What Should Be In Your Small Boat Marine Toolkit

Marine Tool Kit With First Aid Supplies for Small Boats

Selecting Your Marine Toolbox

First, if you want a waterproof marine tool box, get one that is also airtight. I've used a "waterproof" marine tool kit on small boats, and most are merely water resistant. Eventually, the water and salt get in, and your tools get ruined if you don't notice it quickly. I went through lots of tools. I tried using a fishing tackle box and just being careful about protecting it from spray, but the results were similar. I could not find a tool box which could survive on a small boat and keep the tools separate from the water and salt.

I gave up and bought a Pelican box. It's more expensive, but worth the money. Pelican marine boxes are sturdy and airtight, not just waterproof. I have had mine for ten years now, and the only time water got in was on one occasion when I inadvertently closed a plastic tie-wrap in the lid, preventing the gasket from sealing. Fortunately, I discovered it before much damage was done. Before I bought the Pelican box, my tradition was to find out that my tools were rusty and unusable when I actually needed them. It's nice to open it up knowing all will be well inside.

What's Inside my Marine Toolbox?

At right is a photo of the contents of my own marine toolkit contents. On top are the upper and lower foam pads. One fits inside the lid of the tool box, and contains first aid supplies, fishing licenses, and boat registration. Although the box is watertight, the papers, band-aids and gauze are kept in a Ziploc bag slipped behind the foam lid insert. On small boats (this is primarily used on our 15' Boston Whaler), I gave up trying to keep a separate first aid kit. None were sufficiently water resistant, so I just carry a few first aid supplies in my tool kit.

The contents of my marine toolboxThe tools and supplies in my Pelican marine toolbox. This waterproof boating toolkit goes with me on every boat, every time.

The foam insert for the bottom of the box (top center in the photo) has some plastic tie-wraps, a piece of light braided rope, and two short lengths of electrical wire with terminal ends on them. To the right is the Pelican case itself. The knob on the front is a pressure relief valve. If you load your case in a warm room and take it out into the cold, you might not be able to pull it open without releasing the vacuum — that's how truly airtight it is!

Here are the contents of my boat tool box (from left to right in the photo):

  • A wrench
  • Some Neosporin antibiotic ointment
  • A bit of galvanized bailing wire
  • A little bottle of Hydrogen Peroxide
  • The thing that looks like a bottle opener is actually a kind of wrench. It has little teeth along the edge of the top-shaped cutout, and fits small nuts and bolts. The other end is tapered, and makes a decent screwdriver.
  • A razor blade
  • Needlenose pliers with wire cutter
  • Fishing pliers with wire cutter. Fishing pliers are double-jointed, and close with the jaws parallel to each other, making them nice for small nuts and bolts.
  • A really loud, shrill whistle. OK, so it's really dirty as well, but it's a one-piece whistle of sturdy plastic, and can't fail. It is the only piece of equipment in the box that is required by the Coast Guard on my boat.
  • A pair of pliers
  • A Phillips head screwdriver
  • An adjustable wrench
  • A length of electrical wire (about 5' long) with insulated alligator clips on each end. This is very useful if you need to find out whether some wire or connection is actually working, or when you find out one is not working when needed. Clip, clip, and go.
  • A short Phillips head screw driver and a short flat screwdriver. It is very frustrating to be unable to fix something because your screwdriver is too long. A friend once had to cut his screwdriver and then turn it by grabbing the shaft with Vise Grips.
  • A spark plug wrench with flat screwdriver on shaft
  • Electrician's pliers with wire cutter
  • A small rag. I ruined lots of t-shirts before I learned to carry along a rag.

The only items missing from the picture are a smallish pair of Vise Grips and a roll of electrical tape.

The Importance of Having the Tools When You Need Them

Having a watertight marine tool kit can get you out of lots of trouble. A few simple tools and supplies can mean the difference between getting home on your own and being towed home, or worse. Lots of problems on a boat are electrical, so don't forget that in addition to tools, you may be a piece of wire short of going home. Bring raw materials. That little oily rag is not there because I'm neat. It is there because engines are hot and electrical problems can be sparky. You don't always want to grab things with your bare hands. If something has broken, some bailing wire might get you home. A friend once wired together a broken shift lever on my outboard engine, and did such a good job that I left it that way for a few years, until the engine was next at a professional marine mechanic's shop.

A few first aid supplies can allow you to clean, disinfect, and protect a small wound. If you do not have basic disinfectants and bandages, a small cut can turn into a raging infection. I keep the razor to open up deep wounds for cleaning, and to remove fish hooks, spines, and splinters. The light line has many uses, one of which could be a tourniquet if someone is bleeding badly.

On most outings in small boats, I never open the box. But I've learned to always keep it aboard the boat, even for the shortest trips. It is better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. Worst of all is to need it, have it, open it, and find only rusty junk inside. Been there, done that, got the rust-stained rag.


  1. Great list to consider for my own toolkit before I start using my own boat. Thanks for sharing.

  2. This is an excellent list to have especially for boat owners who are new to the world of marine products. It is pretty scary for newcomers because they are overwhelmed by the sheer variety and what must be done. Thanks for sharing.

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