When you head off on passage you leave behind access to stores, chandleries, and parts delivery; if you didn’t bring it with you you’re not going to find it at the mythical half-way barge. What you can do is plan ahead and bring repair materials along, including glues, tapes, adhesives and the like. Armed with these you can keep a fair bit of equipment operational. Note that there’s little value in having materials without also understanding where and how to use them. Know where systems are located/routed on your boat and know how to use the materials at hand to effect repairs. Practice, practice, and read the label!
If a dry substrate is required, wipe the surface down with acetone or anhydrous alcohol–both absorb water. It’s not easy to keep a surface dry above-decks, particularly when pounding along in a seaway. At sea I try to shield the part I’m working on from spray by falling off downwind to minimize splashing. If possible I will bring parts down to the cabin to work on them.
Tapes, sealants, greases, and glues have proven useful to me and I keep them all on board Tiger Beetle. I have used each while on passage to keep equipment running when things go sideways. These items can prove useful to others when caught in unfortunate circumstances.
Tapes include pressure-sensitive, self-amalgamating, and Teflons. Pressure-sensitive tape requires a dry substrate, Teflons and self-amalgamating do not.
Electrical tape has a high dielectric and will not pass current until the voltage potential across the tape exceeds the tape’s ability to block it. Electrical tape is available in a variety of thickness. I like two: the thin vinyl tape and thick rubbery 600v lineman’s tape. Lineman’s tape is excellent for covering chafe areas on plumbing, engine hoses, electrical wires. Thin tape works for temporarily covering broken wire and if you run out of butt-crimp connectors you can jury rig electrical connections with the tape. Won’t keep water out but will keep electricity in.
Self-amalgamating tape is soft, thick rubber or silicone that stretches and wraps around the substrate and back over itself. The rubber bonds with itself (but not the substrate) and does not require a dry surface. These tapes are excellent for repairing small holes in low pressure hoses, covering turnbuckle cotter pins, sealing a leaking mast boot, and sealing the prop shaft when the packing nut or gland gives way. The tape should be kept oil free when wrapping. Oil will prevent the self-amalgamation.
Teflon tapes are excellent for re-sealing plumbing fittings that drift loose and leak. I like the thick yellow Teflon. Do not use Teflon tape on gas-tight metal-to-metal flare fittings such as hydraulic systems unless you’re desperate; pieces of tape can get into the hydraulic fluid and block small passages, interfering with hydraulic pump operations.
Insignia cloth (aka sticky-back) is self-adhesive polyester sail cloth, typically 4 oz weight, backed by a powerful glue. Sticky-back repairs most clothing, such as foul weather gear, and will work as chafe guard on running rigging–wrap it around the wear point on a sheet. It is also good for repairing sails.
Sealants fill and seal gaps. Most sealants are an adhesive of varying bond strength, and require a dry surface for bonding.
3M 5200 is a polyurethane adhesive that is stronger than most substrates (fiberglass will tear before the 5200 bond fails) and I only use it where I am certain I never want to separate the parts. It’s good for laminate sail repair if the sail can be brought down below. Difficult to work with offshore, and messy.
Life-Calk is a polysulfide rubber material with medium adhesion and also requires dry surfaces for adhesion. Again, difficult to work with offshore. Works well down below if a hose falls off a through-hull.
Butyl rubber in tape form is a great way to seal a clamped surface —such as rebedding a stanchion or pulpit base while underway. The rubber material is thick, not adhesive, and forms a gasket when clamped between two surfaces under pressure. The nifty part is that nothing needs to be dry, just wrap the butyl around the bolt and reinstall the fixture.
High temperature silicons are used to create temporary gaskets on things that get hot, such as an engine. It’s not an adhesive for gluing surfaces together but like butyl rubber tape is good for surfaces that are clamped together under pressure, including exhaust manifolds and exhaust elbows.
Pure silicon grease is the right stuff for wiping down the port and hatch gaskets prior to heading offshore. Unlike petroleum-based grease (such as Vaseline) silicon grease will not damage rubber gasket material. Clean the gasket on each port and hatch to remove accumulated dirt and wipe down the rubber with silicon–sure helps to keep the water out.
A calcium grease is useful anywhere metal-on-metal contact occurs such as wheel bearings, quadrant sheaves, and inside winches. I like Lubriplate 130A, it’s in my MaxProp propeller underwater, and will work on most everything on the boat. I recommend a lighter lithium grease in the winches but in a pinch 130A will do the trick if a winch needs rebuilding under way. Keep the tube capped and don’t let it bake in the sun —keep below in the parts bin.
Detergent oils, such a 3inOne oil for lightweight oiling of squeaking hinges, help to both clean and lubricate the metal. Heavier grade motor oil for the diesel engine is better for heavier loads on bearings. Note that oils retain dirt – dirt is the nemesis of oil.
A dry Teflon lubricant such as McLube SailKote is a better solution than oil for on-deck blocks, sheaves, and padlocks. I use McLube all over the boat to keep the blocks running with as little friction as possible. The Teflon seems to not attract and capture dirt, which makes the block bearings happier.
Glues are for permanently bonding surfaces together, will require dry surfaces, and I keep only waterproof glues on board.
Contact cement joins two surfaces that normally won’t stick together (such as glass to metal), and work by adhering to two different substrates and then back to itself. Apply the cement separately to each surface to be bonded. When the cement has dried to be tacky, press the parts together at the glued area–the cement then sticks to itself, completing the bond. These cements are essentially permanent and immediate–there’s no wiggle room to align parts when pressed together so plan the assembly to establish alignment prior to pressing the glued surfaces together. Contact cement is good for shoe sole repair, getting velcro reattached to fabrics, and is semi-flexible. Barge Cement is my favorite contact cement, it sticks tenaciously to everything I’ve used it on.
Loctite thread locker is an odd glue – it’s essentially a self-curing liquid plastic used to restrain fasteners that do not have a nut on the far end. I carry two types of Loctite, the Red 271 (permanent = very strong) and Blue 242 (removable = softer). If a machine screw starts to back out of its threaded hole, remove the screw, add a drop or two of Loctite on the screw threads and send the screw back in. The Loctite will harden and prevent the screw from rattling out again. I use this stuff all over the boat–boom and mast fittings, stanchion base retaining screws, and engine bolts that vibrate free. Red Loctite can be freed with torch heat.
Titebond III wood glue comes in handy for repairing wooden drawers, reattaching broken trim, putting back in teak bungs, and fixing hand rails. Surfaces joined by this glue must be clamped together while the glue dries. Strong rubber bands are useful as circumferential clamps when squeezing a three-dimensional shape back together.
If you carry a wet suit on board for diving, flexible Neoprene glue can keep the suit going until you can get to a proper repair shop. Rubber sea-boots can also be patched.
May your cruising go smoothly but if you should need assistance to make some repairs along the way, hopefully one of these items will prove helpful.
Rob MacFarlane has singlehandedly raced and cruised for 30 years on San Francisco Bay, the US West Coast, across to Hawaii, Mexico, Canada, and French Polynesia. Currently in Southern California awaiting countries to lift Covid-19 restrictions so he can continue cruising the South Pacific aboard his 1983 Morgan N/M 456 IOR two tonner, Tiger Beetle. A retired database architect, he likes the idea that design and function can create simplicity.