Shops That Float: Power Tools for Cruising.

20 Sep


Like everyone, we found deciding what to leave behind and what to bring on our cruise difficult. I put myself in charge of power tool selection and feel like you can get by with 5 power tools for a 1 year cruise. With these tools I’ve milled down rough lumber and built a rear seat, fabricated a new aft chainplate, and cut custom teak pieces for various  projects around the boat. You can certainly get by with out these tools, but having them aboard will enable you to pretty much build and fabricate whatever you need aboard out of almost any material, and do it efficiently. Without further ado, the winners are:

Drill – Put me on a desert island and I’ll demand my battery drill – Damn the rum. Easily the most important power tool on the boat. I use it to drill, tap, reame and bevel. The new lithium powered drills are light, powerful, and cheap.

Grinder – I have a love hate relationship with the grinder. They are highly effective at cutting whatever you touch them to and at making a massive mess. The grinder’s versatility earns it a spot on our boat.

Jig Saw – I view it as a portable bandsaw or scroll saw. With the right blades it will cut anything. Cutting tight inside and outside radii are where I most often employ it.

Circular Saw – Again, super powerful and useful tool. If you’re good with one of these, you can rip most materials accurately and quickly.

Belt Sander – An uncommon and perhaps superfluous choice to some. Perhaps my affinity for the belt sander came from the one I had in my land based shop. One thing is for certain, having a belt sander on board lets you rapidly remove material from your piece. Most commonly I turn it upside down and clamp it to the coaming, I now have a table belt sander. I generally use it with 80 grit (or less) and do all my rough shaping.

An assortment of hand tools complement these core power tools and let you complete tasks quickly and accurately. Given the cruising life’s tempo, doing stuff quickly isn’t usually high on the list. I however enjoy working as quickly as I did back on my land based shop. The power tools let me keep that pace.


And the line up is...

And the line up is…


Here I'm cutting out all the parts to make our dingy a sailing dingy. I'm also making a huge mess.

Here I’m cutting out all the parts to make our dingy a sailing dingy. I’m also making a huge mess.

This article was syndicated from Cruising – Beautiful Crazy Happiness


  1. Jonshon

    One final thing to note is that there are cost differences such as typically cordless tools do cost more than corded tools as such price is a factor in the decision between corded and cordless tools.

  2. William Winslow

    Noie to Charles Guggenheim on sailing dinghies. One of the best is Steve White’s nutshell pram. You can buy just the plans or a kit. Included are detailed instructions for building from scratch. Go online to Woodenboat.

  3. Lee Cumberland

    Hi Everyone, thanks for all the great comments!

    James and Dad Mapper – Rusting is a problem. I use a wax lube called T9 and keep the tool’s exposed metal parts covered in that. It works decently, but its still a tough environment. Still, after a year in storage in a locker with minimal protection they all work great and even look decent.

    Mark – We charge the drills and saw with the 120v charger that came with the tool. A 1000 watt xantrex inverter powers all that the chargers and the tools. I found a 1000 watts is enough for how we use the 120v power on the boat.

    Wils – yes a vacuum would be a great #5 or maybe even higher up the list! We have a Home Depot vacuum that fits in a five gallon bucket. The bucket can be used separately and its worked out great!

    Charles – Its an “East Port Pram” made by Chesapeake Light Craft. We’ve beat the hell out of it and its still going strong. I highly recommend the kit!

    Steve – You’re right about the grinder, it can do anything any of these tools can do with the right operator. I just love the control the belt sander gives me in shaping wood and plastic parts I make.

    Brian – It’s a Dewalt 4.5 amp.

  4. Dad Mapper

    Great article! Thank you! Very timely too. I was just having a discussion with my crew about what we don’t need to get rid of before sail. I concur on the request for storage ideas with power tools to minimize corrosion. I’ve heard that using hand tools that are kept in a canvas bag that are wrapped in an oiled cloth helps but I would think one would rather to seal the power tools like a laptop or hard drive than the hand tools route. Captin Fatty has some good DIY ideas for moisture resistance boxes (for electronics). Yes, please share!

  5. James Neill

    In a boat or salt water environment, rust on tools can be a big problem. Do you have any storage ideas that will eliminate or at least minimize rusting?

  6. Mark Mongold

    Please discus 12v battery charger options for battery powered tools vs. small inverter to charge the tools battery. Have you found 12v input chargers? Do you have a generator or inverter for the 120vac tools?

  7. Wils

    angle grinder #1, with a disc, cut off disk or diamond blade. and because Angle grinder is #1, I would have a vacuum at #5.

  8. Charles Guggenheim

    HiI Lee & Rachel, thank you for the suggestions. Could you share what kind of sailing dingy you are building. I need to build one also but do not have any plan.

    Charles Guggenheim
    “Confiance” 39 ft Gecco
    Monterey, CA

  9. Thomas Y.

    I was thinking along your lines of thought. I would rather keep my OWN tools. Just recently I was reading the Blog of a worldwide cruising couple who insisted that they would rather leave most power tools behind. Their logic was that most of those tools could be rented in most destinations and they took up valuable space aboard that could be used for storing other things. half way down the page it talks about power tools.

  10. steve Haas

    If by grinder you mean disk sander, I think the disk sander can do pretty much everything a belt sander can (maybe a little rougher) plus it can polish/wax. I would substitute a small 4″ angle grinder for the belt sander. With a cut off disk, it cut thru pretty much anything metal, plastic or wood much faster. I’ve used it to cut stainless steel bolts, rigging wire, plate stainless steel much faster than any other method.

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