I skipper bareboat charters around the world, and that puts me on a lot of different boats with various levels of upkeep. Sometimes even a well-maintained boat can be a challenge when something predictably—yet unexpectedly—fails. That’s usually when I discover that the inventory of tools aboard is woefully inadequate. For both small and large projects, there are some fairly simple tools you can bring along to get you out of a bind. Let’s take a look.
A seven-inch adjustable wrench will get you out of a world of problems on a boat. The Kiwis make a nice (if expensive) one called “Sea Spanner,” which is made of high quality stainless-steel. It has a 25-millimeter spanner (metric helps, since a lot of charter boats are built in France or South Africa), a bottle opener, a fuel cap opener, and a shackle spanner. Most any small adjustable wrench will do, however, and six-inch channel locks also will do the trick.
The tool inventory on charter boats can run from as much as a complete kit to only a rusty knife, so I recommend bringing a multi-tool, such as a Leatherman. That way I know I’ll at least have the basics, including flat- and Phillips-head screwdrivers, pliers, assorted knives, and even a corkscrew, on some.
Self-fusing Silicone Tape
Any kind of tape is a good idea. Duct tape is ideal for many applications, but it’s bulky and heavy to carry. Electrical tape is fantastic for taping everything from electrical wiring to rigging to shoes that are falling apart. If I can only carry just one type, it would be a self-fusing silicone tape, such as Rescue Tape. It's my one-size-fits all bonding material that works for most, if not all, uses.
A multi-tool will provide you with a blade of some sort, but it’s a heavy item to carry in your pocket. A simple rigging knife with a marlinspike, shackle key, and a sturdy blade will take care of many on-deck emergencies or rigging mishaps.
These small strips of plastic are strong enough to take on real mechanical challenges but can also be used to secure a pirate flag to a halyard. Nylon cable ties are lightweight enough to carry a bunch with you (I usually have at least a half dozen). And, if you have unruly crew, you can even use cable ties to handcuff him or her to the railing until their mutinous behavior ceases.
Flashlight and Headlamp
Tools will not do you any good if you can’t see what you’re working on. I bring a small LED flashlight that I can hold in my mouth, but also a backup headlamp so I can use both hands to fix whatever is in front of me, even if it’s dark. Before every trip, I refresh the batteries so that I’m always assured of light and I don’t have to rely on anything supplied by the charter company.
It’s unlikely you’ll get most of the above in your carry-on luggage, but you can check your kit and be reasonably prepared for many of the ailments a charter boat can come down with during the course of a week.