Thanks to the much-improved reliability of today’s modern powerplants, being stranded on the water is an event that’s far less common than it used to be. But boats are still boats, and unlike cars, if yours breaks down you can’t merely step out and walk. (For some examples of what might go wrong, see 10 boating disasters and how to avoid them.)
Of course, engines aren’t always the culprit when mechanical failure strikes - there’s plenty of other stuff on a boat that can break or fail. We’re sure you already have your safety gear up to scratch (if you’re not so sure, check out 14 tips to make sure your safety gear is in order), but will you be able to continue enjoying a day on the water, much less get back to the dock on your own, when something aboard breaks? There’s a good chance that depends on whether or not you have these 10 emergency fix-it items onboard.
1. Epoxy sticks, and JB Weld
Either one or both of these emergency fix-its belongs in your boat. You can use this stuff to temporarily patch just about anything from a broken Bimini top support to a trashed transducer mount, and it’s super-strong. Better yet, it will adhere to nearly any material, including gel-coated fibreglass. It only takes a few minutes to set, can be molded into virtually any shape or size, and (as long as you choose the right type) can even be used below the waterline.
Yes, tights They may be intended as an article of clothing but a pair of tights has a wide range of uses on a boat in need. If you need a strainer to deal with dirty fuel or to serve as an emergency filter, for example, tights will do the trick. Or, let’s say you just blew a belt; you can wind the tights around the wheel, stretch tight, then tie in a knot. This stuff also works well as an emergency rope. Even anglers will find tights useful, if their chum bag rips. Just drop that chum block into a pair of tights, cut a couple of holes in it, and hang it over the side.
3. White vinegar
It may not keep you from sinking or get that stalled engine to re-start, but the emergency uses for white vinegar on a boat are almost endless. For starters, it comes in handy when nature gets unfriendly and you need to “fix” yourself or another boater. Wipe it on after mosquitoes attack, and it will mitigate the itch. Use it to relieve the sting after a swimmer or water-skier has a close encounter with a nasty jellyfish. Now, let’s say the head is clogged—that certainly qualifies as an emergency on a boat, but white vinegar can save the day because it does an excellent Drano imitation. Finally, if you’re a cold-weather boater, this stuff can prevent the windshield from icing up. Just splash some on at the beginning of your chilly cruise.
These aren’t an emergency food source, they’re a fits-all-size emergency plug. If a through-hull fitting breaks or the hose pops off and the fitting is jammed open, you can push a potato up against it, give it a half-turn, and instantly shut off the flow of water. Spuds cut to size can be used to plug off hoses, drains, or valves. And yes, in a serious pinch, they even can be utilised for nutrition.
5. Duct tape
Few inventions have proved as handy in an emergency as duct tape—and we really feel like we don’t have to explain this one.
6. Extra-large rubbish bags
These take up a tiny amount of space, but are hugely important to have onboard. On small boats with very limited stowage, they’re particularly beneficial. A 16ft or 18ft boat, for example, doesn’t have enough stowage space to keep four sets of foul weather gear around at all times. But surely, there’s enough room for four rubbish bags. When it rains, cut out holes for your head and arms, and the bags make instant rain coats. They’re also good when you need to keep something important (like a bandage or a mobile phone,) dry in an unexpected downpour. Those plastic bags can be used to help seal a leak, patch a rip in canvas, collect and hold rainwater, and in a serious emergency, you can even use them to contain your rubbish.
7. Wax candles
Forget about lighting up the cabin, the real reason to carry a candle onboard is for lubrication. Everything from jammed zippers to corroded snaps to sticky cables to jerky steering arms can be loosened up and smoothed out, by rubbing a wax candle over the offending part. Give it a few swipes, move the part(s) around a bit, and the wax will keep things sliding until you can get home and fix them for good.
8. Extra line
Yes, this one’s rather obvious, but we can’t neglect to mention it. Rope is often needed for lashing things down, tying broken pieces-parts together, and countless other uses. If you don’t have a box of spare lines because your boat has limited stowage space, consider wearing an emergency rope bracelet, like those made by Survival Straps, which un-wind to provide 15ft or more super-strong para-cord.
9. A plastic water bottle
Again, the main emergency use—hydration—is obvious. But there’s more here than meets the eye. The bottle can be chopped off at the end, and turned into a bailing device. Or you might want to slice off a section and use it to cover cracks or holes in a hose.
10. A tool kit
Sure, you can file this one under “duh”. But ask around, and you’ll be shocked at how many boaters leave the dock without a basic spare tool kit aboard. At the very least, it needs to include adjustable wrenches and screwdrivers, pliers, and a knife. A wire-tester, spare fuses, and electric tape also come in handy, when you need to chase down and fix electrical problems.
For more fix-it essentials, see Fixing your marine engine at sea: emergency DIY tips and How to fix your marine toilet.