You can go crazy adding all sorts of tools and gadgets to your boat, many of which you might never use. But then again, the one time that you desperately need an item, you’ll be really glad you have it along. Here is a sample of some especially useful items:
Hand-held depth sounder
This handy gizmo can let you know exactly how deep the water is at your stern, bow and everywhere in between. Use it in your tender to scope out possible anchorages or check the depth under your keel if the wind swings you around. No need to fire up your chartplotter or depth sounder: Just dip one end into the water, push the button and a backlit LED readout will tell you the depth to within inches. Avoid the cheap models and get one that really works like the Vexilar LPS-1 or the Speedtech Depthmate ($140 to $225).
Ever wonder how far away the shore is? Or that other boat in the anchorage? Or the whale breaching off your bow? Just point the laser rangefinder and you’ll know within a few feet. Get one that goes at least 1,200 feet like the QST-CAIDU 6X600m (about $100 on Amazon). The built-in monocular enables you to pinpoint your target so you’ll know exactly how far that rock is off your port bow. Yikes!
Digital inspection camera
If you’ve ever dropped something down one of the 10,000 crevasses on a boat, or if you’ve ever tried to thread a wire or hose around a corner or down through a chase, you know how handy a flexible camera can be. There are lots of high-priced models, but the $75 Cen-Tech camera from Harbor Freight does a great job without breaking the cruising kitty. The camera end has a built-in LED light and the 2.4-inch screen is just big enough to let you see what you’re looking for.
Flexible claw pick-up tool with light
Speaking of dropping things, at $6 the flexible pincher pick-up tool from Harbor Freight or Amazon is so cheap and handy you’ll want two. Pick up dropped screws, electrical parts and anything else up to two feet away from even the tightest spot. Some models even have a tiny LED light at the end to let you see what you’re grabbing.
Hand-held heat sensor
At just $20, there’s no reason not to have an infrared laser heat sensor on board to check your engine, generator or electric parts. Just aim the laser at any part, pull the trigger and you get an instant temperature readout. You can even check the temperature of your steak!
Ever wonder if that funny taste in your water is part of a larger problem? Simply dip the HM Digital AquaPro water quality tester (which you can find for about $20 on Amazon) into a cup of water from your faucet and it will instantly tell you how pure it is. One hundred ppm? You’re drinking gold. One thousand ppm? Time to get a filter.
Like a bungee cord on steroids, you’ll find a hundred uses for MiniShockles from Davis Instruments. From holding power cords and hoses to dock lines and throw rings, MiniShockles have 316-grade stainless steel carabiners on either end and come in three different lengths: 12, 18 and 24 inches. Unlike cheap bungee cords, they are rated to 300 pounds and are chafe and sun resistant. They’re $12 to $20 depending on the length.
For just $20, even the basic PT-D210 label maker by Brother can print out professional looking labels in a variety of colors and type styles. No more wondering what that switch does, what that wire is attached to, what’s in that drawer or what your radio call sign is. With this tool, you’ll soon know exactly what’s where.
Flashlights are so 1950s. The latest collection of headlamps from companies like Black Diamond and Petzl (prices range from about $16 to $60) are bright, light, small and — best of all — leave your hands free for more important tasks (not to mention no more flashlights dropped into the night waters). Be sure they put out at least 200 lumens, and have one for each member of your crew.
On any boat bigger than 30 feet, communicating with your crew while you’re at the helm and they’re anchoring or getting dock lines ready can lead to misunderstandings, arguments and chaos. Instead, try the UltraLITE headsets from Eartec, which allow up to four users to talk simultaneously. They’re lightweight, simple to use and have undoubtedly saved many a crew.
While you can get a hand-held wind meter (also called an anemometer) like the SpeedTech WeatherHawk WindMate 350 for $250, a less expensive option is the WeatherFlow wind meter that plugs into your smartphone. Just download the app, plug the Wind Meter into your device’s headphone jack, aim it into the wind and the readout will tell you the wind speed and direction — all for just $40. Or, for another $40, you can get a complete weather station that tells you the temperature, pressure, humidity and dew point as well.
If you’ve ever tried to hold onto the hull of your boat while cleaning or inspecting, you know that it’s virtually impossible without a suction-cup handle to grab on to. There are lots of them out there from $10 to $25 that will work as long as you place them on a reasonably flat surface. Get two and you’ll be able to work your way around your hull with ease.
Eric Sanford is the owner of an Ocean Alexander 43 trawler based in the Pacific Northwest. He recently sold his Caribbean-based Leopard 46 catamaran, Indigo, only weeks before Hurricane Irma arrived.