Essential Boat Tools for Liveaboard Sailors

Some essential sailboat tools

When we moved onto our sailing catamaran, I scoured the internet for a full list of recommended boat tools but found nothing. I ended up buying unnecessary tools, selling tools I should have kept, and keeping tools I didn’t need.

To save you the trouble, here are 80+ tools you should consider keeping aboard your boat. This is strictly a list of tools and does not include supplies and materials, emergency equipment, or spare parts. We’ll write about those in future posts.

Aside from a few sail-specific items, these tools apply to both sailing vessels and powerboats. Each tool in the list below is labeled by its necessity:

Must Have: Essential tools for liveaboard sailors. These tools belong in every sailboat’s tool kit.
Should Have: Tools to consider if you will be blue-water cruising or spending time in remote places.
Nice to Have: Tools you can live without but will save you time and frustration.

Comfort and Safety



There is no substitute for a quality headlamp when working at night or below deck. Consider one that also has a red light to preserve your night vision while night sailing.

Our Pick: DanForce Ultra Bright 1080 Lumen Headlamp + Red Light

Headlamp tool

Kneeling Pads


Maintaining a boat often involves squeezing into small engine rooms and compartments, usually with a valve or filter housing poking you in the side or back. Having a couple of these kneeling pads can make these situations a lot less miserable. 

Our Pick: WORKPRO Extra Thick Kneeling Pad

Kneeling pads for sailboat

Bosun's Chair


Sure, you could spend hours at the top of your mast in a hand-tied Swiss seat polishing your rigging. But why not do it in a safe, comfortable chair with large tool pockets?

Our Pick: Harken Bosun’s Chair Deluxe

Bonson chair for sailboat

Cordless Fan


If you’ll be sailing in the tropics, a cordless fan will increase your odds of surviving the countless hours you will inevitably spend in a hot engine room.

Our Pick: RYOBI ONE+ 18V Cordless Hybrid Fan

Cordless fan

Hand Tools

Wrenches, Ratchets, and Sockets


I’m not going to go into too much detail on this one. At a minimum, you need one socket and one combination wrench for every size of bolt on your boat. You should also have Torx and Allen drive sockets, a couple large adjustable wrenches, and a pipe wrench.

Saltwater is really tough on tools, so to keep them from rusting away, get high-quality 316 stainless tools whenever possible.

assorted wrenches

Right Angle Screwdriver


A right angle, offset screwdriver is an essential tool aboard your sailboat. It’s great for all the screws you won’t be able to access with a full size screwdriver. 

Our Pick: Gearwrench Microdriver Set

Right angle screwdriver for use aboard a sailboat

Assorted Screwdrivers and Allen Keys.


You’ll want to match these to the fasteners aboard your monohull or catamaran. At a minimum, you’ll want a micro-screwdriver set, several Phillips and standard screwdrivers, and metric and standard Allen keys.

Three screwdrivers



There is no substitute for a quality headlamp when working at night or below deck. Consider one that also has a red light to preserve your night vision while night sailing.

Our Pick: DanForce Ultra Bright 1080 Lumen Headlamp + Red Light

Headlamp tool

Assorted Pliers

Different types of pliers

Filter Wrenches


Odds are that you’ll be changing a lot of filters: oil filters, water filters, fuel filters, sea strainers, etc. You’ll find them on your engine, your generator, your outboard, and your watermaker. I recommend appropriately sized water filter housing wrenches, a strap wrench, and a jaw wrench. 

Our Pick: SPARKWHIZ Filter Wrench Set

wrenches for changing oil filters



Essential for pouring oil, coolant, and other fluids on a rocking boat. 

Our Pick: 3 Piece Funnel Set


Wire Stripping Tool


This is another tool that should be on every sailboat. You’ll need it to cut wires and remove insulation prior to soldering or crimping on electrical terminals.

Our Pick: Irwin Wire Stripping Tool

blue wire strippers

Wire Crimping Tool


This is one of those boat tools where it’s better not to go high-tech. Skip the fancy ratcheting crimpers or the combination  crimper/stripper tools, and get a heavy-duty pair of long handled crimpers like these: Klein Wire Crimping Tool

wire crimping tool for boats

Tape Measure


If you need an explanation for this tool, you’re not ready for boat ownership.

Our Pick: Stanley Powerlock

tape measure

Utility Knives


No explanation needed. Keep several onboard.

Our Pick: Folding Utility Knife

Utility knife

Rigging Knife


This multipurpose knife is great to have in your pocket while underway. Use it to untie knots quickly, open shackles, cut fishing line, and more.

Our Pick: Maxam 3 3/4 Inch Sailor’s Tool

rigging knife for sailors



Another essential tool for blue-water cruising. You’ll need it to cut bolts, battens, shackles, and more. 

Our Pick: Klein Hack Saw


Hammers and Mallets


They take up space and add weight, but they are absolutely necessary aboard even the simplest sailboat. You’ll want at least a steel ball peen hammer, brass mallet, and rubber mallet. A small 3-pound sledge hammer may be useful too.

Our Pick: 5 Piece Hammer Set

several hammers and mallets

Hooks and Picks


For removing seals, o-rings, and tightening small turnbuckles and shackles.

Our Pick: Gearwrench Hook & Pick Set

Hooks and picks

Caulk Gun


One of the most frequently used tools aboard our boat.

Our Pick: WordPro Caulk Gun

caulk gun

Solder Iron, Hot Knife, and Heat Gun


This multi-function butane torch combines a torch, a hot knife for cutting lines, a solder iron, and a heat gun, all essential tools for boat maintenance. 

Our Pick: LEXIVON Butane Torch Multi-Function Kit

butane torch kit for boats

Sewing Awl Kit


Unless you have the space and budget for a heavy duty canvas sewing machine, this is a must for making sail repairs at sea.

Our Pick: Speedy Stitcher

stitching awl for sailboats

Electrical Fish Tape


This is another important tool on your sailboat for pulling wires, lines, tubing, and shift/throttle cables from one area of the boat to another.

Our Pick: Klein Electrical Fish Tape

Electrical fish tape tool

Taps, Dies, and Easy-Outs


Yes, they are expensive, but they are some of the most used tools on our catamaran. Salt water equals corrosion, and corrosion means you need to deal with broken fasteners.

Our Picks: Wakuka 110 Piece Tap and Die Set and Xewea Screw and Bolt Extractor Kit

taps and dies for use on a sailboat

Rope Splicing Tools


You should have the tools necessary to splice the diameter and type of lines on your sailboat, including splicing needles, fids, and scissors. Visit a chandlery to be sure you get the right ones.

Rope splicing tools for sailboats

Punch Set


For driving out various pins and starting drill bits. Good to have but you can usually find another tool to do the job if necessary.

Our Pick: SwanLake 9 Piece Punch Set

punch set

Mini Grease Gun


There’s a good chance your sailboat or dinghy has grease fittings that will require regular attention. If so, you should have a mini grease gun and a small stockpile of marine grease aboard your vessel.

Our Pick: Star Brite Grease Gun

Grease gun for inflatable boats

Files and Brushes


Don’t forget some assorted files and brushes. Get nylon brushes for delicate surfaces and brass brushes for cleaning stainless steel.

File on a sailboat

Pop Rivet Gun


Sooner or later, you’ll need to drill out and replace some rivets. You’ll be glad to have this tool on hand.

Our Pick: Arrow Heavy Duty Riveter Kit

Pop rivet gun for repairing sailboat



A chisel will come in handy for woodwork, removing excess caulk from teak decks, and it can double as a gasket scraper. 

Our Pick: WORKPRO 3/4″ Wood Chisel

A chisel is an important boat tool



In addition to a few small hand clamps, you’ll want a set of reversible bar clamps. These are useful for disassembling and reassembling many items around the boat, including hatches and wood furniture.

Our Pick: Jorgensen 24″ Clamp/Spreader

reversable clamps

Gear Oil Pump


If you plan on servicing an outboard motor, like the one you probably have on your dinghy, you’ll need a pump to inject gear oil into the lower unit. 

Our Pick: Slippery Pete Lower Unit Gear Oil Pump

gear oil pump for your dinghy

Feeler Gauge


To accurately adjust valve lash or set spark plug gaps, you’ll need an inexpensive feeler gauge in your boat’s tool kit.

Our Pick: Stainless Steel Feeler Gauge – SAE & Metric

feeler gauge

Torque Wrench


Again, it’s best not to guess when tightening bolts. Consider purchasing a torque wrench. Ideally, get one in 1/4, 3/8, and 1/2 inch drive.

Our Pick: VANPO 3Pcs Torque Wrench Set

Torque wrenches

Pickup Tool


Having this tool onboard will increase your chances of retrieving all the parts that you will inevitably drop in inaccessible places.

Our Pick: Bendable Flexible Magnetic Pickup Tool

Flexible pickup tool

Combination Square


There are many uses aboard a sailboat for this all-in one square, ruler, straight-edge, level, scribe, and depth gauge. 

Our Pick: IRWIN Combination Square

Combination squares are useful on a boat

Bolt Cutters


You’ll be glad to have these when you strip a shackle or need to cut some chain or cable.

Our Pick: Crescent H.K. Double Compound Action Bolt Cutter


Impeller Puller


You’ll probably find impellers that require routine maintenance in your sailboat’s engines, generator, and watermaker. Sure, you might be able to get by with a couple screwdrivers, but there’s something to be said about having the right tool for the job. 

Our Pick: E-cowlboy Stainless Impeller Puller

Sailboat impeller pulling tool

Oxygen/MAPP Gas Torch Kit


For space and safety reasons, you probably will not want a full-size oxygen and acetylene torch on your boat. But, if you plan on making refrigeration repairs, brazing broken metal parts, or loosening seized bolts, a regular propane or butane torch simply won’t cut it. Consider a couple extra cylinders and an assortment of brazing rods for aluminum, stainless steel, bronze, copper, and steel to copper.

Our Pick: RTMMFG Oxygen MAPP Torch Kit

Torch kit

Refrigerant Manifold and Piercing Valve


If you plan on servicing your own refrigerator, freezer, and air conditioners, you’ll need a manifold to measure pressures within the system and a piercing valve to tap into small cans of refrigerant. Keep in mind that you should be EPA certified before handling refrigerant in the US, and that you’ll need a separate manifold to work with high pressure refrigerants such as R410A.

Our Pick: JIFETOR Manifold Gauge Set with Can Tap and Adapter

Refrigerant manifold tool

Corrosion Reference Electrode


This is one of the best tools for investigating electrical issues on your vessel and those around you. It will help you find and stop stray current before it causes major corrosion damage to your boat. 

Our Pick: Corrosion Reference Electrode (CRE) with User’s Guide

Electrode for testing boat electrical systems

Rigging Tension Gauge


Keep your rig tuned on the go with a tension gauge. Be sure to order a gauge sized for the standing rigging on your boat.

Our Pick: Loos Co Tension Gauge

Rigging tension gauge used on sailboat rigs.

Power Tools

Oil Change Pump


When changing the oil in your sailboat’s engine, generator, or sail-drive, you probably won’t be able to drain the oil from the oil pan’s drain plug. So, you’ll need a pump to remove the used oil.

Our Pick: Jabsco Oil Change System

oil change bucket and pump for boat maintenance.

Drill and Bits


Don’t be caught without a cordless drill along with plenty of carbide bits.

Our Pick: RYOBI ONE+ 18V Cordless 1/2 in. Drill/Driver


Impact Driver and Bits


In addition to a cordless impact driver for removing and installing fasteners, you’ll want a large selection of bits, including Philips, Torx, hex/Allen, nut driver bits, bit extensions, and socket adapters. 

Our Pick: Ryobi 18V One+ Cordless Impact Driver 

Impact driver for boats



Since saltwater, heat, and humidity are not especially compatible with electrical equipment, it will spend plenty of time outside of your toolbox. Be sure to get a clamp-style meter that is capable of testing diodes and measuring capacitance.

Our Pick: Klein Tools Autoranging Clamp Meter


Total Dissolved Solids Meter


If you have a watermaker on board, it’s a good idea to have a TDS meter to measure your water quality. Even if you don’t have a watermaker, this handy tool will help you to tell the difference between salt and fresh water without sticking your tongue in the bilge.

Our Pick: HM Digital TDS Tester


Cordless Vacuum


Our cordless wet/dry vacuum is one of the most frequently used tools aboard our catamaran. It cleans refrigerator and air conditioning condensers. It picks up sawdust and sucks up water that leaks out when cleaning sea strainers and replacing filters.
TIP: Always flush your vacuum with a few cups of fresh water after using it for salt water. 

Our Pick: Ryobi Cordless 3 Gal. Wet Dry Vacuum




This tool will save you a lot of time and headaches. You can find obstructions in hoses, see inaccessible parts of your boat, retrieve lost tools, snake wires, inspect engine cylinders and more.

Our Pick: Two-Way Articulating Borescope, 5.5FT Articulated Borescope


Rotary Tool


A rotary tool is great for grinding, cutting, polishing, and sanding. It’s especially useful for gelcoat repairs and restoring small parts.

Our Pick: Ryobi Variable Speed Rotary Tool


Fuel Transfer and Polishing Pump


A fuel transfer and polishing pump is simply a 12 volt fuel pump connected to a fuel filter and water separator with an inlet and outlet hose. When fueling up in remote places or when you discover contaminants in your tank, you’ll be glad to have this device onboard. Use it to polish fuel as you transfer it from a jerry can to your tank, or use it to pump fuel from your tank, polish it, and return it to the tank. 


Oscillating Saw


Excellent for removing caulk and adhesives, sanding, and trimming wood or fiberglass.

Our Pick: Ryobi 18V Multi Tool


Reciprocating Saw


Whether you’re adding a light switch or cutting off a rusty bolt, you’ll be glad to have this handy tool on your sailboat.

Our Pick: RYOBI 18V Compact Reciprocating Saw


Plastic Welding Kit


On most boats, there is no shortage of plastic parts to break: engine cowlings, hatches, bezels, freezer liners, water tanks, etc. This tool allows you to repair and reinforce them so that they are stronger than before.

Our Pick: Allturn Plastic Welder


Vacuum Pump


After servicing one of your boat’s refrigeration systems, it cannot simply be recharged with refrigerant. You’ll first need a vacuum pump to remove contaminants such as water and non-condensable gasses from the system. Again, depending on your location, you may need to obtain certification before working with refrigerant. On a boat, you’ll want a small, low powered vacuum pump like this one: VIVOHOME 3.5 CFM Single Stage Vacuum Pump.


Random Orbit Sander


If you have a teak deck or large surfaces requiring sanding and varnishing, you may want a random orbit sander aboard. Don’t get the cordless version of this tool as it will deplete your batteries quickly.

Our Pick: Ryobi 5 Inch Random Orbit Sander


Rotary Polisher


If you don’t plan to hire out the compounding, polishing, and waxing of your vessel, a quality rotary polishing machine will save you tons of time and possibly rotator cuff surgery. Again, don’t bother going cordless and keep in mind that it’s easy to damage your sailboat’s gelcoat if you don’t have experience using this type of tool.

Our Pick: Dewalt Variable Speed Buffer Polisher


Infrared Camera


This is an expensive, but very helpful tool to have aboard your boat. Use it to find electrical problems, moisture, refrigeration issues, mechanical failures, and air/water leaks.

Our Pick: FLIR Thermal Imaging Camera


How to prevent tools from rusting on a boat?

A boat is one of the worst possible environments for your collection of tools. Salt water, humidity, heat, and vibration all increase the rate at which your tools will rust. Take these steps to prevent rusty tools:

  • Buy high quality 316 stainless tools when possible and store them separately from other steel tools.
  • After each use, rinse off any salt water residue if necessary, dry thoroughly, and apply a light coat of oil or an anti-corrosion product like Boeshield T-9.
  • Organize tools in a way that prevents them from rattling against each other. Scratches on stainless steel tools damages the protective chromium oxide layer and allows rust to form.
  • Store tools in a dry location. Use a moisture eliminating product or dry boxes if necessary.
  • Never store tools in the same compartment as cleaning products or watermaker pickling chemicals as they will accelerate rust.
  • Remove batteries from power tools when not in use.

What other tools should you keep on your boat?

This comprehensive list of 80 plus boat tools covers all the basics. Nonetheless, you should review the operations manual for your boat and any service manuals for onboard equipment to ensure you have everything you’ll need to maintain your boat’s systems and make emergency repairs.

What are the most frequently used boat tools?

  1. Impact driver and bits
  2. Utility knife
  3. Cordless fan
  4. Multimeter
  5. Kneeling Pads
  6. Cordless vacuum
  7. Drill and bits
  8. Borescope
  9. Right angle screwdriver
  10. Fuel transfer and polishing pump

Why do you need so many tools on a sailboat?

Any sailboat, especially one that spends time offshore, needs to be well stocked with tools to keep onboard systems working properly. Being stranded at sea or in remote locations without propulsion, water supply, electricity or navigation instruments can be downright dangerous.

Where to store tools on a boat?

Tools should be stored in the driest possible location aboard your boat. Avoid unventilated lockers and bilges. The best location is usually in a cabin or the salon. 

Did we miss any essential tools? Help us keep this list current by leaving a comment below!

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