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Let’s assume that you’re about to embark on your new life as a cruiser. You’ve done enough research to know that cruising is not all sunsets and umbrella drinks, and in fact, you’ve probably already heard the saying that cruising amounts to fixing boats in exotic places. What tools will you need to carry on board to affect those repairs? What follows is a list of what I consider to be essential tools for a self-sufficient cruiser, along with a few nice-to-have items. Unless otherwise noted, we carry all of these items with us, and wouldn’t leave home without them.

I’ve titled this post Tools for Cruisers: the Definitive List, and I’d like it to be just that. If you carry a tool on your boat that you feel is essential, please let me know in the comments and if I agree that it fits, I’ll amend the post to include it.


Basic Mechanic’s Tools

I’m sure that real mechanics have a much more extensive list. They also have the knowledge and skill to go along with them. The following list has allowed me to complete every engine repair job that I’ve been required to do.

  • socket set: imperial and metric – ideally a set that includes deep sockets, large diameter sockets, and spark plug sockets
  • screwdrivers: slot in various sizes (plus a really large one that could double as a small pry bar), Phillips in various sizes (consider adding specialty screwdrivers like Robertson and Torx, and possibly a security bit set)
  • pliers: Channelocks (tongue & groove), needle nose, linemen, side cutters, vice grips
  • open end wrenches: SAE and metric, long and short – and a few extra 10mm ones. 🙂
  • ratcheting wrenches (I prefer stubby ones)
  • crescent wrenches of various sizes
  • monkey wrench
  • allen keys: SAE and metric
  • strap wrench ( a filter wrench is good, but a strap wrench can be used in more applications)
  • mallet
  • spark plug gap tool
  • headlamp and/or drop light
  • impeller puller – I’ve never owned one, but they do seem to be recommended

A note on tool quality and purchasing. There seems to be two camps when it comes to tools:

  1. buy the best you can afford, and you’ll never be disappointed
  2. buy cheap, and when they wear out or break, buy a new one

I tend to be in the initial category, where my budget allows. In cases where I own and can recommend a specific brand/model, or wanted to point out exactly what the tool was that I listed, I have included a link, Amazon affiliate or otherwise.

Other Basic Tools:

  • hammer
  • chisels: cold and woodworking
  • files: small and large, coarse and fine
  • dental picks
  • tape measure
  • square
  • wire brush
  • safety glasses
  • putty knife
  • punches: center and drift

Cutting Tools:

As much as I hate cutting holes in boats, or chopping things up, there comes a time when it’s required.

Electrical Tools:

Extras that are good to have:

These didn’t really fit in the above categories, but I still pretty much consider them must-haves.

Nice to have:

The following items I either have never had on board, or do not presently own. If you have the money though, they’d be a good investment.


  1. Gorilla tape and glue

    • Thanks, Sean. There are all sorts of consumables like that that I could have included, but I decided to stick with actual tools. The only consumables I mentioned were things that specifically went with one of the tools that I mentioned. Ex. rivets for a rivet gun.



    • Thanks, Ken. I remember you telling me how much you like that vise. The one I have on board is pretty good too, and it is also heavy, but worth the weight.

      I do have clamps on this list, under the “Extras that are good to have” heading. A couple of them are in use right now, holding Rebecca’s recently glued shoe together.

  3. Nice list.

    As a commercial electrician I’ve never been much of a fan of using flame for shrink tube. It’s just too easy to scorch it and damage /weaken the shrink tube where it might split later, scorch it to allow carbon-tracking, or even scorch the insulation of the wire itself. Not to mention that an ignition source is a bad thing to introduce to many parts of a boat, especially around flooded batteries where a lot of heat-shrinking is typically done. Oh, the humanity!

    I don’t even own a ratcheting crimper. I prefer not to bother with them. Either I use my Ideal 9″ side-cutting pliers with a standard crimper built into the inside of the handles for up to #10 crimps , or jump straight to a hydraulic dieless or die-type crimper with the correct die sized for larger wires. I’ve done a million crimps with that side-cutter tool over the years and it has plenty of leverage with my hand strength to crimp a good solid crimp.

    I Just recently bought a new hydraulic crimper from Amazon for under $40 that goes from #12 to 2/0 wire. It works pretty well IMHO, and while I wouldn’t want to use it on a jobsite every day all day long, it’s pretty good for the occasional boat use. It’s not much larger than a handheld ratcheting crimper that doesn’t go nearly as large. No point in bringing a bulky and expensive Anderson dieless Versacrimp tool onto a boat when a $40 tool can do the same job with a little more fiddling around.

    • Thanks, Barry. I get what you’re saying about using flame to melt shrink tubing. What do you use? A heat gun isn’t really handy.

      As for the crimper, I still like the ratcheting one. Maybe your hands are stronger than mine. 🙂

      • I can totally crush to the point of mangling a typical crimp connector if I squeeze it too hard, especially a #14 or smaller one. I have plenty of leverage with the 9″ pliers handles.

        For heat shrink, a heat gun is always the best tool. We’ve got a 2000w continuous duty and 3000w surge inverter on the boat. It draws a lot of battery power to run the heat gun but it’s not more than the inverter itself can handle, although without the engine running it does suck the batteries down a whole bunch. I suppose I’m going to need to bite the bullet at times and use a flame sometimes if I ever need to do a lot of shrink tubes away from shore power. My hope is that after totally rewiring the entire boat this winter there shouldn’t be much more that needs to be done except when new equipment is installed in the future.

  4. Your list is pretty comprehensive Mike. As you know, my sailing life involves going from one boat to the next, all over the world, spending 3-11 days a ta time on each one. My tools should be portable and lightweight, as they travel in my checked luggage. My two additions to your list are
    1. Titanium box-end/open-end combination wrenches with me. They cannot rust, are incredibly lightweight, pretty strong, with a high price to match.
    2. I also bring a Hook knife specifically for clearing lines, nets etc from propeller shafts.

  5. Thanks, Matt C!!!

    A few years ago, I inherited a bunch of tools, and there are 3 of these in the set (S, M, L). I never knew what they were supposed to be used for. Now that I know, I will put them to good use. I hadn’t even considered using them for that!

  6. Just check your spanners and sockets sets, most appear not to have an 18mm size, which is what my engine mounts need.

  7. What a great idea for a post Mike – especially at this time of year!

    Your list is quite comprehensive – I would only add a Brion Toss splicing wand for doing double braid, and I’d substitute a DA sander for the orbital.

    s/v Eolian

  8. I would add a right angle cordless drill for tight spaces and a small wire pulling snake tool for running (or re-running) wire & hose also in hard to reach places.

    Pat – SV COSMOS

    • Hi Pat. I have a small list of amendments/additions to make. After posting I realized that I forgot to include a snake. I don’t have one on this boat, but I did have one on the others. I put it to use several times.

      As for the drill, I just had a friend show me a tiny cordless drill that he has on his boat. It rotates to become a right-angled drill if I recall correctly. He said that he uses it all the time, mostly as a nut driver or screw driver.

  9. Excellent list Mike.

    I didn’t see a vice grip/mole grip mentioned. I have found this extremely useful for gripping and locking onto all manner of round and irregular things.



  10. An indispensable tool YOU own and did not list.
    Carburetor Jet Cleaning Tool.

    • It’s funny because Rebecca and I did discuss that tool when I was putting the list together. The reason I didn’t list it is because I figured that I can do the same thing with a properly-sized strand of wire, or a guitar string. It is handy though. 🙂

  11. A sailmakers palm goes in the first list. I spent several hours with that last week, restricting a UV cover. I use it at least monthly, for a few stitches or at least whipping a line. More importantly, if you blow a sail it is the ONLY solution.

    Cafeteria tray. You have to have something indestructible to work ON. Also handy painting, with epoxy, and cleaning fish.

    • I do have a sailmaker’s palm listed under the “Extras that are good to have” heading. As for the tray, I agree, I have one too. It’s hard to call it a tool though. If I put that on the list, I’ll have to put a bucket on there too, and a muffin tin (to organize small bits and pieces when disassembling things).

  12. PTFE Tape, Wire Strippers/Crimping Tool.

  13. I don’t go anywhere without my impeller ‘puller’.

  14. Fantastic post Mike – and very timely!! Thank you!

  15. Yes Mike, Brion Toss’s splicing wand *IS* that good…

    s/v Eolian

  16. Great story. I am glad to know I have 95% of what you mentioned. I made a hose puller out of an old screw driver. Bent it with a pair of vice grips. Voila.

  17. Another philosophy to add regarding how to acquire tools: Buy cheap first, if you use it enough to break it, then it becomes a good candidate to replace with a top quality version.

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