10 Emergency Fix-it Items that Belong on Every Boat

Whether you’re a sailor, a fishermen, a cruiser or a watersports enthusiast, if you have a boat, you should keep these 10 emergency items on board for on-the-water repairs.

7th September 2013.
By Lenny Rudow

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. On top of that, 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 snuff (if you’re not so sure, check out 10 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.

emergency fix it

Need to fix something fast? These 10 emergency fix-it items will help you get the job done.

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 fiberglass. 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.

2. Pantyhose. Yes, pantyhose—it may be intended as an article of clothing but this stuff 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, pantyhose will do the trick. Or, let’s say you just blew a belt; you can wind the hose around the wheel, stretch tight, then tie in a knot. This stuff also works well as an emergency rope. Even anglers will find pantyhose useful, if their chum bag rips. Just drop that chum block into the pantyhose, 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.

4. Potatoes. 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 utilized 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 Garbage 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 16’ or 18’ 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 garbage 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 cell phone,) dry in an unexpected down-pour. Those plastic bags can be used to help seal a leak, patch a rip in canvass, collect and hold rainwater, and in a serious emergency, you can even use them to contain your garbage.

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 15’ 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 screw-drivers, 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 tips and tricks that will help you handle unexpected or dangerous situations on a boat, also see:
Hurricane Preparation for Boaters
Safety Essentials for Go-Fast Boat Passengers
A Short Story About Battery Shorts
Solve Your Outboard Motor Problems: Starting, Fuel, Shear Pins
Expired Flares and Medical Supplies


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About the author:

Lenny Rudow

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Lenny Rudow is Senior Editor for Dominion Marine Media, including Boats.com and Yachtworld.com. With over two decades of experience in marine journalism, he has contributed to publications including Boating Magazine, Marlin Magazine, Boating World, Saltwater Sportsman, Texas Fish & Game, and many others. Lenny is a graduate of the Westlawn School of Yacht Design who has won 28 BWI and OWAA writing awards.
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