A requisite for any boater worth his salt is a tool kit that's stocked with all the old standbys—wrenches, pliers, screwdrivers, things like that. But while conventional wisdom has it that quality trumps quantity, there's no harm in rounding out your collection of traditional tools with some more unusual offerings. Here, in no particular order, are ten gadgets you may not have thought to keep onboard but that just might get you out of a bind some day.
1) Magnetic Wand
Even the most nimble-fingered boaters are bound to drop a bolt, screw, or tool into the bilge sooner or later. That's why you'd be well-served to keep an extendable magnetic pick-up tool onboard. It'll help you retrieve those errant screws, sockets, washers—anything ferrous—that might otherwise clog up your bilge pump. These pickups are sold at most automotive and hardware stores and shouldn't cost you more than ten dollars. Try to choose one that's telescoping and has a strong enough magnet to really clamp onto heavier metallic items.
No, not the one on your car—this is a lamp that goes on your head, like a miner wears. Let's face it, there's no maintenance job you can tackle if you can't actually see what you're doing. Headlamps let you do just that: They're flashlights that'll leave both your hands free to deal with whatever project you're working on. There's a huge range of headlamps out there, but it's important to find one that's comfortable—especially if you have a large head—and that throws a high-intensity, tightly focused beam.
3) Telescoping Mirror
Every boat owner, except for maybe those who are also professional contortionists, is bound to encounter a maintenance job where visibility is either restricted or impossible. You might be searching for leaks in an area with limited access or struggling to peer beneath an engine. That's where a mirror is indispensible: It lets you spy into nooks and crannies that you wouldn't otherwise be able to see. But if you have a model with a telescoping handle and a mirror that swivels, you'll really be able to see into those otherwise invisible spaces. Telescoping mirrors are typically available at most hardware stores and cost around ten dollars.
4) Corrosion-Busting Brush
A small, point-shaped brush will help you scrub away unwanted rust and corrosion without having to use harsh solvents. For about $15 you can find one that's both high-quality and dense and made from tough glass fibers, so it won't leave rusty residue. It's great for cleaning marine radios, screw heads, fishing reels, and behind instrument panels. All it takes is a little bit of elbow grease. Small, anticorrosion brushes are available at most marine-supply stores.
5) Turkey Baster
A turkey baster? Yup, that's right. Before ye of little faith scoff, consider this: When changing your genset and engine filters, how often are you confronted with excess liquid that threatens to spill over and make a mess? Well, that's when you need a baster. Before you remove that filter cartridge, for example, use the baster to suck out any liquid and squirt it into the proper receptacle—usually without losing a drop. Voila! Messiness avoided. Any baster from your local grocery store, or even one nicked from home, should suffice, but remember: Eventually, petroleum products and solvents will attack it, so you will probably want to replace it every year or so.
6) Hearing Protection
Do your ears a favor and treat them with the same level of care and attention you so graciously bestow upon your boat. For around two bucks, you can pick up a pair of tiny earplugs that'll help protect your ears from noise damage when you're taking on particularly deafening jobs, like sanding parts or engine work. If you really want to splurge, spring for a pair of acoustical earmuffs. Added bonus? You'll be sleeping like a baby, even when you find yourself playing host to squealing kids or snoring overnight guests.
7) Epoxy Stick
What the styptic pencil is to a shaving wound, the epoxy stick is to your boat's tanks, outdrives, and more. It fills cracks and stops leaks in no time at all. Pick one up from a marine-supply store for about $15, and keep it onboard for quick, emergency repairs on most wood, metal, and plastic surfaces (though you'll need to get a separate one that's specifically formulated for aluminum repairs). It forms tough bonds that harden in 30 minutes or less, and some even work under water.
In the off chance you're stranded on a desert island or, more likely, find yourself in a sticky maintenance situation, this is the one tool to have with you. As its name implies, a multitool is a transformer that does the work of about a half-dozen individual gadgets. Different companies offer different versions, but look for one that includes things like screwdrivers, knives, hex bit drivers, wire strippers, wood files, and/or locking pliers. Also pay a little extra for one made from high-quality, durable materials, and it'll last you a long time. It's worth it: These all-purpose gizmos are like Swiss Army knives on steroids, and they fit right on your belt.
9) Marine-Tex Putty
A veritable super-putty, this high-strength epoxy-repair compound does it all. Well, almost. It can seal leaky seams, reinstall fasteners, fill gouges in fiberglass, and bond ceramic, glass, metal, masonry, and several different plastics. Once the putty dries, you can sand, file, drill, and/or finish it (if you've got the white version of Marine-Tex) to match a shade. It even works under water and costs less than ten dollars for two ounces. So what can't Marine-Tex do? Bond polypropylene and polyethylene plastics. But hey, even Superman has to deal with kryptonite.
10) And Finally...Duct Tape!
Did we save the best for last? You be the judge. Though duct tape rarely provides a permanent solution, seasoned mariners know that in a pinch, there's nothing like this all-around product. But remember that its adhesive will eventually dry out, especially if you store the roll in a warm place. So check both the unused portion as well as the quick repair you did every now and again.
Have any favorite unusual tools of your own? Let us know. Head over to our Maintenance Forum to share your tool suggestions with us.
This article originally appeared in the April 2008 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.