These 8 things to Carry on a Boat Have All Saved My Bacon
Here is a list of things to carry on a boat to save you from being stranded or worse. Even on a brand new boat, you will have things break or fail. These breakdowns always seem to happen in a remote anchorage. If it’s not a remote anchorage they break at five o’clock at the start of a three-day weekend.
I’m not talking about the big things that keep you awake at night failing. The failures you carry spares for. I’m talking about are the niggly little things that break. Leaving you stranded, or without a much-needed piece of equipment.
Every single item on the list below of things to carry on a boat has helped me get out of a bind. Saving my bacon! Some of these repairs were temporary to get us to the next port where spares were available.
Others such as the autopilot oil tank crack were intended as a temporary fix. But have worked out so well that there is no need to undo the temporary fix.
8 Essential Things to Carry on a Boat
JB Weld Extreme Heat Epoxy
When the exhaust manifold on our Volvo D1-30 developed a hole in it in a remote anchorage. Three hundred miles away from the nearest hardware or marine store. I was so very pleased that I had picked up a tube of JB Weld Extreme Heat Epoxy before we got on the boat.
This stuff is incredible! It’s good for repairs up to 2400f! It is designed to handle extremely hot dirty jobs such as exhaust manifolds. After using our tub on the manifold. I went looking for a replacement a few months later when we got into a town with a big hardware store.
All the extreme heat epoxies they sold for manifolds were only good for around 600f. Which would not hold up long on a marine diesel engine’s hot manifold running days at a time on occasion.
The longest part of the repair was cleaning up the hole with a wire brush so that the epoxy had a relative oil and carbon-free surface to stick to. When I eventually got the manifold to a specialist welder they did not want to touch the manifold as they feared they may damage it when they removed the epoxy. The welders take was that the repair was perfectly good enough and there was no need to do any work to the manifold. We will leave this temporary repair as is until we repower the boat next year (click here for our article on repowering a boat).
JB Weld – Plastic
After months of prepping the boat, we were finally ready and excited to cross the Pacific. Departing Vista Mar Marina, Panama to Nuku Hiva, Marquesas. A distance of 4027nm.
Five Miles out from the marina the autopilot stopped working. We tried troubleshooting it but it soon became apparent that unless we wanted to hand steer for the next month the crossing was not going to happen that day.
Back at the marina the fault was quickly found and rectified. An electrical connector had come off the back of the hydraulic pump that powers the autopilot actuator arm.
Unfortunately, during the disassembly process, I and the team of willing cruiser hands had somehow cracked the fluid tank on the top of the pump. I said a silent curse as I pictured us watching the weather window disappear. As we waited two or three weeks for a new tank to arrive from France.
One of the guys helping said no problem just fix it with epoxy. Soon a twin-tube of JB Weld Plastic Weld was produced. I cleaned the outside of the tank with some MEK and opened up the crack a little with a small pick and then covered the crack with plastic weld. The tank doesn’t operate at any pressure so after refilling and seeing no leeks we decided to go! Almost two years later the repair is still perfect.
Add to your Amazon cart today so you don’t forget to pick some up.
Under Water Epoxy
When I first picked up the twin tubs of underwater epoxy I never really pictured us using it. Like bungs, I thought it would be something we would have onboard to use in a dire emergency.
The reality is, if you put miles on your boat it is inevitable that you will put small nicks in your boat more often than you think. The first time we needed underwater epoxy was after we hit a poorly marked fishing net in big seas off of St. Vincent in the Caribbean.
The net snagged on a rudder for a few moments then slid down and off. The result was a golf ball-sized chip out of the lower forward surface.
Using the epoxy is easy. Clearly, this stuff is designed to be used in a hurry. There is no need for exact measurements. You simply grab two similar-sized lumps from each tub of the resin and hardener. Mix them up with a little water until the color changes. And then work the epoxy into the hole you are patching. Smooth out. You don’t even need to be all that quick. The working time is about half an hour.
It may not be the prettiest repair. But it is underwater and unless you dive it’s not going to get seen. When you next haul the boat hit the repair with a grinder to clean it up. We have also used underwater epoxy for repairing a deep scratch a submerged log made after we hit it off of Colombia one night, and most recently we somehow managed to get our anchor chain around a keel in an anchorage with a weird current that opposed the wind at times.
Underwater epoxy is, without doubt, one of the essential things to carry on a boat. Add some to your Amazon cart today so you don’t forget to pick some up.
Gasket Material Kit
I’m not sure if you’ve noticed boats like to break when you have visitors. We were sitting at anchor in Martinique with family visiting for the holidays when the port engine decided not to start. The engine was getting air in the system which was traced to a failed gasket on a bleed screw.
We were less than a mile from one of the best stocked Volvo Penta dealers anywhere. But it was the afternoon of the 24th of December. And we were screwed.
A cruiser friend who has been out cruising for almost twenty years. Suggested that we make a gasket out of an old-style Manilla envelope. The kind made with banana fibers instead of wood pulp. He had one and sacrificed a small corner for our repair. It worked perfectly.
Having seen how useful it was to be able to make our own gaskets in a pinch I immediately ordered a set of gasket making material from Amazon. Since then I have used the material for a few other homemade gaskets and have helped out at least one other boat by having gasket making material on board.
Drinking-Water Safe Garden Hose
You need a good hose to wash your boat or fill your tanks. We have one of these and it’s so far the best one we have purchased. I think we are on our third or fourth hose. The first two were fancy coiling hoses from marine stores. They were expensive and absolute junk! We didn’t get a year out of either one. They kinked and started leaking at the kink the very first time the kink happened.
The next hose we picked up at The Home Depot was ok but impossible to roll up as the material was too soft. Which meant washing the boat was an exercise in patience as the hose needed to be continually straightened. This hose still gets kinks but it’s better than the others we have used.
Why you need a garden hose on board, and not a self-coiling or flattening hose? Is that on occasion you may need to cut a section to wrap a line or engine hose in a pinch to prevent chafe. On our engine, we have a section of coolant hose that takes a sharp bend over the alternator belt tensioning mechanism mount. The mount used to eat hoses. At $150 a pop after the second one, we knew we needed a permanent fix. I wrapped the hose with a six-inch section of garden hose. And two years later the coolant hose is still perfect.
Here’s the Amazon link to the hose that has worked best for us
Length of Dyneema
We use a rigger in New Zealand and I don’t know if he’s ever run into a rigging problem on a boat that he doesn’t recommend using Dyneema to fix. And after a few emergency fixes, I have to totally agree with him.
We carry 50ft of 3/16 (4mm) uncovered Dyneema. The line is good for 5800lbs. The first time we had to use it in a pinch was mid-way across the Pacific. We discovered that the turning blocks mounted on our mast had popped two of four rivets and were pulling free of the mast!
We took the Dyneema and passed a few wraps around the block holder and mast. Passed them through a noose knot, then through a clutch and onto a winch, and cranked it in tight.
The Dyneema held the turning block perfectly in place for over 3000 nm. And the good part is once we had the mast repaired we had our length of Dyneema back.
Since then we have used the Dyneema for a number of temporary repairs even though we originally bought the length of Dyneema to serve as a replacement steering cable should our steering cable break. Out of all the essential things to carry on a boat especially a sailing vessel, a length of Dyneema line hits high on the list.
Portable High Capacity Bilge Pump
A high capacity bilge pump is a must-have item to carry on a boat. We carry a Rule 3700 GPH Portable Bilge Pump, I added a 25ft cable onto the pump leads. The long cable allows us to be able to drop the pump into any access point on the boat. On the cable ends, I attached a set of alligator clips that allow us to connect to power in a hurry to multiple sources in the boat.
For draining we fitted 12ft of 1 1/2″ bilge pump hose. The entire package of the pump, hose, and cable is kept neatly ready to go in a reusable shopping bag.
When we bought the high capacity bilge pump we hoped I would never have the need to use it. As luck would have it we used it the very next morning!
Our catamaran, as with many production catamarans is not fitted with bilge pumps in the engine compartments. We were doing a short overnight sail and just as the sun was rising the main boat bilge pump went off. We opened the bilges and there was a little water in the normally bone dry bilge. The source appeared to be from the port engine drain. On our boat, the engine drains into the main bilge. Not a great design feature but that’s how it was set up at the time.
There wasn’t much water draining in. Not more than a trickle. But we needed to investigate. I opened the port engine hatch and removed the engine covers. What I saw was shocking! The compartment was 3/4 full of water, which went about halfway up the engine.
We immediately grabbed the bilge pump. And connected it to two terminals on our main panel for power. I dropped the pump into the engine compartment and within seconds a fire hose type gush of water started being pumped out. The output was incredible. I know it says 3700 GPH, but you really need to see what that means in action! In less than a minute the compartment was mostly dry.
It turns out the shower hose to our transom shower had burst at the valve and had pumped about 200 Gallons of freshwater into the engine compartment. Fortunately, there was no damage to the engine! It turned out that soundproofing foam had dropped off and blocked the drain to the bilge once it got wet. As we were sailing and it was a little rough we never heard the freshwater pump running.
What We Learn’t From This Experience Was:
- You need a ready to go high capacity bilge pump on board. It needs to be set up and ready to deploy
- The bilge pump with the attached hose will float at first and needs to be forced underwater. If you are dropping a bilge pump somewhere and don’t have time to sit holding it you need to attach something to it to make it sink. We secured a dive weight to the pump which does the trick
- I believe that it’s essential to carry the biggest easy to carry 12v non-automatic pump (or 24v if that’s your boat setup) ready to go on your boat. This Rule 3700 GPH bilge pump fits the bill perfectly. It’s one of the essential things to carry on a boat.
Liquid Gasket Maker
I’ll start off with the fact that I absolutely hate using Liquid Gasket Maker on our engines or the boat in general. It’s messy and looks like the work of a sloppy owner. When I see an engine with Liquid Gasket Maker oozing out of it it makes me wonder what else inside the engine has been been the work of a bush mechanic.
Unfortunately, if you sail even slightly off of the beaten path you need to be a bush mechanic at times. And when that happens and I get us out of a pinch we are delighted.
I have lost count of how many times I have had to use Liquid Gasket Maker. Normally I use it in a pinch. Then the next time I’m near a dealer, which could be months away at a time, I replace the temporary repair with the correct gasket or o’ ring.
We do have two repairs that Liquid Gasket Maker has become the permanent fix for. The plastic end caps on each of our Volvo engine’s heat exchangers warp and eventually started leaking. Even with new o’ rings. The caps are around $200 each with 2 per engine.
So we live with a little liquid gasket repair. Whenever I pull the caps off to clean the engine I smear a tiny amount of Liquid Gasket around the o’ rings. Such a small amount it doesn’t seep out of the joint. No one can see it and it stops the leak the first time every time. There are many types of Liquid Gasket Maker available. I always pick up the black, heavy oil-resistant type as chances are high you are going to need it on an oily part of the engine. For me, Liquid Gasket Maker is one of the things to carry on a boat whenever you go even remotely offshore.