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by Grid Michal - The Motor Doctor – Urbanna, VA - USA

Once every few years, The Nurse and I get out in our boat, a 1988 19' Chesapeake center console with a 1990 Johnson 140HP. Okay, let's be honest: we haven't been out in it for six years, but I at least tow it over to our yard where I get it running and pumping, and try to avoid looking at the cracks in the trailer tires.

When we do pretend we're going out, The Nurse always asks me what tools we'll be taking. Each time I, The Motor Doctor, patiently asks The Motor Nurse, "Do you know what's going to break?" Each time her reply is "Noooo..." And each time I tell her that, unless I know what's going to need our mechanical abilities, there's no sense in bringing any tools.

If you understand that The Nurse is from Ohio, where they don't have real water, then you'll understand that the "tool problem" finally came to a head this year. Now, in addition to the items listed in the accompanying column, we also have Boat US insurance, trailer insurance, and TowBoat coverage for as far away as our 35-gallon tank can take us.

What you do for tools depends entirely on your abilities. Me? I'll use a VHF, a GPS, a cell phone, and a bikini top. The rest of the stuff just makes her feel better.


Does anybody remember “Let’s Make A Deal!” with Monty Hall? He used to run up and down the audience aisles, and stop in front of a lady who might be wearing a Minnie Pearl hat, and yell something like, “I’ll give you $50 if you have a Hostess Twinkie in your pocketbook!” (Little did we know then what our country was coming to, and that Twinkies would be offered for $10,000 on eBay!). The lady would haul out a purse big enough to hold the shavings from Mount Rushmore, dig through it until she found she had a Ho-Ho, but no Twinkie, and burst into tears. For that Ho-Ho, Monty would give her $20, or maybe $100. Hey—it was good advertising.

Not unlike that lady, in my boat I have a toolbag that I know Monty Hall would lust for; I’ve spread its contents on a table for you to see.  As you look at the duplicity of screwdrivers and pliers, you ask, why don’t you get a Leatherman, and save space and weight? A couple of reasons:

1. Absolute élan is required to flip open a Leatherman and make oneself a Macgyver.  I don’t have it.

2. If you drop it overboard, ALL your tools are gone. However, because my brother gave me a knock-off, you’ll see it on the table because he reads the magazine and I want to show him I still have it. Thanks, Bro!

The list of contents below all fit into the heavy-duty bag I got with my carry-on jumper battery:

From the left:

  • A small multimeter
  • Short lengths of 14-16 wire
  • Heat shrink butt connectors
  • Heat shrink wire ends
  • Microtorch
  • Wiring tool
  • OMC/Merc tie straps with the curved ends for proper operation
  • Small SAE socket set for my Johnson outboard
  • Gorilla Duct Tape
  • #2 Phillips screwdriver
  • 6” SnapOn slothead
  • Extension magnet/mirror
  • Dielectric grease
  • Silicone sealer
  • Cans of carb cleaner, PB penetrant, and corrosion protection
  • Adjustable wrench
  • “Water pump” pliers
  • Needle nose pliers
  • Dykes
  • My spring-knife
  • Bungee cords
  • Boat hook, scrub brush
  • 50’ ¼” line
  • 8X10 tarp
  • Heavy-duty paper towels
  • Tow-Boat Insurance policy
  • Brass hammer
  • Bikini top
  • Mini mag-light

All this - excepting the brush and hook - fits nicely in the bag you see. What I left out in the display are my safety glasses, which are hanging from a hook under the console. The last pair I had, I left in the tool bag, and when I went to use them, found that the plastic had distorted to cover my left ear and right nostril, but not my eyes, as intended. Get glasses. Use them. A decent pair will hold rainwater if you’re adrift at sea.

In truth, there’s not much a tool kit will help you with on an engine built in the last ten years. What isn’t hidden or inaccessible is computer-directed. Prior to that? What a goldmine of fixin’ awaits you! And what a sense of achievement when you can use one tool for a multitude of jobs!

Let’s start with the hammer. Mercury has stenciled on the side of their starters, “DO NOT STRIKE WITH HARD OBJECT.” Some thoughts cross my mind: 1) Is it a concept that the engine won’t start because the starter is the culprit? 2) why is it only Mercury, and Yamahas with Mercury starters that have that warning? Here are some valid uses for the hammer: use it to hit the end of the handle of a screwdriver to make it act like an impact screwdriver in a recalcitrant screw. Tap the side of a carburetor where the float has stuck and relieve the needle of its blockage. A big no-no? Using it in a demonstration of your frustration.

Screwdrivers are multi-talented. You can use the side of a slot-head screwdriver to wedge into a Phillips screw and turn it. Use the slothead to push against the base of a tie strap as you pull the strap tight. Using it as a prybar is limited only by how many times the tip breaks. An easy prybar use would be opening a deck plate to see everything you needed to access on the fuel tank is 3” off to the side. Using the screwdriver as a serious prybar would include trying to free a starter bendix from a flywheel attached to a seized engine. (Not bright.) You can go through right many screwdrivers before deciding to get emergency help. (See Tow Boat policy.)

The Phillips can be used to open sealed silicone tubes, or to align bolt holes. It’s easier to direct when you need to jump a solenoid. Stick it in a sparkplug boot, hold it just over the engine block, crank the engine to see if you have spark. If the jolt throws you overboard, you have proved you have a fuel problem.  In extreme emergencies, both screwdrivers may be used as screwdrivers.  The multi-tip screwdriver is absolutely useless except as a screwdriver.

I used to use a big Mag-light until I found sets of three small ones at Costco. They’ll hold still on a small magnet, and have three settings, including a flashing strobe, which may come in handy to try to summon help. Or, you can use it to blind small bugs, which will give you a source of protein if you’re stranded and hungry. (See Tow Boat policy.) It’s not a really good hammer replacement.

My spring-knife is a joy. I use it to find loose change in my pocket, and jam the spring. Sometimes, lying just-so into a bilge, it’ll pop open, and it’s not until I stand up that I can tell if I’ve severed an artery, or just torn a gaping hole in the front of my last pair of work pants. I use it in lieu of a screwdriver to jump solenoids. I can use it on Phillips or straight screws. I can hack access to wires to use the multimeter. One day I’ll get around to sharpening it and using it the way it was probably intended to be used.

Note that between the multi-tip screwdriver and the Leatherman knockoff  there is a 6” thin screwdriver with a blue handle. About 2” down, I heated the shaft to a 45-degree angle. I did the same thing 2” further down, then heated the tip and twisted that 45 degrees to the shaft. I did this in approximately 1982 for a specific purpose. I cannot remember, for the life of me, why I did it. I keep the screwdriver on board, though, because sure as God made little green apples, if I leave it in the tool chest at home, whatever I designed it for will break in the boat. Best as I can tell, it isn’t much of a hammer or a chisel.

I bought an inexpensive set of sockets from ¼” to 9/16”. Despite my best efforts to keep them nice, pretty soon they’ll be as rusty as the bolt heads on my 1988 outboard. I’ve found that how oiled I make them is directly proportional to how fast they fly out of my fingers, and into the river.  Keeping the ratchet functioning is due to PB Blaster, which lasts for months, whereas WD40, though good, evaporates. Judicious use of Corrosion Block (that stuff is $20 a can!) keeps most rust away.  At some point the rusty sockets will match the size of the rusty bolt heads, and I will have entered that netherworld between SAE, Metric, and Wentworth sizes. When that happens,  the next stage is the adjustable wrench, known overseas as a spanner, which works in wavering decimal sizes. Each time you pull it, either the top or the bottom of the opening moves fractionally, allowing the wrench to slip, mashing your hand against the closest hard object. I always keep two on board because it’s the cheapest thing to throw a great distance when I hurt myself.  The adjustable is also good for determining if your battery is fully charged. You can either attempt to loosen a locknut on the battery post, or leave the wrench lying on the well opening. Either way, one end of the wrench will automatically adjust to the distance between the POS and NEG posts of the battery. The resultant spark-fest guarantees a string of Navy-words.

Good things you can use the adjustable for? More torque for a screwdriver when slid over the shank; a multi-sized “socket” when used vertically with a screwdriver through the end, making a “T” to twist with. Not so good? A light-weight hammer.

From that point on, my back-up to the adjustable is a worn set of ViceGrips. I replenish my truck’s tool box occasionally, and always relegate the used ViceGrips to the boat, throwing away the previous pair. A good, slightly-worn set of ViceGrips will do everything an adjustable will, but will additionally reduce whatever you were trying to loosen to a pile of shredded metal. However, it makes one feel good that one could apply strength to something and overpower it, so you never want to throw away the ViceGrips. ViceGrips can be used horizontally or vertically, like the adjustable, but sliding a shank through the ViceGrips results in them popping open. One more use? A lightweight hammer. Don’t, really. That’s why they make hammers.

Waterpump pliers are there because they can be used to twist fuel line off fuel fittings. Normally this results in the hose end coming off in pieces, and discovering the manufacturer did not leave one extra inch of fuel line between the inaccessible fuel tank, and the barely accessible fuel fitting. They’re also good for twisting the fuel line off VROs and breaking the non-replaceable fitting. They can be used to twist and remove spark plug boots so the boot breaks off the plug end and spring, leaving the engine running on one less cylinder. This isn’t a big deal unless it had only one to start with. (See Tow Boat Policy.) Guess what else you can use ‘em for? Uh-huh. A small hammer. Are you desperate? Don’t!!

The needle-nose is great for reaching down into a jar of home-made gingersnaps a client once brought me at a job. They’re also good for reaching down into the bilge for dropped tools. The mirror/magnet is also a winner in that category, but you have to be reallllllly fast to use the mirror to find the tool, then whip the magnet to it before the image disappears. And then you have to pray that what you dropped is magnetic. I love electrical stuff. With needle-nosed pliers, I can position, crimp, and shrink connections one-handed while holding the components rock-solid in the needle-nose.   You know what else needle-nosed pliers are good for? No, not a hammer. They’re good for stirring hot coffee to make it cooler. Gotcha.

For the times that things squeak, we’re told to use WD40. When things are loose, use duct tape. Buy stuff that’s good: I haven’t found better than the Gorilla tape. The tape will “repair” torn upholstery; slow fuel or water leaks; be constructed as a loop to replace a broken accessory belt on an I/O engine; temporarily stabilize cables that have rusted through the outer casing  due to inattention. (Enough wraps around a hammer head and you’ll have a quiet hammer. Bet you didn’t think I could do that!)

Sometimes no combination of tools and knowledge will get your engine running. The VHF went south. Your cell phone is out of range.  It’s time for the bikini top. Using the Gorilla Tape, tape one strap to the end of the boat hook and start waving it. If there is a male within binocular distance, you’ll see the wake as he races toward you.

If the bikini doesn’t work? If there’s a storm coming? Time for the tarp. Using the line in the tool bag, tie one end ‘round the engine cover and the other onto the steering wheel. Dump the contents of the tool bag into the console, race forward, tie the empty bag to a bow line, drop it overboard (you did tie the other end to the bow, didn’t you?) and let it be as much of a sea anchor as it can be.  Open the tarp, and using the bungee cords, make a tent over the line you just strung. You many not stay completely dry, but you’ll feel better knowing you tried.

Nobody to your rescue in the morning? Time for the tarp, wash-brush, and boat hook. Insert the brush in one gunnel rod holder, the boat hook in the other side’s. Bungee the tarp to both sides and—I hate to say this, being an engine-person—let the following wind hustle you to land. If you’re adventurous, use the same idea using an aft rod holder and Gorilla-tape one of the two poles to the bow. Then impress the hell out of everybody by tacking your way down-river. I’ll deny I know you.

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