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A Cruiser’s DIY Toolbox

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Whenever I’m given the choice on clearance forms whether our boat classifies as a Commercial Vessel or Pleasure Craft, I fight the urge to draw another box with the label ‘Floating Workshop’ or ‘Sailing Building Site’. Not that life on Pitufa is unpleasant, but we constantly find things to repair/improve/maintain and hardly a day passes without us getting out the toolbox. If you enjoy cruising remote areas (like we do), you have to rely on your own resources and carry lots of spare parts and universal tools and materials to repair, build and make do whenever problems occur.

A Cruiser's Toolbox: Sail repairs while on passage
Sail repairs while on passage

Spare Parts
For our engine we carry oil and diesel filters, a v-belt, a thermostat, impellers and a cover plate with matching O-rings for the sea water pump. Since a nasty incident during which the newly changed engine oil was sprayed across the engine room thanks to a dodgy no-name oil filter, we always have extra bottles of oil on hand (and genuine filters).

Outboard engines love attention and we have spark plugs and a starter line for ours in the spare parts locker. Tiny brushes (e.g. interdental toothbrushes) come in handy when cleaning the carburetor.

Adventures of a Barnacle-Encrusted Wrench Twister

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A watermaker adds comfort and peace of mind to cruising, but it also requires filter elements, pump oil and service kits.

We also carry service kits for our scuba gear.

Kites, folding bikes, mini-mopeds, kayaks, stand-up paddles and quad-copters can add fun to the cruising life, but at some point even big yachts will run out of space in the spare parts locker.

A broken fridge means spoiled food and warm beer—a nightmare for cruisers, but for DIY you’ll need coolant and a gauge to check the pressure and to refill with gas, a vacuum pump and a generator that can handle its load, soldering gear, a spare compressor, an electronic unit, filter/dryer elements, copper tubes—and the know-how to use it all.

Why We Chose Not to Join an Organized Rally

A Cruiser's DIY Toolbox: Getting ready to paint
Getting ready to paint

Universal DIY Material
It’s impossible to carry new parts for every occasion, but many repairs can be improvised. Pitufa carries two big boxes with stainless-steel bolts and nuts in all sizes. Last year the mainsheet suddenly let go and slammed across the cockpit. We quickly drilled out the broken swivel pin on the traveler car and replaced it with an M10 bolt—the result is stronger than the original.

Rivets in combination with metal plates and tubes can reinforce weakened structures, e.g. a hairline crack in the boom or a cracked stanchion, when there’s no welder available. Threaded rod (stainless) and aluminum L-sections proved useful for improvisations on Pitufa.

When the engine or other usually reliable devices suddenly quit, the fault often lies with a dodgy wire or terminal. The marine environment gnaws on cables, so it’s advisable to carry different sizes of tinned wire and cable and an assortment of terminals. Searching for faulty wires behind paneling, in well-filled lockers, in the bilge or inside stanchions isn’t fun, so investing in good quality pays off in the long run.

When the water pressure pump suddenly started running, Christian reluctantly slipped into his role as plumber. Finding the dripping hose in the engine room was the hard part, however, the repair wasn’t a big deal as we have a special locker just for hoses, hose clamps and fittings, which also proved useful when we built various rainwater collection devices.

10 Years Cruising with a Ship’s Cat

A Cruiser's DIY Toolbox: Working on the dinghy cover
Working on the dinghy cover

Our sewing box contains the regular sail repair kit with repair-tape and Dacron pieces, but also a few hundreds of yards of UV-resistant thread, extra strong needles, an awl, zippers (UV-resistant without metal parts), Velcro, a big piece of tarpaulin, a roll of Sunbrella and stainless grommets. With the help of our sturdy sewing machine, we’ve managed sail repairs while on passage and even made sun awnings and a cover for our dinghy.

For quick repairs we rely on a sticky assortment of super-glue, contact cement, silicone, 3M adhesive sealants, metal putty and duct tape.

Big or small, classic or ultra-modern—every yacht is stricken with ailments at some point. Elderly boats fight fatigue of material, new ones suffer from childhood diseases and, unless there happens to be a boatyard around the corner, you’ll have to try your luck with repairs or make a beeline for the nearest port. Even when professional (and pricey) help is available, doing the job yourself not only helps the budget, you feel a sense of achievement knowing you’ve tackled and completed a tricky repair.

Cruising Starter Guide



Several sets of screw drivers and wrenches (incl. Allen keys)
Plumber wrench, pliers and side cutter
Power drill and high-quality bits, center punch
Set of taps and dies (only high quality for stainless), screw extractors
Hacksaw for metal
Clamps and vice grip
Hammers (big and small)
Soldering iron
Ratchet wrench and socket set
Oil-filter wrench and impeller extractor
Adjustable wrenches
Small bench vise
Angle grinder
Orbital sander
Multi tool
Hot-glue gun

Birgit Hackl, Christian Feldbauer and their ship’s cat Leeloo set sail towards the horizon in June 2011 on their yacht Pitufa. Visit their blog: www.pitufa.at

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Birgit Hackl
Birgit Hacklhttp://www.pitufa.at
Birgit Hackl, Christian Feldbauer and ship’s cat Leeloo have been exploring the world on their yacht Pitufa since 2011. Visit their blog: www.pitufa.at

So Caribbean you can almost taste the rum...

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