The Right Boat Tool for the Job

Those shiny plastic tool kits with every attachment intact are a rare find onboard most boats. Instead a strange assortment of not so great spares is the norm.

Plunk goes the soft tool bag filled with old tools on the deck of the launch. Time to change a clogged Racor fuel filter on the boat’s diesel, which means it is time for the cursing and swearing to start.

It isn’t lack of knowledge that is the focal point of the frustration, but the simple act of finding the right tool: the correct size filter wrench. Most boat owners can recount numerous occasions of arriving onboard without the right tools and when the correct tools are at hand, they are no longer in the best shape to get the job done—and always hidden at the bottom of the tool bag. The box-end wrench is never the right size, the socket extender can’t be found, the right size Phillips-head screwdriver is stripped, and the adjustable wrench is rusted.

Like most people, I leave my best tools at home and make up an assortment of old, broken, or maligned tools to bring to the boat. After all, they’ll usually end up in the bilge or over the side, right? I stuff them in a canvas tote so they won’t scratch the deck, a kind of body bag for boat tools—someplace they can go to rust and die.

The trouble is that when working in tight quarters on a boat, the right tool is invaluable. Smashed knuckles, physical contortions and lots of colorful language accompany most boat repairs. I always feel like a hacker when working with the aforementioned rusted adjustable wrench and plumber’s pliers instead of the optimal tool. And the dockside crowd must agree: as the engine cover is raised, a group gathers to see the entertainment, give advice, and commiserate about the lack of the right tool.

There’s also an infinite collection of specialty tools that only boats really need, like fids, cutlass bearing pullers, and rigging gauges. I made the mistake of lending two really good large box-end wrenches to my buddy Jeff so he could re-align his engine three years ago. The engine still isn’t aligned and my hope of ever seeing those wrenches in any other place than rusting in his boat’s bilge is growing slim. So when he recently asked if I had the extra large wrenches needed for adjusting his boat’s packing gland, I avoided the inevitable loss of more tools and said no. (I believe he was next going to ask one of the boatyard workers to borrow his—a sin beyond redemption in my book.)

You never know what you may find when digging through a soft tool bag to find that hidden tool.

You see, collecting all the right boat tools is a life’s work. And once you do, leaving them onboard where they can rust is not an option. So the chances are,  when you need them they won’t be onboard. And if you do leave a few onboard, they will never be the right ones.

Meanwhile, the dockside entertainment is in full swing. The shaking of heads, the wagging of tongues, the unsolicited stories of other peoples’ boat repairs, and of course the colorful language emanating from under the engine cover: all for want of the right boat tools.


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