Maintenance, back-ups, spares and tools

Maintenance, back-ups, tools and spares.

Don’t fix it if it is not broke is an often (ab)used quote which does nothig keep the show on the road.
Fix it before it breaks should be the mantra.
Maintenance in the full sense of the meaning is taking care of everything that is broken or threatens to go wrong.
A cruising yacht is a collection of complicated and vulnerable systems that have to survive in a rough and hostile environment. Not only is there continuous mechanical wear and tear there is also the highly corrosive atmosphere to contend with. It will take every opportunity to cripple microchips and motherboards as well as corrode anything metallic. On top of all that there is the sun sending out harmful UV rays that break up not only your skin but your sails and anything plastic as well.

Maintenance and prevention becomes a way of life. Naturally friends and family left behind envy you in the belief you are on an extended holiday basking in tropical sunshine sipping on something cool and trying to get a glimpse of the green flash. Behind our tales of wondrous and idyllic anchorages, sunsets and sun-downers under a tropical sky there is hard work involved in keeping that dream intact. In spite of all the preparation and maintenance before the passage, regular jobs have to be done as you go along. This is equally true for people who choose to go on an organised rally as it is for those who choose cruising as a way of life and venture away from the well trodden routes. The successful cruiser is the one who manages to fix practically anything.
Long term cruisers gain more and more experience when it comes to repairs, temporary or even permanent ones. It comes with the job of keeping the show on the road. Most of us set off with a basic knowledge of mechanical things. Dismantling and putting back together the loo-pump should be a simple job without parts left over.

The main engine is the important one.
For a start it needs clean pure fuel which is not always available. Fuel sometimes comes contaminated with water in which bacteria, fungi and algae which in warm weather can and do grow. This causes sludge deposits at the bottom of the fuel tank resulting in clogged up fuel lines, filters and internal corrosion of the engine.
Water can enter the tank in various ways. Sometimes it comes with the fuel itself often it is the result of condensation of water vapour from the air inside the tank. It pays to keep the tank topped up as often as possible to avoid this condensation. Biocide, available in chandleries around the world, is an additive that prevents microbiological growth in the watery sludge and should be added proportionally every time one re-fills the tank with fuel. It is also worthwhile to have a filter with a glass bowl and water separator in the fuel line. Preferably two identical filters in parallel. The second one to switch to when the first one gets clogged up or needs cleaning.

Also fuel is sometimes contaminated with particles from the drums and tanks it is transported in. A handheld funnel with fine particle mesh to filter these particles out is highly recommended when tanking up from drums delivered by helpful mobile fuel suppliers.

Tanking up in the Galapagos
Tanking up in the Galapagos
Parallel filter set-up makes it easy to switch to a clean filter.
Parallel filter set-up makes it easy to switch to a clean filter. A glass bowl makes visual inspection easy.









Carry enough engine oil for at least one oil change. Also make sure to carry empty oil cans for the used oil. Prevent it from leaking in the bilge with oil absorbing matting.

Practice bleeding the fuel line before you need to do this in a panic to get off a threatening lee-shore. Tensioning and replacing a V-belt or the steering cables should not present a problem and should be done before departure. Most people have a basic understanding of the electric 12 Volt or 24 Volt DC system on board. More complicated 110 and 240 AC Volt system with their chargers and inverters and shore power connections, generators and trip switches need more in depth knowledge. Cruisers with this knowledge will be most popular in any anchorage and demand on them is sometimes overwhelming. Some keep quiet about their skill for this reason although helping fellow cruisers becomes second nature for most of us. One should be able to handle fuel problems and mechanical failures without resorting to help from other cruisers. Everything electronic is controlled by chips and integrated circuits that can only be replaced if one knows which one is playing up which requires expertise and will most likely done in the next port of call.
Winches shouldn’t have secrets either. They come in pairs so there is always a chance to have a look at the other one. They should be stripped (separately!) and cleaned and greased at least every year. They take enormous loads and if the pawls gave way that would result in a serious accident. Check that spacers and washers are not cracked, especially the self-tailing bits and make certain the pawls and springs are inserted the right way and functioning. A common mistake is to grease the pawls with winch grease meant for the bearings. The pawls need only light machine oil otherwise they may stick and stop working with dramatic consequences.

Manuals and part list and exploded views.

Have exploded views of all your equipment it makes reassembling all the parts you dismantled so much more straight forward.

Continuous visual inspection.

Not just doing scheduled maintenance and proper care but the seasoned crew will be keeping continuous visual inspections on running and standing rigging to stay out of trouble and on track. Changing a frayed reefing line can make a lot of difference before a reef is called for in anger. Not to mention the headsail furler lines. You don’t want them to give way when a headsail urgently needs rolling up.
Electric winches are brilliant on bigger boats where a two-handed crew would struggle to hoist the mainsail or trim big headsails. Beware of their capacity to create an enormous amount of damage in no time to sail or rigging if you do not pay close attention. Listen to any change in resistance and never let your inexperienced guests anywhere near them.

Maintenance log.
Keeping track of jobs that come around every so many hours such as oil and filter changes can be done by creating a spread sheet on the laptop showing what has been done when and what needs doing next. All mechanical maintenance jobs such as oil changes for engines as well as gear box, watermaker compressor, replacing anodes, winch greasing including the anchor winch, anti fouling, fuel filter cleaning etc. should be logged.

A log to keep a record of all maintenance actions.
A log to keep a record of all maintenance plans and actions.







Back-ups and spares.

If you intend to carry a replacement for every piece of equipment you would have to tow a spare hull. Certainly for vitally important equipment there should be a spare (part) or a back up on board. Ask yourself; “what will happen …if this part breaks down ?”
For example the anchor winch. Is there a fitting on the top of the drum so that should the motor fail the anchor can be winched in by hand. If not do you have a spare anchor winch motor? If the answer is neither then you have to work out how to raise anchor and chain without breaking your back in case a problem arises.
Supposing the autopilot is integrated in the hydraulic steering system. Should the hydraulics fail you would lose your steering completely. One needs spare hydraulic lines and enough hydraulic oil to repair and refill the whole system. In that case it would be preferable to have a independent autopilot system with hydraulic rams attached to a quadrant or lever on the rudder stock.
Laptops are vulnerable and at least one spare one, with a navigation program and charts installed, tested and ready to go, is needed. Tablet computers with a built in GPS receiver such as iPad (with a sim option!) are an excellent low cost back-up and easy to stick into the microwave for protection in case a lightning strike from a thunderstorm threatens the destruction of all electronic equipment.
A spare starter motor as well as a spare alternator should be carried by all who plan to cover longer distances and to visit remote places. They may never come out of their packaging but it could be a life saver when confronted with a rocky coastline or discharged batteries.
To keep track of all the spare parts on board one can make up a plan of the boat with all the lockers and hiding places numbered and a spreadsheet showing what is kept where.

Set up in Excel format one can sort the various columns to find the spare part
Set up in Excel format one can sort the various columns to find the spare part easily.

It has happened a few times that we couldn’t find a required part, bought a new one only to find the original spare at a later stage. The spread sheet was the answer.




Manufacturers quite often have standard sets of spares based on their experience. Take them with you. Think carefully what is essential and which part of rigging or piece of equipment could break down and what effect that will have on your safety and comfort.

Suggested spare parts for:

Engine and generator,

  • V belts, one for every fitted belt.
  • Impellers bearings for raw water pump with seals.
  • Anodes for the engine as well as watermaker.
  • Fuel filters and oil filters.
  • Engine oil and gear box oil as well as an empty container to drain the old oil.
  • Anti freeze or coolant if there is fresh water cooling.
  • Starter motor, a refurbished one to save the cost of a new one.
  • Spare alternator certainly when no generator is on board.


  • Pawls, spacers and springs for every size winch on board.
  • Winch grease as recommended by manufacturer.
  • Light machine oil.
  • Small quantity of diesel fuel to clean winch bearing.

Water maker:

  • Sediment filters of the required  size.
  • O-ring seals.
  • pressure pump oil
  • spare low pressure prime pump

Heads and (bilge) pumps:

  • Valves and seals, more than one set.
  • Diaphragms and impellers for manual and electric pumps
  • Extra long pump handle

Fuel filter system:

  • Filters and O-rings and seals.

Standing and running rigging:

  • Turn buckle and Norseman swage less terminals.
  • Some length of the same wire as your shroud and corresponding clamps.
  • Split pins in various sizes.
  • Selection of SS D-shackles.
  • Full length of halyard and sheet.


  • Masthead bulb, even LEDs.
  • Interior light bulbs.
  • Fuses, various sizes for the electronics.
  • Spare batteries for every torch or timer on board
  • Tools.


  • When equipped with a hydraulic system one needs to have hydraulic oil for topping up or refilling and some lengths of lines in case of failure of leaks.

Since cruising involves a series of maintenance and repair jobs one should carry an extensive collection of tools. In time the collection will get only more extensive the further the cruise evolves. If a workbench on a small yacht if not feasible then a vice on a piece of plywood that can be lashed on the push pit is worth having.

Plywood work bench fixed to the push pit.
Plywood work bench temporarily fixed to the push pit.

Imperial and metric.
Don’t forget that wherever your boat was built or you began your voyage, there will be additions and alterations made along the way in various countries so you will need metric as well as imperial spanners and socket sets Allan keys etc.


The toolbox should contain in the:

Mechanical department:

  • Set of combination spanners between 4 and 30 mm with one of each of the popular sizes 10,13,15 and 17 mm extra. Metric as well as imperial.
  • Box with socket tools metric and imperial
  • Adjustable wrenches and pliers, including nose pliers.
  • Screw drivers of all sorts and sizes. One with various bits inside the handle is very useful. Some with a very short handle to get into narrow spaces
  • Hammer and mallet, also useful to crush a lobster
  • Allen keys. Heavy duty since SS bolts tend to corrode aluminium and need a lot of encouragement to unscrew. Again metric as well as Imperial
  • Hacksaw and spare fine blades.
  • Vice or at least a vice grip.
  • Riveting tool and a selection of Monel rivets.
  • Filter wrench for the oil filter on the engine.
  • Selection of marine grade 316 SS bolts with Lock nuts and washers.
  • Selection of marine grade SS screws. Some favour screws with square drive because you can stick them on the screw drivers tip and work them at arm length without losing them in the bilge.
  • small movable mirror on an extendable stick

Electrical department:

  • Multi-meter and 12 or 24 Volt indicator.
  • Strip and crimping tools and a selection of insulated connectors.
  • Gas or electric soldering iron and solder
  • Various mini screw drivers
  • Cable ties in various sizes and colours
  • Side cutter to cut the ties
  • Selection of marine grade wire

Bosun bag:

  • Whipping twine and needles.
  • Cigarette lighters to seal cut off twine or rope.
  • Sharp knife
  • Spike for punching holes in leather
  • Various tapes such as amalgamating tape, electrical tape, Teflon thread seal tape, double sided adhesive tape.
  • Heavy duty sticky sail tape on a generous roll You might need a lot.

Various department:

  • Glues such as superglue, contact adhesive for hypalon and neoprene.
  • Sheets of hypalon or PVC for dinghy repair
  • Sealant, silicon based.
  • Epoxy filler and Putty for wet repairs,
  • Loctite to fix nuts and shackles.
  • Grease in small tubes and larger pots for the grease pump
  • Machine or penetrating oil.
  • Anti-rust paint such as Fertan
  • Duralac or Tefgel to prevent galvanic corrosion of aluminium in contact with SS steel as in mast fittings or SS bolts in the toe rail or sheaves.
  • Hose clamps of various sizes.
  • Some lengths of hoses of the sizes used on board.
  • Lines of various diameter and strengths for as yet unknown jobs.

Aerosol department:

  • WD40 or INOX oil or other penetrating oil.
  • Cleaning spray for electronics with and without residue.
  • Butane refill canister.
  • Silicon or Teflon spray for mainsail sliders and other uses to prevent resistance.
  • And on top of all plenty of rags or garage cleaning towel, you have never enough. Never throw a worn out shirt or pair of knickers away. Put them in the rag bag.

As with tools, start off with the essentials. Think carefully what is needed and take tools that are specific for your equipment such as impeller or propeller puller.
You will end up with many more items as you go further a field.

Maintenance of the tools.
Maintenance of the tools on a pontoon.

A problem with tools is that they need maintenance themselves. The cheaper tools are always a waste of money; the least quality on board should be chrome plated tools.

useful website:



Manuals and parts lists of all your equipment need to be kept on board. Download it if any got lost.
Exploded views are essential to re-install pieces and the right part numbers essential for ordering spares.
Maintenance tools that come with the engine should be kept together. The pump to drain the oil out of the motor is always a messy piece of kit with its oily plastic hoses. Stuff the ends of the hoses with rags of heavy duty cleaning towel or paper to prevent leakage and keep the whole contraption in a strong plastic bag.

The world is now a much smaller place with UPS, FedX, DHL and others very capable of getting parts from one side of the globe to the other. Although getting a new propeller from the Netherlands to Vava’u in Tonga proved quite a performance. Everyday of the week we walked in hope to the DHL representative in Vava’u where we found her more than once snoring on a wooden bench in her office next to her baby in a wheelbarrow. After a week the propeller arrived to her and our surprise.

Essential reading and highly recommended to have on board:
Nigel Calder’s : Boat owner’s Mechanical and Electrical Manual:
ISBN: 9780713672268

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