Must-Have Tools for a Marine Mechanic

Do-It-Yourself boat owners appreciate the way special tools make a job easier. Here's the pick of the pack and an explanation of what they can do for your.

QUALITY WIRE STRIPPERS As simple as the sea is salt, inexpensive, dimestore wire strippers are a poor investment. They're downright clumsy because the skinny handles dig into the palm of your hand. Invariable they bend and the cutting edges go dull. Get good ones from the start and the job will go smoothly thanks to sharper insulation cutters, smoother joint action and a better padded grip. Ancor, a brand name renowned for its wire and connectors make a number of possibilities.

HOSE REMOVAL TOOL Heat renders cooling system hoses as hard as a rock. Even worse they seem to weld themselves in place. Removal with a screwdriver or awl can be frustrating. Don't fight it. Instead use a tool known as the radiator hose pick. Jam the tip under the hose, then work the shank around the inside circumference, making a big circle, freeing the hose for immediate removal. It also works on bilge pump and freshwater hoses.

LINE WRENCHES Also called flare nut wrenches, are designed to grip as much surface area of a fitting as possible to prevent rounding off the corners, a common result when using open-ended wrenches on a soft brass fuel line fitting. One of two sizes are all you'll need.

MULTIMETER Use a digital multi-meter for troubleshooting electrical problems: things like battery voltage (either high or low), alternator output and tracing circuits to find shorts and opens. Cheap models work fine, but tend to die an early death. More expensive models are more robust and last longer.

LOCKING PLIERS Known worldwide under the trademark of Vise Grips, these pliers are a veritable third hand, and are good for holding a work piece firmly in place for drilling or fastening. You can use them to grip on stubborn, corroded bolts.

BUTANE SOLDERING TOOL Butane tools heat their tips red hot but without an exposed flame. There is no dangling electrical cord to tangle. But the main feature is the way they are superior for soldering or for heating heat shrink tubing.

OIL CHANGE PUMP Extracting crankcase lubricant with an oil change pump virtually eliminates the chance of errant oil droplets fouling the bilge, or trickling from an outboard onto the water. The best of the best incorporate a reservoir for storing the oil until you reach an environmentally-friendly disposal site.

CHANNEL LOCK PLIERS Channel locks, or sliding jaw pliers, are first-rate for removing or installing cotter pins. The long handle lends leverage; the serrated jaw grips a work part tighter than ought to be legal. Jaws adjust to open wide or narrow, making it a universal tool.

PROPELLER WRENCH Obviously a propeller wrench of some sort is a must have item that you could use to swap a propeller with a damaged blade or to extract fishing line that's wrapped around the prop shaft between the propeller hub and housing. Get a wrench that floats, or be sure to use a wrench fitted with a hole for a tether.