Seven Must-Have Boating Tools

Make boat repairs and maintenance easier with these seven must-have boating tools.


July 20, 2020
Tightening plug on boat
Proper tools are key to safe and easy repairs. Courtesy Amazon

Confession is good for the soul. I have two to make. First, I’m a gadgeteer, and so whatever is the latest little “pretty,” as my grandfather called such things, to come along always catches my eye. My second confession? I hate this one … I watch those infomercials about slicers and dicers and Shamwows and de-scratch-nows and, well, you get the picture. Anyway, I seldom buy the things but am always entertained by the infomercials.

So, when Editor-in-Chief Kevin Falvey showed me one of the gadgets in these pages and suggested we round up a few more for BoatingLAB, well, I had my teeth polished and my best overacting technique honed to hawk boating gadgets to smarmy perfection.

That said, the infomercial stage is set. Just as in the infomercials with the fancy gizmos designed to do what a half-skilled person with a sharp butcher knife can do without all the cleanup, and without the three easy payments, here are a handful of tools we found noteworthy and, in some cases, worthy enough to keep aboard and leave the end wrench ashore.


There’s little testing we could do except note if the tools fit their purpose. So, instead of comparing them to each other, we compared them to the conventional tools they’re intended to replace.

Piranha Propellers Universal Floating Prop Wrench for boating repairs
A handy tool that’s great for unexpected prop replacements. Zach Stovall

I’ve had one of these in every boat I’ve owned since they first hit the market. It won’t rust, it won’t mar the boat from rattling around in it, and best of all, it floats! With one molded-in socket plus eight plastic socket inserts, it fits prop nuts from 17/32 to 11/4 inches.

Multipurpose: Though I have used it as a hammer in a pinch, it’s all about handling unexpected prop replacements.


Advantages: Unlike a socket-wrench set, it floats and is unaffected by corrosive water.

Downside: Unlike a socket-wrench set, it won’t be any help on a trailer-wheel lug nut, or anything comparably torqued.

Tools On Board: 9 (fits these prop-nut sizes: 11/4-, 11/16-, 15/16-, 7/8-, 13/16-, 3/4-, 11/16-, 9/16- and 17/32-inch)

3 Piece Cobra Pliers Set from KNIPEX
A compact tool gets into tight spaces. Zach Stovall

At a recent boat test, we found a loose battery terminal, and as we cast about for a tool, any tool, to tighten it, one of our tech-support team members pulled these pliers from his pocket. With one hand, you can open the jaws, press the adjustment button with your thumb and close the wrench to lock it to the exact dimension of the fastener. Stubborn hose clamps and nuts can be quickly loosened or tightened without fear of stripping the fastener.

Multipurpose: This one fit most marine fasteners for which we’d choose it, but there are many sizes available, including one to fit a prop wrench.

Advantages: The compact tool gets into tight spaces and can be adjusted by feel, if necessary, to fit nuts and pipes to 1 inch.


Disadvantages: Its chromium-vanadium steel is durable but not corrosion-resistant like stainless steel.

Tools On Board: You be the judge. This one size fits nearly all.

Davis Instruments 382 Deck Tool Multi-Key
Combines seventeen tools in one. Davis Instruments

If the Swiss Army could only see this. Seventeen tools in one, the flat-stamped stainless-steel device unsnaps snaps, loosens nuts, opens deck plates and tightens pin shackles, plus includes a bottle opener, zipper pull, knife and more. Seven hex-nut sizes include 5/16-, 3/8-, 7/16- and 1/20-inch plus 8, 10 and 13 mm. Oh, and it has a paint scraper for doing brightwork.

Multipurpose: This is a record breaker for multipurpose gizmos.

Advantages: It’s made of stainless steel, flat to slip in a pocket or glove box, and has a lanyard hole.

Disadvantages: Dang, why couldn’t Davis squeeze a garboard-plug wrench in there?

Tools On Board: 17 (fuel cap, snap and unsnap tools, zipper puller, emergency cutter, seven hex wrenches, Phillips and slot screwdrivers, scraper, pin shackle key and bottle opener)

Braid Drain Plug Wrench
Replaces an adjustable wrench. Courtesy Amazon

This gadget was immediately appealing and worked perfectly in its intended domain. The key-ring top comes off, revealing a gasketed waterproof compartment for keeping your boat registration and even your garboard drain plug. You would know by the feel if it were in there, an automatic reminder to install it. The socket on the bottom fits the standard plug and is also slotted to accept the T-handle bilge plugs.

Multipurpose: Replaces a floating key fob and replaces an adjustable wrench.

Advantages: Its corrosion-proof plastic and stainless-steel key ring mean it won’t rust like a wrench, and you won’t have any trouble finding your bilge plug or wrench — as long as you can find your keys.

Disadvantages: A soft key-fob float fit more easily in a pocket than this fire-plug-shaped device.

Tools On Board: 4 (garboard-plug wrench, garboard T-plug wrench, key float, document safe)

Cuda Marlin Spike Folder
Works on tough and fine cutting jobs and knot work. Zach Stovall

A rigging knife like this titanium-bonded model proves invaluable when working with line. The marlinspike makes freeing jammed knots a cinch (see what we did there?) and is essential when used as a handle for tying knots more tightly than could be done barehanded. The blade’s serrated section cuts through sun-hardened line, while the plain-edged section is for fine work. The blunt “sheep’s foot” tip prevents accidental poking aboard a rocking boat. The blade and marlinspike both lock.

Multipurpose: Works on tough and fine cutting jobs and knot work; spike can be inserted into a shackle-pin hole and used as a wrench.

Advantages: The blunt “sheep’s foot” tip prevents accidental poking aboard a rocking boat; locks for safety; corrosion-resistant; Cuda-scale grip.

Disadvantages: Needs a hole to which a lanyard can be tied.

SeaLux Marine Stainless Steel Propeller Wrench and lock for tab washers
The ideal tool to leave in the boat. Zach Stovall

This hefty tool is stamped from 1/8-inch-thick stainless steel. The handle is contoured for a secure grip while working around sharp prop blades, and it fits the most commonly used 11/16-inch prop nut. It has a lock tab tool on the other end to pry up spider washer lock tabs and also a garboard-drain-plug socket in the handle. It is the ideal tool to leave in the boat.

Multipurpose: It replaces a socket or end wrench for the prop nut and bilge plug and works to pry up the lock tab.

Advantages: It has a nice heft, is balanced, and its pebbled surface provides a good grip in the hand.

Disadvantages: We were surprised the manufacturer didn’t stamp a screwdriver or a pry blade in one end for deck plates.

Tools On Board: 3 (prop-nut box wrench, garboard-plug wrench and locknut pry hook)

Sea Dog Line Plugmate Garboard Wrench
Replaces a bilge plug, wrench and most deck-plate keys. Zach Stovall

Stow your drain plug in the threaded end of this rustproof polypropylene multitool. It comes complete with a spare plug, stowed in the threaded socket in the handle. It fits both the standard 1/2-inch plug and the T-handle plug. There are three blades for prying deck-plate lids or for slotted fuel, water- or waste-tank caps. The final onboard gadget is the two-pin deck-plate wrench.

Multipurpose: It replaces a bilge plug, wrench and most deck-plate keys.

Advantages: It’s corrosion-resistant and gives added leverage for stubborn garboard plugs or for deck plates.

Disadvantages: It is about the same size as an end wrench but can’t be used as such on other 1/2-inch bolts or nuts.

Tools On Board: 7 (garboard-plug wrench, garboard T-plug wrench, deck-plate key, fuel-water-cap key, garboard-plug holder, garboard plug, shackle-pin key)


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