ARTICLE

Best Boat Tools

HOW-TO / DIY

Here’s a collection of clever devices that this experienced liveaboard boater has added to his arsenal over 40 years of doing his own boat work.

Dental tools. Removing twine from stuffing boxes, cleaning threads on bolts, retrieving tiny things in tiny places are just a few on the long list of uses.

Ice picks. At least two. For snap ring removal, hole punching, as a cleaning tool, and much more.

Wood block. A sacrificial work surface for many jobs. White surface helps you see parts and pieces.

Inner tube. Cut to shape as temporary gaskets, diaphragms, insulation, and to provide better gripping.

Extendable magnets for retrieval. Perfect for getting metal objects out of the far reaches of the bilge.


Inspection mirrors.
 To see around corners. Collapsible wand is important.

T-handle Allen wrench. For removing shaft zinc bolts; especially great if you’re doing so underwater.

Steel fish tape/snake. Clears pipes and enclosed runs to pull line, hose, and cable through.


Teslong endoscope.
 Don’t guess at the unknown in your engine or behind your bulkheads. Know for sure.

Crowbar and pry bar. I once singlehandedly moved a 12-kW diesel generator 8 feet across an engine room floor with these tools and a maul. With a little ingenuity these can do wonders.

Work lights by Streamlight. The headlight is rated for a Class 1 Division 1 environment. The “Knucklehead” model is great for lighting a work area and has a strong magnet and clip for attachment. All use high-tech LEDs for long battery life and bright light.

Pelican dive light. For any task underwater, and keep a mask and snorkel aboard at all times (if you can swim and dive underwater).

Large hardened fishhooks. Allows picking, cleaning, retrieving in difficult-to-access areas, removing O-Rings.

Large locking pliers. Long handle provides much needed leverage; wide adjustable jaws give versatility.

Screw/bolt holders. Grips small Phillips-head and straight-slot bolts, allowing you to position and start them in inaccessible areas. Magnet at opposite end.

Cheater bar. Thick-walled pipe inserted over handle of box-end wrenches and socket wrenches to provide extra leverage. Use sparingly and gently, to avoid damage.

Locking forceps. Handles lock closed to hold and retrieve tiny items. Right-angle and straight needle-nosed pliers access difficult areas.

E-Z Outs. First set may help in removing bolt or screw with stripped head. Requires prep drilling. Second set used to grip stripped bolt and screw heads for removing.

Star brite. Corrosion Buster pen Tiny fiberglass bristles clean contacts and other precise points.

Right-angle screwdrivers. Turn screws in inaccessible areas.

Manual impact driver. For small frozen-fastener jobs.

Heat sensing gun. Diagnoses engine and other problems. Has red laser to pinpoint spot it’s reading.

Turkey baster. Good for removing unwanted liquids from tight areas.

Tap and die kit. Makes new threads in holes or on bolts.

Bilge wrench. To reach deep-down thru-hull valves.

Grabbing tools. Different types for different items in the bilge and duplicates for when you drop the one you’re using.


Decibel meter.
 Measures sound levels, to track down mechanical issues.

Plastic-coated wire coat hanger. Millions of uses, such as fishing for lost items.

Caliper. Precise Measuring, including within orifices and depth of holes.

Mechanic’s stethoscope. Helps diagnose bad bearings, developing trouble in engine, transmission, and many other areas.

Carrot peeler. Great for cleaning out small thru-hull holes below and at the waterline.

SeaFlush kit. Makes winterizing much easier on most boats.

Rags. Many good cotton ones clean the job, clean you, and can also help give a better grip.

Work Gloves. First pair for gripping and to protect hands from injury. Second two pairs protect you from chemicals and liquids. Nitrile gloves can be heavy for repeated uses, and light for throw away after oil changes.

Hole Saws. For cutting holes to run hoses, wires etc.

Wire Cutter, Crimping Tool, Wire Stripper, Heavy-Gauge Crimper. Quality tools make jobs go easier.

Gerber Multi-Tool. I use this constantly. One side of file is industrial diamond coated, knife has serrated section, punch and other tools. Scissors are invaluable.

Brownie’s Third Lung. Allows me to do extensive bottom work underwater.

Cable Cutters. Large can cut huge cables such as stays in dismasting. Small for everyday work.

Lapping Tools. Smooth valve seats. Come in many sizes.

Compression Testing Set. Measures cylinder compression in diesel engines. Must have equipment appropriate for pressure and fitting for your injector ports. Helps diagnose issues with rings, valves, and other problems.

Refrigeration Gauges. Helpful with air conditioning and refrigeration issues.

Chain Wrench. Applies turning torque in unique applications.

Pipe Wrenches. Larger ones versatile because of grip size and torque from long handle. Some frown on these but they are real tools for real jobs and sometimes the only tool that’ll get a job done.

Brushes. Ranging from toothbrushes to various sizes and shapes and bristle rigidity. Serve many cleaning purposes including bolt threads, electrical contacts, dirty metal, and more.

Dremel Tool With All Attachments. One for close work in open areas, one with wand for tight areas — for repairing rounded slots in bolts and screws, to manufacturing a shaft key.

From left to right: Oscillating tool, Makita 9-volt drill, DeWalt 18-volt hammer drill and AC-powered drill.

Oscillating Tool. Performs precision jobs that would be extremely difficult with any other tools, ranging from deep straight in cuts to cleaning to polishing. This was a life safer in a recent porthole removal job.

Makita 9-Volt Drill. For light jobs; great for the top of the mast.

DeWalt 18-Volt Hammer Drill. Use as regular drill or hammer drill for hard to pierce surfaces. Includes grinding, cutting, sanding, and buffing wheel attachments.

AC-Powered Drill. For long, tough jobs such as drilling out frozen stainless bolts.

Impact Driver. For tough frozen fastener jobs with impact ready bits and sockets.

SawZall. Will cut your boat into scrap if you want to. Get complete assortment of blades.

Grinder (Heavy Duty). Cuts chain and much more.

Screwdrivers. Every size and shape. You’ll use each one.

Vise-Grip Pliers. Various sizes, many uses. Allow you to use all your muscle to provide torque rather than clamping.

Torque Wrench. Measures torque when tightening to specs.

Feeler Gauge. Necessary for precision gap adjustments such as for spark plugs.

Radiator Gauge. Takes liquid temperature and helps to diagnose engine-cooling problems.

Pressure Gauges. Measure pressure of liquids and gasses primarily for diagnosis. Different gauges are required for different jobs.

Digital Volt/Ohm Meter. Learn to use this, and it’s indispensable for any electrical work and diagnosis.

Amp Meter. Measures DC amp flow up to high amps. Good for diagnosing starter current and other problems.

Hertz Meter. Diagnose generator output and questionable shore power.

Impeller Puller. Must be for your specific pump. Lack of clearance may require you to remove pump. This tool avoids damaging pump and impeller.

Tool Pak. Won’t hold all my tools but is a great bag because it holds and organizes so many and has multiple sections, good zippers and many well-spaced pockets.

Tool Pak Pouches. Holds separate sets. Windows allow you to see what’s inside.

Job Ventilation Fan. Helps clear harmful fumes, provides cooling and drying.

Articulated Joints And Extensions For Socket Wrenches. Allows use in difficult areas.

Extra Large Socket Wrench Set. Does jobs normal sets can’t do, such as turn over a diesel (remove injectors first to avoid inadvertent starting).

Miniature Screwdriver Set. The more sizes and shapes the better.

Scuba Tank. With air nozzle provides onboard supply of high-pressure compressed air for many uses, including carburetor cleaning.

Gentleman Jack. To celebrate the job well done. Or more likely in my case, the job well botched.

Basic Tools

Unless you have a very simple boat (and if you do, more power to you), here are some basic tools you should have aboard. From this list build your kit, depending on your boat, type of boating, skills, and desire to be Master of Your Universe.

  • A set of wrenches — open at one end and closed at the other. The more the better.
  • A socket wrench set. The more sockets the better.
  • Set of hex wrenches
  • Screwdrivers of various sizes and lengths, Phillips head and straight slot
  • Adjustable crescent wrench
  • Pliers
  • Needle-nosed pliers
  • Vise-grips
  • Multi-tool, with scissors and a serrated knife
  • Files, flat and round
  • “Yankee”-type push drill
  • Penetrating oil
  • Wire brush
  • Ball-peen hammer
  • Good LED flashlight that can brightly illuminate tight as well as broad areas
  • Inspection mirror
  • Magnet on a telescoping wand
  • Digital volt/ohm meter (if you have electrical systems on your boat)
  • Rescue Tape
  • Quality electrical tape
  • Length of boat cable
  • Wire cutters
  • Crimping tool and assortment of connectors and terminals
  • Hose clamps
  • Good rags
  • Underwater-curing sealing compound
  • Good work gloves or lots of bandages
  • Anything else you can think of, can afford, and have room for

They should all be high quality. Metric as well as standard tools will probably be needed in relevant categories.

Tom Neale

Technical Editor, BoatUS Magazine