Tool Buying Guide for the Cruising Sailor


Holidays are not that far off, and if you are building a list for the sailor in your family (or a stocking stuffer for yourself), you can always fall back on a sure hit: tools.

We’ve carried out dozens of tests of various tools, all of which can be found by using our search bar and typing “tools.” I’ve provided links to some of my favorite tool reports in this post. I’m also including an abridged version of a report by veteran circumnavigator and handy-man Evans Starzinger, who offers a short list of his favorite tools as well as some excellent tips on how to organize them for cruising.

Previous PS Tool Tests

If your favorite sailor is in the middle of restoring a boat from the mid-80s or earlier, he or she probably has several wiring projects to tackle. I discussed some of the more helpful tools, like wire strippers and multi-meters, in a previous blog post, and this month’s issue offers tips on running wires behind panels or through conduit. If its just boat cosmetics that need addressing, then you might look at Practical Sailors guide to buffing and polishing tools that the pros use.

Since cruising sailors often lack access to AC power, battery-operated tools are high on their list. Several years ago, we featured a list of several handy battery-operated tools that are at home at the workshop or at sea. Carpenter-turned-cruiser John Spier also shared his sailors list of favorite battery-powered tools for his family’s circumnavigation. Most of these tools have been upgraded to more powerful models, but the report gives you an idea of which battery operated tools a voyager will want to consider. My most frequently used tool is an 18V Bosch hammer drill-driver.

If your sailor-dad wants to have the option of running some his existing (low-amp) AC-powered tools onboard, my blog on installing an AC inverter and the related test of AC inverter chargers, and our test of portable gas generators along with Starzinger’s review of the Honda eu1001, a 1,000-watt portable generator, offer useful guidance. One change since these old reports is that the 42-pound, 2,000-watt EU2001 is only about 10 percent more expensive than the smaller, lighter (29-pound) 1,000-watt models. So if you need more power and manage the added weight, these are also an option.

If your favorite sailor is starting from scratch, and plans to invest in power tools check out contributing editor Ralph Naranjo’s list of recommended tools for cutting, drilling, sanding, and grinding.

If you are a daysailor, PS Technical Editor Drew Frye, has put together a “Get-home” tool kit to deal with basic issues owner’s of smaller sailboats will encounter—including basic problems related to outboard engines.

Building the Boat Doctor’s Toolbox

Having the right tool makes every boat maintenance or repair job that much easier. Having it handy makes an even bigger difference. With that in mind, veteran cruiser, and Practical Sailor tester Evans Starzinger decided to develop one small tool bag that would cover 85 percent of the jobs by itself. After two years of tinkering with the contents, he settled on a small tool bag that seems to fit the bill. It has four basic categories of tools: standard mechanical tools (screwdrivers and wrenches), electrical, sewing, and consumables. The tool bag was selected to be compact, easy to carry and stow, while just big enough to fit the necessary tools. He still carried an extensive collection of other tools, but the ones in his “doctor’s toolbox” were the ones he found most useful for most projects.

Boat Repair Equipment

This category consists of a very conventional collection of tools. Starzinger did not want to carry a full set of both metric and standard socket wrenches, so the only real learning point was to figure out exactly which box wrenches were needed to fit the bolts on our former boat, Hawk. Our hose clamps have 7-millimeter nuts, half-inch and 13 millimeter fit the adjustment screws on our two alternators (and also the mainsail batten tension adjustment bolts), 7/16 inch fits the Harken batt cars, and 12 millimeter fits the bleed screw on the engine. The hex wrenches are the only tools that seem to rust, so he keep them in a Ziplock bag sprayed with WD-40. The following tools fall into this category:

  • Largest flat-blade screwdriver that will fit in the bag, also used as pry bar
  • Two multi-blade screwdrivers (large ratchet unit and smaller one with specialty blades)
  • Three small jewelers screwdrivers two flat blades (small and tiny) and one Phillips
  • Eight ratcheting box wrenches two 7/16 inch, two half-inch, and one each of 9/16 inch, 7 millimeter, 12 millimeter, and 13 millimeter
  • An adjustable crescent wrench
  • Two vise grips (needle nose and standard)
  • Two sets of hex wrenches (metric and standard)
  • Pipe wrench
  • Filter wrench (style with adjustable chain)
  • Linemans pliers with
  • heavy-duty wire cutters
  • Exacto knife
  • Heavy-duty scissors

Electrical Tools

Investing in high-quality electrical tools is well worth it, if you like trouble-free connection making. Through our own experiences and discussions with electrical component experts, we have been convinced that a good crimp connection is the way to go rather than soldering. The key is that it must be a GOOD crimp, which is almost impossible to make with the inexpensive “auto crimper kits.” It requires a high-quality ratchet crimper that will make a perfect, watertight crimp every time. They run about $60 each, but are worth it for perfectly trouble-free connections. I keep the multimeter in a Ziplock bag to prevent the display from being scratched by the other tools. Our electrical toolkit includes:

  • Digital multimeter
  • Ratchet crimper
  • Wire stripper
  • Wire cutters

Sewing Tools Toolkit

The thread needs to be strong and UV resistant. The Goretex thread (available from Sailrite, meets that bill, as does waxed dental floss, which also holds a knot better. Practical Sailor recently tested waxed whipping twines. The small needle-nose pliers and vise grips are used to put a needle through thick cloth. We carry the following for sewing needs:

  • Heavy sailmaker needles
  • Normal household sewing needles
  • Goretex sewing thread
  • Waxed dental floss
  • Heavy, polyester waxed whipping twine
  • Small scissors
  • Needle-nosed pliers
  • Small vise grips
  • Lighter
  • Sailing knife
  • Fid set


We use wire ties on most of our shackles to prevent the pins from vibrating loose. But on two of the shackles (mainsail tack and anchor), we found that the wire ties kept breaking, so we now use stainless wire to seize the pins on those. (Some Practical Sailor editors prefer monel seizing wire over stainless wire and plastic cable ties, which are affected by UV rays.) WD-40 is not much of a lubricant, but it is a terrific cleaning fluid.

While we have many special-purpose lubricants and adhesives, we use LanoCote as our general purpose stainless-fastener lubricant, blue Loctite ( as the standard thread lock, and super glue and a two-part epoxy putty as the normal adhesives. In our consumables toolkit you’ll find:

  • A small assortment of crimps, terminals, and heat-shrink tubing
  • Wire ties
  • Stainless-steel (or monel) seizing wire (to tie shackles closed)
  • A small jar of LanoCote
  • WD-40
  • Electrical tape
  • Rigging tape
  • Blue Loctite
  • Silicone caulk
  • Super glue
  • Epoxy


This single, small tool kit, along with a DeWalt ( or Makita ( cordless drill and carbide bits, allowed Starzinger to do most common jobs without unpacking any of his big tool boxes.

Darrell Nicholson
Practical Sailor has been independently testing and reporting on sailboats and sailing gear for more than 50 years. Supported entirely by subscribers, Practical Sailor accepts no advertising. Its independent tests are carried out by experienced sailors and marine industry professionals dedicated to providing objective evaluation and reporting about boats, gear, and the skills required to cross oceans. Practical Sailor is edited by Darrell Nicholson, a long-time liveaboard sailor and trans-Pacific cruiser who has been director of Belvoir Media Group's marine division since 2005. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license, has logged tens of thousands of miles in three oceans, and has skippered everything from pilot boats to day charter cats. His weekly blog Inside Practical Sailor offers an inside look at current research and gear tests at Practical Sailor, while his award-winning column,"Rhumb Lines," tracks boating trends and reflects upon the sailing life. He sails a Sparkman & Stephens-designed Yankee 30 out of St. Petersburg, Florida. You can reach him at