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Does it happen to you that when you are in a hurry, the light turns invariably red? Or, when you are waiting for a bus for ages, then three of them come at the same time? Or, when you are trying to catch a key about to fall, it slips under a heavy closet? It happens to everybody and it is called, half-joking, Murphy’s Law. I’m talking about the pseudo-scientific paradoxes, ironic and caricatural that can be summed up in Murphy’s First Law: «whatever can go wrong, will go wrong ».

Actually – to return to the matter in hand – things go bad when setting up before sailing is overlooked or, when possible damages and our ability to deal with them are underestimated. It’s true, you can apply to shipyards, engineers, 24/7 rescue and emergency service, but I believe that to rely only on them to overcome troubles at sea, is one of the most serious mistakes you can make. If you mean to go to sea, you must be able to face and solve at least the most frequent and basic failures. It is you safety and your “pocket” that are at stake!

If this is true – and it is true – then your ability to face and manage damages depends on how deeply you know your boat, boat’s fittings, on board systems as well as the repair tools available on board. It goes without saying that a well-stocked tool kit will be your trusty friend both in joy and in pain.

First of all a basic consideration: since safety on board and, above all, our life are invaluable, poor quality tools that get immediately rusty if exposed to humidity, or break during use shall not find place on board. A well-stocked tool kit shall include good/very good quality tools provided in adequate number and type. Tools shall be stowed in a waterproof box or even in two boxes if it is advisable to share the space required for storage in two different peaks due to the dimensions of the boat.

First of all, let’s say a word about a sailor’s knife: the most important item a sailor can have in his tool kit. It’s so important it can’t rest in a tool box. A sailor’s knife is useless until worn and this is why you should wear it on your belt, in its sheath, ready for use. Your knife must be a high quality one, made of corrosion-resistant materials, with ergonomic, anti-slip grip. Also an utility knife is useful, with shackle key and fid at least. I would add a corkscrew is necessary too, although not exactly in tune with today’s issue. Together with a skipper’s knife I suggest to have at hand also a diver’s knife: bigger, more resistant and suitable for heavy duty. Where to keep it? For my experience, in the cockpit, on the steering wheel tower[CC1]  or in any other readily accessible place.

Let’s come to the tool box. As already mentioned, choose only high-quality, salty environment resistant tools, sorted by categories. For some tools two of them may be needed for an effective use. An example for all is the set of wrenches (one unscrews the nut, the other one holds the nut).

Pliers and screwdrivers are basic tools. They are useful in all types and sizes such as flat-blade and Phillips screwdrivers, long and short in order to access even the most unreachable parts of a boat. The set must include nose-pliers, adjustable pliers, cutting pliers, etc. Riveting pliers are also very useful.

I recommend to have on board a complete double (for the reason mentioned above) set of wrenches of all sizes. Do not forget Allen wrenches (I am very proud of my set!), socket wrenches, multi-point wrenches as well as a spark plug wrench for outboard motors.

To have on board a small electric drill and its complete set of bits (iron and wood) as well as sharpers and accessories (abrasive discs and sander) is surely a good idea. Battery-operated drills are very good. Remember to provide also a spare battery to use when the other is being charged. A small hand drill may be useful in case no inverter or generator are on board.

A pair of hammers are necessary: a medium-size one and a bigger mallet. Also a rubber mallet is useful, like that used by couchbilders. A pair of chisels (wood and iron), files and hacksaws for iron and wood cutting shall complete your set.

As for the electric system, the list of tools to be kept on board shall include at least a tester, mini-screwdrivers, scissors to cut the cables, tweezers and a welding kit consisting in a small welder and some tin.

Of course your tool box wouldn’t be complete without all measuring instruments such as a tape measure, a wooden metre, a caliper. Without forgetting the whole range of sealants, silicones, lubricants and anti-corrosion sprays.

Spare parts are an integral part of the tools to be kept on board (although not in the tool box of course). The list could be endless, depending on the general conditions of your boat, on what kind of sailing are you planning for the season and, last but not least, whether you are convinced or not that Murphy’s Law is, after all, just a lighthearted belief.

Jokes aside, it is necessary to have on board all those small spares that are quite cheap and yet may cause big troubles if, in case you need them, they are not supplied by the local boating dealer. The accidental loss of a piece of little or no economic value may turn into a big problem from a practical point of view.

So, provide a generous stock of SS screws, bolts, nuts, spare shackles and sheaves, any kind of tapes (American tape, paper tape, electric tape, aluminium band, butyl-tape, packaging tape). Clamps for electric cables, some electric cables of different cross-sections, spare lamps, hose clamps.

Finally, some spare parts and materials necessary to maintain and repair both the engine below-deck (such as oil filters, belt and spark plugs for outboard motor) and that installed on the mast and exposed to the wind. Then, as for sails: tape for a quick fix, needle and waxed thread.

As the list is really endless, rest assured that there will always be something forgotten, missing or neglected. And of course, these, are the items which will be needed first! That’s it. Set your heart at peace as Murphy never misses a shot.

Fair wind to everybody. See you at sea!

Renzo Crovo