The yacht might be worth millions, but often the tools on board aren’t worth a dime.
After decades of being an engineer followed by years as shoreside support, I am still frequently shocked when I open a toolbox on a multimillion-dollar boat to borrow a wrench: screwdrivers with missing tips, wrenches rusted tight, tangled piles of tools with no organization.
Mostly these are inherited from the previous crews — and the older the boat, the worse the condition. I recently visited my last boat and, upon opening the drawers, found the same worn-out tools that I was getting ready to replace years ago.
Usually, a visit with the captain to explain the predicament can suddenly free up some cash for replacing ruined tools. A courteous explanation of how a lack of proper tools in good condition can lead to ruined trips for the boss gets the attention needed.
No one needs an entire catalog’s worth of Snap-On tools on board, but key items are crucial. A basic selection of screwdrivers (don’t forget Torx) will start the box right. Adjustable and combination wrenches in both standard and metric sizes up to 1¼ inches, or 30mm, are essential. Larger sizes should be purchased after checking for needs on board.
Also essential are pliers: slip joint, angled, needle nose, and locking types in various sizes. Pipe wrenches in lightweight, rust-proof aluminum up to 16 inches will help loosen those couplings that always stick at the wrong time.
A few hammers, from small brad nailers to 3-pound dead blows, will help persuade things along. A socket set, both metric and standard, in normal and deep well types, coupled with ¼-inch, ½-inch, and ¾-inch drive ratchets and extensions will save hours of hand turning.
With the basics covered, specialized items now can be added. A small tool kit with precision screwdrivers and pliers will save much time and aggravation, even when repairing large items. Hex screws are becoming more common in machinery, so a set of those wrenches will do nicely.
Electrical tools can be put in a small bag along with connectors to keep it all together. A quality multimeter will help keep things safe, and a fox and hound (also known as a tone generator and probe) can save hours trying to track down a particular wire. Add in some wire strippers and crimpers also.
One item rarely on board, but worth its weight in gold when needed, is circlip pliers. Those little retainers are extremely frustrating to remove without the proper tool, but it’s quick work when the snap-ring pliers are applied. Common on pumps, they love to fly across the workroom and disappear when treated poorly, and one can bet there is no spare on board to replace them. Just be sure to buy extra tips as they wear out easily.
A tape measure, a set of feeler gauges, and a basic Vernier caliper will ensure things line up properly. An electronic caliper is nearly foolproof. Unless aircraft tolerances are needed, the inexpensive ones will do just fine.
Once all these great tools are on board, they need to be stored in a clean tool chest big enough to allow easy access. Latching drawers are mandatory to keep things where they should be. Dedicate drawers to particular types of tools to make it easy to find them. Keep them clean. Grabbing a greasy wrench when in epaulets is a sure way to get on the bad side of the laundry staff.
While still in the holiday gifting mood, get a small box with basic tools for the deck crew and another one for interior staff. This is less charitable than it seems: It will keep them from raiding the engine departments’ tools and losing them overboard.
Spending a few grand to prepare the engine department — and deck — for nearly any emergency or repair may sound like a princely sum on a small boat, but the ability to save the guests’ vacation in, literally, the middle of nowhere will pay for itself many times over.
JD Anson has more than 20 years of experience as a chief engineer on superyachts. He is currently project manager at Fine Line Marine Electric in Fort Lauderdale.