Thursday, June 7

Mechanical Trip Planner

By Andrew Spaulding, email:

Once you are out on the water this summer enjoying your boat, it is important to make sure that you have the proper spares and equipment onboard to be able to perform emergency repairs. A competent mechanic can talk a person of limited mechanical ability through quite a few emergencies over the phone. However, this will not work if you don’t have the correct spares and tools onboard.

You should have spare fuel filters onboard for all of your engines and generators. Having multiple filters is a good idea particularly if you are headed off to a port where the fuel you purchase may be old or contaminated. You will need plenty of oil absorbent pads and a couple of small buckets (big enough to fit the old filter and some fuel) to catch the dripping fuel when you change the filters. You will want to have a filter wrench onboard to facilitate the removal of the filter. Since space is often tight around the filter and there are different styles of filter wrench, make sure that the filter wrench that you buy will work for your boat. If you do change the fuel filters, be prepared to bleed the engine fuel system. Any trapped air can lead to improper fuel flow.

While we are talking about filters, you should also have spare engine oil and filter in your spares kit. It would be rare to run into an emergency situation where you will need the oil filter, but it can happen. More likely is an oil seal failure where you will need to add quarts of oil to the engine to get home. I would carry 1.5 to 2 times the engine oil capacity as spare.

The other fluid to keep in the spares kit is antifreeze. The days of one type of antifreeze for all engines are over. Many new engines require specific formulations of antifreeze and the different types are not always compatible with each other. Know what kind of antifreeze your engine takes and keep a gallon onboard.

Belts for the engine should be part of any spares kit. Often finding someone with the technical ability to install new engine belts is relatively easy; however, finding the belts in a remote harbor can be difficult or at least time consuming. Also, include a spare impeller for each engine and generator for the same reason.

For the electrical side of the boat, have some spare wire, an electronic multi-meter and a wire stripper/crimper. A pair of diagonal cutters will service double duty by being able to cut electrical wires, wire ties, etc. and are also great at pulling and straightening cotter pins. Add a sharp rigging knife and some spare line of various sizes to cover any rope related emergencies.

These engine spares should be enough to get you back into port in most situations. Add a small kit of machine screws, nuts, electrical connectors, and any other appropriate fasteners to your kit and your spares inventory is complete. Your tool box at a minimum should have a set of combination wrenches, pliers, sockets, Phillips and straight screw drivers, adjustable wrenches, vice-grips, filter wrenches, allen keys, hammer and electrical tape. I also like to keep a small prybar onboard. Make sure the tools are appropriately sized for your engine – you won’t need a 1-inch combination wrench on a 2 cylinder engine – and that you have metric and standard sizes as appropriate.

A few words on other emergency spares: always have the proper flares and other signaling devices onboard. Also, have a damage control (wood) plug of the appropriate size attached by a cord to each thru-hull. It never hurts to have an additional supply of these plugs of various sizes.

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