Seamanship & Navigation, November 2020
Tools for repairs at sea
One way to make repairs easier and safer is, before you go to sea, to spend a little time going over your boat’s belowdecks areas. Familiarize yourself with the engine, the stuffing box, your boat’s fuel system, refrigeration system and any other areas that have hard-to-reach equipment and fixtures that could give you a problem. Do this while you are still at the dock, taking the time to wiggle around belowdecks and look all of this equipment over carefully.
By doing this, you’ll find the easiest ways to get down into — and get back up from — the cramped quarters in which these pieces of equipment are located. That might not sound important, but on larger vessels, you can actually trap yourself belowdecks if you just decide to begin crawling around down there. Further, if you begin this exploration during rough weather when you may get bounced around pretty good, you may injure yourself down there and then you’ll be in big trouble.
Ask delivery captains, and you’ll find that they’ve had to change engine water pump impellers, tighten stuffing boxes, reconnect steering cables, clean refrigeration coolant water intake lines, change fuel filters, etc., in tight quarters and during rough weather. By familiarizing yourself with the bilge, engine and belowdeck steering areas before you set out, you’ll be able to make those repairs more easily.
The bottom line with rough weather repairs is having the right tools. It doesn’t matter how good you are at making repairs if you don’t have the tools to handle the job. Naturally, you can’t take every tool in the book with you, but you should have all the basics, plus a few. I would consider the following list as a minimal one.
• 6-inch crescent wrench.
• 12-inch crescent wrench.
• Five Philips-head screwdrivers: one large, one medium (long blade), one small (long blade), one medium (short blade), one small (short blade).
• Five flat-head screwdrivers: one large, one medium (long blade), one small (1long blade), one medium (short blade), one small (short blade).
• One large pair of vise-grip type pliers,
• One small pair of vise-grip type pliers.
• One large pair of regular pliers.
• One medium pair of needle-nosed pliers.
• Two very sharp stainless steel blade knives: one with a long, thin blade, one with a short, stout blade.
• A hacksaw with at least 12 extra blades.
• A short-handled sledgehammer (small enough to be handled one-handed in a confined space).
• A pair of short-handled bolt cutters. These are extremely important. If you lose a mast over the side and cannot cut it away quickly, you run the risk of having it bang a hole in your boat. Some sailors say, “I don’t need bolt cutters. I have a hacksaw aboard.” Well, if you have ever tried to cut through a stainless steel shroud with a hacksaw when that shroud is alternately being pulled drum-tight and then loosening up completely, you’ll know that it may be impossible to cut through it with a hacksaw. Take those bolt cutters! They are like a bilge pump. When you need them, there is no substitute.
• A pipe wrench, or stuffing box wrench, with a handle cut to the right length for tightening the stuffing box on your boat. Stuffing boxes are often located in very tight areas and you may have to “customize” the stuffing box tool to your particular boat’s needs. This needs to be done before you go to sea.
• A propane torch. You can use this to solder electrical connections, heat and remove stubborn bolts, dry out wet electrical or mechanical parts, even to cook food if your stove gives out.
• A strong magnet on a light piece of line. This is to retrieve nuts, bolts and tools that you drop into the inaccessible reaches of the bilge. Don’t go to sea without it.
• A multimeter for making electrical repairs. Incidentally, most multimeters require a small battery, so be sure that the battery in your meter is in good shape before you leave.
Another consideration with tools is their storage. Don’t bury your tools at the bottom of a lazarette where you have to unpack a load of other gear to get at them. Keep them in small toolboxes, maybe three toolboxes that are well-marked with just what tools are inside.