Finally, the long awaited continuation of the Boating Necessities Post, as we delve into my small boat tool box. I often joke that my toolbox only needs three tools in it: WD40 (if it doesn’t move and should), duck tape (if it moves and shouldn’t), and a big engineer's hammer (if it’s broken, beat it until it starts working or needs to be replaced completely). Unfortunately, I couldn’t fit a big enough hammer in this toolbox, so I had to go the more traditional tool route.
Again, the tools you will be able to carry will be dictated by the amount of space you have on your boat, but my 14-ft Lone Star Malibu is likely as small a boat as you’re going to find with a dedicated tool box. On the houseboat I have virtually unlimited space/weight restrictions and as a result I went overboard (pun totally intended) on my tool kit; I dedicated an entire closet to tools.
Obviously, I had to scale it back to the barest of necessities on Boaty. It would be nice to have all the tools in the world, but with limited space and weight, I had to put a considerable amount of thought into what tools I might actually need when the stuff hit the fan and I had to do some repair work on the boat. I limited myself to the smallest, and cheapest, Harbor Freight plastic toolbox; the $6 (I think I had a coupon for $4) 12-in toolbox with removable upper tray.
That’s another thing about this toolbox, it’s going to be cheap in addition to being small. I can’t fathom (again pun totally intended…I guess just assume that all puns are totally intended) putting high quality tools in a toolbox that I will hopefully never need to use. Okay, I can’t fathom spending the money for something like Snap-on for my regular tools either, but I do generally buy good quality tools and may have a fine German instrument (some Knipex pliers or a Wera wrench when I find a deal) mixed into my toolbox here and there. That will not be the case with this kit; I’m going cheap, so there will be a lot of Harbor Freight and other bargain tools…as long as they're functional enough to get the job done.
Let’s start with the small storage boxes built into the lid. These proved to be the perfect spot for electrical connectors and small parts. I’ve stocked them full of varying sizes of crimp connectors (butt connectors, eyes, spades, etc.), replacement fuses, and wire nuts. Hopefully, everything I would need to do a minor wiring repair to limp back to the dock.
In the top tray I’ve got a few more consumable items and parts, like a small assortment of hose clamps, some JB Weld, spare spark plugs, and a couple new utility knife blades (note I need to buy a new tube of 5200 adhesive/sealant that would also be included there). I also keep a battery terminal cleaning tool and a small roll of SAE wrenches in the upper tray. Fact is, most modern boats and cars are metric, so you'll likely want a metric set, but on a 1968 Evinrude, you’re not going to need any of that European crap, just good old fashioned fractional SAE wrenches will do the trick. In this case I am using an old set that was passed down to me from my grandfather; a Lakeside (Montgomery-Wards house brand, similar to Craftsman for Sears) open end wrench set.
Now we’re getting into the bulk of the tools. More often than not, when I’ve had trouble on the water the nature has been electrical. As a result, I have the extensive collection of connections/fuses above, and I need the associated tools. I’ve included the cheapest Harbor Freight multimeter, which they used to offer as a free coupon, but can be had for about $6; again, I’m not putting a Fluke in this kit and while this Harbor Freight multimeter isn’t the most reliable or well built, I have diagnosed many a problem with them. I also have an old set of wire strippers/cutters/crimpers (not my favorite, but they will definitely work), a length of 12-ga wire, and some electrical tape.
There are a few other consumables that can come it very handy. These include a collection of zip ties, some Teflon tape, and a roll of duck tape (this is duck tape, please stop correcting me to “duct tape” spellcheck; it was developed during WWII to seal ammo cans and shed water as if off a duck's back, it is completely inappropriate to use on duct work as the adhesive dries out and it leaks; use aluminum foil tape instead). You will notice that the duck tape is conspicuously missing from the above picture, that’s because I made an exception for that as it didn’t fit into this small toolbox and had to be carried separately; it can be seen in the photo in the previous post.
The only thing left is to round out the rest of my hand tools. I’ve got a Harbor Freight pliers set, hex key (Allen wrench) sets, utility knife, razor blade scraper, and wire brush. I’ve also put in my old Stanley screwdriver set, which isn’t great quality, but beats the free Harbor Freight sets. One exception I might make is for a more expensive tool is if I can get greater functionality in a smaller package and I’m considering throwing in a multi-bit screwdriver like the MegaPro maritime screwdriver shown below, but sometimes there's no substitute for a real screwdriver and I like the MegaPro I have too much to relegate it to the seldom used boat tool kit...I think Harbor freight might have a free coupon for a 6-in-1 screwdriver now.
Obviously there are several tools that I would like to include, or you might want to add to your kit, but storage space is at a premium when you only have 14-ft of boat. I'd love to include a full socket kit, or even just a ratchet and the necessary sockets for the boat; a spark plug socket sure would be handy, but I can get to my spark plugs with the open end wrench if I have to. Box end or combination wrenches would also be nice, but take up more space and the open ends should be fine. You might need to include a prop wrench, but it's not necessary for my little 33-HP Ski-twin. All of these can be had for very reasonable prices if you look around, even a name brand sets like Crescent or Channellock can be found for between $50-$75 on Amazon. A couple other items that I would have included if I had the space are a mini hacksaw and a soft wood plug set, but I don’t think those are essential and I was plumb out of room. If I add anything, it's going to be a few spare parts, like a propeller, but I haven't yet found those for the right price on eBay.
All in all, it's a pretty compact little set that should get me out of a jamb...if I can figure out what's wrong. If you've got any suggestions for additional tools, I'd love to hear them in the comments; I'm always up for buying new tools. Until next time, here’s wishing you fair winds and following seas.
Brent Pounds has over a decade of experience in the maritime industry and has been involved in recreations boating since he was a child. See the About section for more detailed information.