When it comes to safety on the water, most people are very good about considering the basic safety precautions for themselves and their bodies. Personal flotation devices, flares, horns, and first-aid kits are common. Sunscreen, rain gear, and extra food and water are also found more often than not. But not everyone considers the same level of safety for their engine or motor. By packing an emergency kit for the health of your engine or engine system as well, you will be able to keep minor issues from becoming major ones. Though each boat may require some unique items in the kit, here are some basics to consider keeping in your emergency stash.

10 Useful Items for Your Boat's Engine

  1. Access Tools: In order to do any work on the engine at all, you will need to have access tools. This includes any tool that will allow you to get to important parts of your motor or engine. For some, straightforward wrenches, sockets and screwdrivers will often be enough. Make sure you understand whether your boat takes metric or English measurements, and to carry the appropriate kind of tools, as the others will be close, but often not close enough. However, there are a number of inboard and inboard/outboard boats that have motors that are in such tight quarters that a screwdriver or wrench does not have the necessary freedom to move. In this case, extra short screwdrivers or wrenches, or tools made to bend around a curve may be necessary. Many manufacturers will sell tool kits to solve access issues. They can also sell you tools for opening things like oil filters that are unique to specific engines. Take note of the hard-to access places during a tune-up, or consult your marine technician if you use one, and pack what is necessary to get where you need to go.
  2. Hose Clamps: They are small and inexpensive, but at times, a hose clamp can mean the difference between an engine that runs and an engine that does not. Coolant hoses are necessary to keep your engine running properly, and a leaking system can overheat and stall an engine. Over time, hose clamps can come loose with engine vibration or corrode and lose tightness. Because of this, many people will double-clamp their hoses to ensure they have a backup, and inspect them during tune-ups. It is a good idea to keep a few extra hose clamps on board, however, to be extra sure you are safe. If you are ever in a situation where you must borrow one from another part of the boat to fix a coolant system, it may need to be from somewhere unpleasant like the toilet tank.
  3. Fresh Water: For some boats, this plus water is the coolant system. For other boats with wet cell batteries, it is required to top off batteries. For all boats, water is a great cleaning mechanism and comes in handy. Whether you need to top off, clean, dilute, or replace, one of the handiest items on board a boat is water. Distilled water is the best choice, because it is free of any minerals that can deposit inside the engine or motor. Keep a gallon jug at least on board, and it can be used not only as a cleaner or as a top-off mechanism, but the jug can be cut into a scoop during a flooding situation to help bail water from the boat. Remember to replace this item during each tuneup, as water can begin to take on plastic when it is stored too long in a container. This may not matter for engines, but it becomes unpleasant tasting if needed for survival.
  4. Duct Tape: No first aid kit is complete without duct tape. It is one of the most common temporary solutions there is. Duct tape can be used to temporarily stop leaky hoses, or even to manually hold things together for a short ride to shore. Though this should never be the permanent solution for any boat issue, it will often be a boater’s first go-to when something goes wrong that is better addressed on-shore. If you are not a confident mechanic, this is a great thing to use for a safe trip home without creating new problems for your professional to repair, as it is easily removable.
  5. Fluids: It is never a bad idea to have a backup of fluids on the boat. If you discover a leak, you will likely need a top-off in order to make it safely back home without doing additional damage to your boat. Take inventory of which fluids are necessary to get you back home. Steering fluid and oil are clearly needed, and it is important to have extra aboard  especially for your particular boat system.  Holding tank deodorant, transmission fluid, and coolant are also necessary. Lubricating greases may be needed to keep moving and opening parts from corroding, and should be stored and updated as well.
  6. Electrical Tape: Water and electricity can be a dangerous combination to you, and a destructive combination to your boat. If you are running into electrical issues, particularly at connection sites or places with fraying wires, electrical tape is a good temporary solution to get you home. It is a quick electrical connector if you are looking to add a spare bilge pump to an area and increase water flow from the boat, and as a first aid item for you, makes a decent waterproof bandage if you get scraped while working on your engine.
  7. Voltage Meter: If you are doing work on your boat, a voltage meter can help you to realize which areas are hot (electrically charged), and which are not. This is not only an important clue in diagnosing an electrical issue, it is important in keeping you from being shocked. A poorly wired boat can have some electrical leakage through metal and water into areas that are not powered directly (not electrically hot because wires are on, but because they are indirectly touching something that is charged), and a voltage meter can help you identify this issue as well.
  8. Spare Bilge Pump: One of the most important safety devices on your boat is the bilge pump. Bilge pumps detect when water levels inside the boat get too high and pump excess water from the boat. If you are taking on a slow leak, it can mean the difference between making it to shore and going for a swim. Proper setup has bilge pumps dispersed throughout a boat’s hull, in order to be able to deal with water anywhere it pools. Some places will have a smaller bilge pump down lower, but a larger pump higher up to ensure protection from a large leak. However, due to the weight of taking on water, if a bilge pump is not working, then the boat may be in trouble. A spare bilge pump is a small but valuable item to have, as it will keep water flowing out when you need it most. Even if you are not going down, but your float switch on your bilge is getting finicky, it is worth taking time to replace it and protect your engine and your boat. If the pump will not go off when water comes in, newer boats have a manual bilge switch at the helm. However, if a float switch is manually activated when the pump is dry, it can burn out the engine and keep it from working at all. Bilge pumps are one of the simplest things to replace, but if you have never done this, try uninstalling and reinstalling yours a few times so that you are able to do this during an emergency.
  9. Zincs: A spare zinc is not a life or death item, but if one falls off and you can easily replace it while you are working on an engine, you will save yourself some wear and tear. Zincs are the sacrificial metal pieces that will corrode in water instead of your engine and boat parts. When replaced regularly, this can mean lots of money saved.
  10. Oil Cleanup Kit: If you are leaking oil, you likely have a problem that is more than just a quick fix at sea. However, it is a good idea to keep an oil spill cleanup kit in order to avoid marine pollution fees that come with spilling petroleum products into navigable waters. Though a little sheen is often inevitable, collection of larger spills is a hallmark of responsible boating, and can save you both embarrassment and money. Watch for sheen when your bilge pumps are running, and during engine startup and running. Diapers (oil cleanup pads) are one good thing to keep handy for inside the engine compartment. In addition, there are cornstarch-based oil absorbers and small booms to surround and pull spills back in toward the boat where they can be sopped up that you can purchase. Collected oil is considered hazardous waste. Speak with your local marina on the best place for disposal.

Keep Items Onboard for Your Dinghy

If your dinghy has a motor and has different needs than your boat, be certain to keep the right items for it in your kit as well. This may mean some different fluids, wrenches, or even some additional spark plugs or starter fluid, depending on the needs of your particular dinghy motor. Remember to flush the motor with fresh water occasionally to keep it running well.

As you learn more about your boat, be certain to add the specific items that most often get replaced on your vessel to your kit. You will also find that certain items on this list may be unnecessary for your situation, and these may be removed. During tune-ups, use up the backup fluids in your first-aid kit and replace them with new ones, rather than letting the items in your rescue kit become old and less reliable. With a little bit of forethought and revision, you will soon find that you have an engine first-aid-kit perfectly tailored to your boat’s needs, and a little more peace of mind each time you take it out on the water.