Ask Andrew: What tools and supplies should I keep onboard?

Essential Tools


Feb 8, 2018

A selection of the most important and versatile tools to keep aboard

In this time of boat show afterglow, many boaters are counting the days until launch. Now is the perfect opportunity to take stock of what you have onboard, what needs to be replaced or repaired, and the wish list of purchases for the 2018 season. Coincidentally, this gives you lots of time to shop for the great deals that you’re after for tools and supplies that will help with routine maintenance and/or in an emergency.

As a marine mechanic, I occasionally cringe when I see the types of tools and supplies that boaters keep onboard as I’m completing repair. I’ve seen sockets with no wrench, 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.

ask-andrew-indispensible-400.jpg caption: Indespensible: WD40 when it should be loose. 5200 when it should be watertight


An adjustable wrench. Find a model that is of medium size that will allow you to turn both small and large bolts and nuts, and is of sturdy construction.

Side Cutters. These allow you to cut wire and zip ties and are handy for removing split pins and cotter pins
Vice Grips. These locking pliers are handy to have and can act as a second set of hands to turn, pry or lock in place
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

Ask Andrew Essential ToolsSupplies:

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

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

An assortment of screws and bolts. Multiple 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)

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

Spare Oil – 1 litre or two. Enough to tide you over in the event of a leak, accidental spill, or engine problem.

Coolant. If your engine is cooled with 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. They are 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.

I could go on and list all the fluids, fasteners and spares you might need. But in the interest of saving space for enjoying your boat, I’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)!

Safe and happy boating!


Andrew McdonaldAndrew 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.

Questions or comments for Andrew? Email him directly via:

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