10 Essential Tools to Keep on Board Your Sailboat

Essential Tools to Keep on Board Your Sailboat | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Daniel Wade

June 15, 2022

Sailing is meant to be a calm and peaceful pastime, but there are many things that can go awry out in the open waters. If you are just getting into sailing, you may be wondering what some of the most important tools to keep on hand in case of emergencies are. There are many tools that will provide the newfound sailor with a great deal of use when sailing, many of which you won't want to be caught on the waters without.

There are fewer things that can go wrong with sailboats than motorboats due to their comparative lack of moving and mechanical parts. Still, there are a couple of things that might come up that can pose some pretty hefty issues if you aren't prepared. As well, dealing with the sail and the mast itself can be a bit tricky, especially if you don't know what you're doing.

So, what are the 10 essential tools to keep on board your sailboat? Well, read on to find out! After reading this article, you'll have a much better idea of what preparations you should be making before setting out on your next sailing adventure. Whether you've been sailing for years or have never sailed before, here are the 10 things you'll want to make sure you have on hand in your sailboat in case of any emergencies.


Table of contents

10 Essential Tools to Keep on Board Your Sailboat

1. A Nice Pocket Multi-Tool, for Starters

Before we get into anything complicated, let's start with the basics. As with any outdoors activity, you are going to want to have a good, sturdy, and high-quality pocket multi-tool on hand before setting out sailing. A good pocket multi-tool will have many features that might come in handy on a long sailing trip, including:

  • Needle-nose and regular pliers
  • Wire cutters and strippers
  • Knife blades
  • Hammer
  • Can and bottle opener
  • Basic screwdriver
  • Filer for corrosion

Even if you don't end up needing to use your multi-tool as anything more than a bottle opener, having it on hand can give the fledgling sailor quite a bit of peace of mind. Your multi-tool will be a godsend when dealing with rope, and will also prove useful in dealing with many odds and ends that need maintenance over time on your boat.

Other areas where your multi-tool can come into play are when opening shackles and filing down corrosion. As well, if you are planning on fishing, multi-tools will prove incredibly useful when dealing with cutting lines and pulling hooks.

2. A Small and Sturdy Portable Hatchet

Similar to the multi-tool, a small hatchet is one of those things that almost every outdoorsman needs, regardless of whether on boat or land. Hatchets are perfect in emergency scenarios for dealing with stubborn ropes.

You likely won't ever have to use your hatchet outside of emergency situations where you are forced to cut a tow or dock line. However, in the rare event that one or more of these emergency situations should occur, you are definitely going to be glad you kept that small hatchet in your tool compartment.

3. Just a Little Bit of Loctite Thread Locker

Thread locker, like the kind made by Loctite, can be found at most stores and is essentially multi-purpose glue that overrides loose threading in screws and screw-holes. Of course, given the immeasurable amount of screws one typically finds in a sailboat, the importance of thread lockers should seem fairly obvious. Sailboats are notorious for rickety parts and screws that just don't want to hold firm. If you have a loose screw or other rattling parts, a little bit of thread locker will solve the problem immediately.

If you find yourself in a situation wherein you don't have a thread locker, there is a makeshift alternative that works just as well! If you have a female companion with you, simply ask her if she has any nail polish. Nail polish will perform the same function as thread locker and may prove a miracle in a tight situation.

4. A Heavy-Duty Pair of Scissors or Shears

Even though your multi-tool likely already has a small pair of shears on it, you are going to want to have something a little more heavy on hand if you're planning on getting into the sailing game. Scissors can prove useful in many situations that might come up during sailing. From cutting line to cutting fiberglass, emergency gaskets, and sandpaper for filing corrosion, you will likely get a lot of use out of your scissors.

5. A Flashlight, Back-Up Batteries and Bulbs, and Maybe Some Marine Lights

A lack of light is a common issue when sailing. There are many marine lights available that can be fixed, either permanently or temporarily, on parts of your boat. While these are a great solution to many of the visibility issues one might encounter when working on their sailboat, a flashlight is also going to prove quite useful.

 Given that a flashlight is portable, it can be taken and used anywhere it needs to be when sailing. If your boat has dark corners and crevices that you can't make heads or tails of, your flashlight can fix that problem in seconds. As well, a flashlight is something you are going to be grateful for in emergencies, similar to your hatchet. Should things go awry and you get stranded after sunset, a flashlight may prove to be your key to redemption.

Besides simply having a flashlight, sailors are also advised to keep on-hand extra batteries and bulbs should their flashlight go out for any reason. While it's common to assume that you won't be needing your flashlight all that much and will likely suffice with the limited power remaining, you never know what's going to happen out on the waters. Being prepared is the name of the game when it comes to sailing. Making sure you have extra batteries and bulbs for your flashlight is one simple way to make sure you're prepared for every possible outcome.

6. Extra Drain Plugs... As Many As You Can Carry

Since we're already on the subject of being prepared for the worst possible outcome before taking to the waters, now's the perfect time to mention extra drain plugs. Drain plugs are arguably some of the most important parts on the entire sailboat. With a missing drain plug, your boat can become submerged. If this happens at the wrong time, more than just your boat will be at risk. If you are far out in the waters and you realize you are missing a drain plug, it may be too late.

Drain plugs get lost, broken, and misplaced all the time. They can get old and break, simply falling off into the water with you being none the wiser. As well, it is common for them to be left behind at docks or other locations in the midst of repairs and other maintenance work. Should this happen, you are going to be very glad to have some spare drain plugs on board.

A submerged boat can end up costing you a great deal in the long-run. Boats are meant to be on water, but they aren't meant to be submerged in water. While a sailboat likely won't have many electrical parts that can be damaged by the water, their interior can still be damaged.

When a boat is submerged, parts run the risk of succumbing to rust damage. As well, everything that you are keeping on board your boat is going to be submerged with it. This includes any supplies, any food, and all of the tools mentioned on this list.

The worst possible outcome would be if you found yourself stranded out on the water without a drain plug. Ships typically take a fair amount of time to submerge, but they don't need to be totally submerged in order for their ability to sail to be drastically impeded.

If you find yourself stranded out on a sinking boat, you are likely in for a long swim back to shore. However, there's another device you'll want to make sure you have on hand at all times when sailing that will come in handy in these situations!

7. At Least One Personal Flotation Device, or PFD, for Each Passenger

A personal flotation device, more commonly referred to as a life-jacket, is traditionally just a little vest you wear that keeps you from sinking in the water. While children, especially those who can't swim, are always advised to have a personal flotation device accessible whenever performing any kind of activities in the water, adults can greatly benefit from them, as well. Here’s a list of the best PFD’s for sailing.

In the aforementioned situation in which your sailboat is succumbing to the water, a personal flotation device can quite literally be a lifesaver. While most sailors likely know how to swim, the prospect of getting stranded and having to swim several miles back to shore may seem impossible without a little bit of help.

With a personal flotation device, you can relax and rest in the water without having to worry about sinking. As well, should you become incapacitated for any reason, be it shock or stress, your personal flotation device will keep you from drowning.

Sailors should have one personal flotation device for every person they plan on having aboard their boat. They come in different sizes for different ages and different body types. Make sure you plan accordingly. As well, it never hurts to have a few extra on hand!

8. Duct Tape, Lots and Lots of Duct Tape

Of course, everyone needs duct tape, even sailors. Duct tape is incredibly versatile and can be used for many things. You can use duct tape to path minor cracks and leaks in your boat (although not as a replacement for drain plugs!), and you can also use it to patch tears and holes in your sail. Pretty much anything on your boat that's falling apart can likely be at least temporarily rejuvenated with a liberal coating of duct tape.

9. A High-Quality Combination Wrench Set

There are many little pieces of most sailboats that can be properly worked with the right size combination wrench set. While many sailors will simply opt for a ratchet set, a combination set is generally more portable than a full ratchet set and contains the opened-ended side of the wrench, as well.

The ratchet side is generally going to see the most use. However, there are always going to be instances where the open-ended side works better. Regardless, having a proper rust-proof combination wrench set is definitely a great idea to keep on hand at all times when sailing.

10. A High-Quality Screwdriver Set or a Multi-Bit Screwdriver

Finally, besides a good set of combination wrenches, you are also going to want a good set of screwdrivers. If you have a multi-tool, you likely have a screwdriver bit on it for emergencies. However, a full set with varying sizes and bits is the best way to go.

You will likely need screwdrivers more often than wrenches when sailing. They'll come in hand for all the small and basic repairs and maintenance you'll need to perform on the interior of your sailboat. Just like with your wrenches, you will want to make sure the screwdrivers you are keeping on hand are rust-proof, as they'll likely be exposed to a bit of water.

There are many toolboxes and carrying cases for tools that are made to float in the water, specially for sailors. Buying one of these toolboxes will give you the perfect place to keep all your screwdrivers and wrenches, as well as whatever else you need.

If you don't want a full screwdriver set, you can invest in a solid multi-bit screwdriver. Multi-bit screwdrivers are screwdrivers with an empty socket at the end that allows you to put whatever kind of bit you need in it. Bits can be bought individually or in sets, and the screwdriver itself will typically come with a fair number of basic bits in the most common sizes. While these multi-bit screwdrivers may cost a bit more than a small basic set, they will likely last a bit longer and prove more useful in the long-run.

Bonus: A Floating Keychain To Save Your Keys

Our sailboat and dinghy keys are some of the most valuable things we bring onboard. They're small, hard to spot, and sink extremely well.

Fortunately many sailors roll with a floating keychain attached to their keys. If they go overboard, don't sweat, they'll still be floating and easy to see in the water.

If you don't already have a couple of these or you need replacements, this should be your very next purchase.

We've manufactured our own to offer you, our audience, to hopefully help out. This way you get a sailing related floating keychain, and they're even cheaper than on Amazon. Free shipping and all.

You can buy them here.

10 Essential Tools to Keep on Board Your Sailboat
Daniel Wade

Daniel Wade

I've personally had thousands of questions about sailing and sailboats over the years. As I learn and experience sailing, and the community, I share the answers that work and make sense to me, here on Life of Sailing.

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