In the past year and a half since my wife, Noi, and I began cruising the Caribbean on our Tayana 37, Symbiosis, we have discovered a bevy of inexpensive items that might not seem obvious to the uninitiated but have nonetheless proved very useful to have aboard. Some things we had in our inventory upon leaving the Chesapeake, others we acquired along the way. Here’s a list of 15 must-haves that cost us less than $15 (a few are even free).
The best-known name brand is Rescue Tape. You can’t beat it when it comes to fixing a ruptured hose or leaking plumbing joint. The tape sticks tenaciously to itself and will withstand enough heat and pressure to be used for repairs on and near the engine. We never go offshore without at least one roll, preferably two. Cost: $10 per roll. Where to buy: hardware store, boat shows or online.
Bamboo skewers: They work wonders for getting in crevices to remove dirt or for cleaning carbon off a dirty carburetor. We’ve gone through several packets on our voyage, even though we rarely use them for their intended purpose: grilling shish kebabs. Cost: $2. Where to buy: the barbecue aisle at any grocery store or online.
Many jobs on a boat involve greasy chores. Liquid soap with pumice is the best for cleanup. It’s a big water-saver too. Fast Orange and Gojo are the most common brand names. Buy the big dispenser and keep it next to the sink in the head. Cost: $13. Where to buy: automotive store or online.
Nitrile surgical gloves: Some jobs are just too messy for bare hands (“You dropped what in the bilge?”), and most work gloves are clumsy for delicate tasks. Surgical gloves will save the mess on your hands, which ends up saving water as well. Cost: $10 for a box of 100. Where to buy: drug store or online.
These are also known as surgical clamps and are for those projects when you need an extra hand or two. Unlike conventional pliers, the ability to clamp them in place is what makes them really handy. Cost: $14 for a set of two. Where to buy: online.
Desiccant “dry” packs
Salt water and salt air creep into everything aboard a cruising boat. It’s just a fact of life. Anything metal (such as tools) can quickly become an unrecognizable pile of rust. We put vulnerable items inside resealable plastic bags and, for good measure, throw in a small silica-gel desiccant pack to absorb moisture. We always save and reuse any dry packs we get with food (many Asian food snacks, for example), but they can also be purchased separately. Cost: $7 for a pack of 20 small pouches. Where to buy: online.
Closed-cell polyethylene foam: This is the “squishy” foam (not to be confused with more rigid Styrofoam) that is form-fit to pack fragile items for shipping. It’s easy to cut to fit any space and has the quality of being compressible, so it fills voids. We use it in the galley to keep dishes from clinking together while underway. We also use it between fuel containers on deck to take up space so there’s no play after they’re tied down. Cost: free in every box of marine electronics.
Cable ties: Go for the biggest ones you can buy. It’s difficult to overestimate their value. The largest of the ties (usually black in color) are so strong that I have used them to attach solar panels to our Bimini (easy to remove or replace in case of severe weather) and as an emergency replacement for a lost bolt on our raw-water engine pump. We wouldn’t leave home without them. Cost: $14, give or take, per pack. Where to buy: hardware store or online.
Carb-cleaner wire set: It’s a fact of cruising life that you will be cleaning carburetors on gasoline outboards and/or portable gas generators from time to time (and probably more often than that). In a pinch, I have used a bread-bag twist tie with the paper stripped off. But a fellow cruiser gave us a little flip tool with a bunch of different-size wires for cleaning fuel jets. Works great. Cost: $12. Where to buy: automotive store or online.
Kitty-litter pails: These square plastic containers are perfect for all sorts of storage. Their shape makes it easier to fit things tightly inside and to fit them against one another. Cost: free if you have a cat, or know someone who does.
Baby wipes: Let’s face it, watermaker or no watermaker, cruisers typically don’t shower as often as our brethren ashore. For those sweaty tropical passages when it’s too rough or too inconvenient to shower, having a stash of baby wipes aboard will please you as much as your crewmates. Cost: $14 for 800 sheets. Where to buy: grocery store.
Shrink-wrap: Sometimes called shrink-wrap or stretch wrap, this plastic film comes in a roll that can be stretched around something and sealed back on itself. We use it for spare engine parts we want to protect from moisture (the dreaded saltwater corrosion again). It’s also great for preventing paint cans from spilling unexpectedly in some forgotten compartment. One roll is plenty. Cost: $10 per roll. Where to buy: office-supply, copy store or online.
Flexible water hose: This is the green garden hose that looks a bit like an accordion and was first hawked “as seen on TV.” It’s not quite as efficient as a conventional garden hose but a whole lot more compact and much less prone to kinking. We now know not to leave ours in the sun too long; UV light quickly does a number on the fabric covering. Cost: as low as $14. Where to buy: hardware store or online.
Lens cleaner: You get it for free, along with a small cloth chamois, with every new pair of glasses. Buy a big bottle. We use it to gently clean not only our sunglasses but also the screens on our laptop, radar and chart plotter as well. Cost: $11 for two 8-ounce bottles. Where to buy: eyewear store or online.
Spare cellphone cables: We learned the hard way that power and data cables for smartphones go bad and can be difficult or impossible to replace in remote locales. Bring extras! Cost: as low as $14. Where to buy: electronics store.