpose tools that are needed, not only by the engine but by the boat in general. I for example use a lot of square drive screws so need to ensure that I carry screwdrivers for those as well as for cross heads and for slotted ones. Check this out very carefully.

Even a little outboard motor will have its own special needs, a spark plug spanner, another to undo the fuel filter and the float bowl on the carburettor, a spanner to undo the starter rewind so you can replace the pull cord when it wears through at the knot inside the starter, a screwdriver that fits the outer casing to give access and enough tools to replace the shearpin that saved the prop when you hit a snag.

Your engine, its fuel and cooling systems, its gearbox, drive and controls is only one of a number of “systems“ that the boat has, the rig of a sailing boat will require its own range of tools, as will the winches whether anchor or sheet, the deck fittings, the stove, the galley pump and (yes, very definitely!) the heads all need to be considered, check to see what each “system” needs and write the list down. You will find that there is a considerable amount of duplication across the various lists, and that by the time you are down to the last of your major systems tool lists that there is a good chance that the previous lists will cover all but perhaps one or two items.

I carry some specialist items for the rig, a hand drill, truly cordless and the battery can never go flat! A pop riveter, and some self threading machine screws of the type used in sheet metal fabrication. These latter are not really “Tools” and would normally be listed under “spares” but are unusual items, not stainless and any repair that uses them should not be regarded as anything but temporary so I give them special mention as something that can do a very good job of holding two items together, whether fittings to a deck, or spar, two pieces of ply or even fabric to a solid surface. Good things for desperate repairs. I still carry the stainless self threaders and wood screws, machine screws and bolts but those sheetmetal screws do have a special place in my kit.

Among the general tools I carry two pairs of “vicegrips”. Spare hands, clamps or even control levers. A couple of hacksaw blades and a “padsaw handle” for them, they cut not only metal but also fibreglass and wood, a keyhole saw that will cut larger pieces of wood with patience, a couple of wood chisels, a cold chisel, there is a carpenters claw hammer, some needle files, a half round file with its handle (keep these wrapped up in oily cloth and separated from each other and other tools to keep them sharp). There is a squeezy bottle of light oil, a pot of marine grease and another of anhydrous lanolin

A lot of people carry a can of WD40, and while I agree to a certain extent it is not a good idea in a marine environment, do though, get a can of the “marine” version which unlike most “ordinary” WD40s leaves a corrosion resistant film behind when the carrier solvent evaporates.

Having selected your range of tools on the basis of what tasks you would expect to have to cope with, the storage and maintenance of these tools needs to be considered.

First of all, you will need to consider where they are to be stored. They should be secure, dry, and accessible. I store mine in a plastic fishing tackle box sold by a discount goods house. It has lots of small dividers to contain spares, a couple of trays to segregate different groups of tools, is sturdy and convenient.

I roll the files and chisels in a clean rag soaked in mineral oil and have a couple of pieces of flooring carpet soaked in the same light oil which are used to separate the layers of tools. The constant movement of the boat rolling tools from one side of the box to the other makes unwanted noise and can damage the tools. This carpet not only reduces corrosion but damps the movement, it takes little space and helps greatly to keep your tools in a useful state.

Note the insistence on light mineral oil, I also carry a screw topped jar filled with clean oily rags, take care with this as some solvents when combined with some others are prone to bursting into flames ! Do not mix differing oils and solvents! Do not keep the rags used to clean paintbrushes anywhere near your toolkit rags! Fire on board is the worst of bad news! And yes, in a boat with a cabin or an inboard motor of any kind a fire extinguisher is very much a part of the boats needs.

In selecting my tools I do not spend much, second hand tools are fine, but each and every one of them is of good quality and in good working order. I take them out a couple of times a year and make sure that they are still that way, give them a wipe with the oily, and replenish the consumable items. They may not be all from the same set but if I have to do an emergency repair under pressure I can depend on them, Can you?

John Welsford.