There are lots of things that we carry aboard our boats all the time, so many that it’s often hard to find them.
In the winter months, while the boat sits at the dock unused, we tend to have less clutter and it’s often a good time to go through the lockers and see what’s really there. It’s also a good time to get a few extra emergency things and stow them for the upcoming season. And because you’re not in a rush to get out boating, like you might be in the summer, you’ll probably be more likely to remember where you stowed them.
Here are a few items that I think everyone should have on board. These are in addition to the obvious things like PFDs and a first-aid kit. (There are lots of lists online of U.S. Coast Guard requirements and safety items you should have.) When duct tape first became widely available, everyone started carrying it and using it for everything. It’s great, but there are a few other things available these days. These are really useful things that I think you should carry in addition:
- Splash Zone – This is a two-part epoxy that is extremely useful for making emergency repairs to just about anything. You mix a glob of part A with an equal glob of B and knead them together for a minute or two, then stick it on wherever. Exhaust manifolds, leaking hatch coamings, even eyeglass frames, it really will fix just about anything. The best part is that you can stick it on underwater. In an emergency I have seen it pushed into a hole in a hull, against the incoming water, and held in place until it cured. You’re supposed to wear gloves when you handle it, but in an emergency you can just keep your hands wet with water as you mix it and you’ll be able to clean up later. It’s sold in quarts and larger sizes at marine stores and lasts virtually forever. It costs about $75.
- Rescue Tape – This fusible silicone tape is absolutely amazing. You can wrap it around a spurting hose or pipe and stop the leak. It’ll take high temperatures (500° F), acid, solvents, fuel, gasoline, electricity, high pressure, you name it. It’s essentially invincible. After a short time, it “fuses” to itself, and if you ever need to remove it you’ll have to cut it with a sharp knife. You can make an emergency repair to a hose or pipe in order to just get home, or use it to permanently protect battery cables at a chafe spot. It is sold at marine stores, hardware stores and online, and a roll will cost you less than $20.
- Through the Roof – This is actually a material for fixing flashing on roofs, but it’s invaluable for emergency fixes on boats. It looks and smells just like the “rubber cement” that comes in the glass jar with the brush in the lid, but it’s sold in pints, quarts, gallons and in caulking tubes. Are your friends that you brought along complaining that the deck hatch leaks rainwater on their bunk? Shower sump got a crack in it? Portlight not sealing correctly? Bimini got an annoying drip? It can all be fixed with Through the Roof.Like both of the products listed above it can actually be put on in the rain! You can actually brush/squish the water away with the goo as you try to stop the leak. As a test, I once fixed a crack in a pan that catches oil under my main engine. The pan itself sits in the bilge and has bilge water against the outside. The “fix” was still in perfect condition when I removed the pan to fix it correctly a year later. A quart is less than $25 at hardware stores and you should tape a couple disposable paint brushes to the can so you’ll have then if you need them.
- Victorinox Little Vicky Knife – No boat should be without one of these; maybe several. It might look like a completely ordinary steak knife, but in fact it is perfect for cutting line, cloth, hoses, wire, steak and even pirates. They are sold extremely sharp, and when they finally go dull, you can get another. The blade is strong enough to pry open a paint can, and in a pinch you could open a regular tin can, scrape rust from a corroded electrical fitting or jumper the solenoid on your main engine’s starter. They cost $7 to $9 at most marine stores. (Get a box of Band-Aids while you’re at it.)
- Starting Fluid – Ether sold in aerosol cans specifically for starting engines. It’s not very good for the engine, because it cleans the protective oil off the cylinder walls, but used occasionally it can be a real lifesaver. I’ve read about professional mechanics using it daily in the Montana winter on diesel buses with no harm done. It will start a cold, sluggish engine with a low battery in the worst conditions.The key with this product is that YOU ONLY NEED A TINY AMOUNT. A teeny, tiny little “tszz” sprayed onto the area around the air cleaner/intake will start most really big engines, and small engines need even less. Some mechanics spray it on a rag, which they hold near the air intake. If it doesn’t work the first time, try a tiny bit again. No luck? Go outside and tell a story or check your anchor before you try it again. You really don’t want too much. It costs $5 and can be found at auto parts stores, convenience stores and gas stations.
None of these things are a permanent fix for any boating problem. They’re all designed to get you home, or at least to make your voyage enjoyable. Some have future consequences, like being hard to remove (Splash Zone and Through the Roof), but they are all effective at the time, and in some quiet cove, outside of cell phone coverage, they might be all you’ve got. Plus the whole list will cost you less than $140. Your duct tape is still good to have, but bring along these other things as well and you’ll be that much less likely to have a problem that leaves you stranded.