Why buy expensive specialist marine equipment when these 20 readily available DIY products can fix almost anything on a boat?
True boating DIY repairs and fixups means getting inventive. Number 8 wire might fix everything on the farm but its uses are limited on a boat. The good news, however, is that a lot of marine DIY can be done with many readily available products, most of them sourced from the local hardware store. Who needs specialist marine equipment when you can get your hands on tools that are cheap, widely available, and easy to use?
20 DIY products that will fix almost anything on a boat
Know a spot on the boat where a crew member has taken? Non-skid tape might be the perfect solution.
Be sure to clean the area with Jif (below) to remove all wax and oil, then let it dry and lay down the tape. As well as the added safety benefit, this jet black tape looks good, too.
Tip: It also comes in clear.
"Water dispersant" formula #40 is well-known and versatile and should be carried on every boat. What’s inside the can is a strict trade secret but many people claim it’s shark oil, and thus the reason it seems to work well on fishing lures. Yes, that is tip number one. Spray a bit of WD-40 onto your lures to keep them from rusting and maybe even help attract fish.
WD-40 will also:
• Remove sticky glue residues
• Brighten stainless steel
• Start a stubborn diesel engine. Since WD-40 is less volatile than starting fluid, mechanics claim it can be used without the rod-bending risks associated with starting fluid.
This two-part underwater epoxy is a magical cure for leaks below the waterline. Mix the two parts in a dry environment and smear over the problem area. Unlike most epoxies, Splash Zone sticks underwater. If a leak is going to be temporarily repaired, this is the stuff for the job. It also works well on leaking drain pipes.
Tip: This and many other epoxies are bought in tin cans that quickly rust in a boat. For long-term storage remove the epoxy and place it in clearly marked glass jars in a cool, dry, dark location.
A simple, clean, inexpensive, non-staining lubricant, silicone spray has dozens of uses aboard a boat. Spray on window slides for easy opening, and on zips to maintain their functionality. It’s also a good quick-fix spray-on waterproofing material.
Tip: Keep an eye at your local hardware store for large cans of silicone spray on sale. It’s the perfect time to grab one for the boat.
It is sometimes called "waterproofing in a can". 3M Scotchgard can be sprayed on dodgers, biminis and cushions to help resist water and it’s also good for general stain prevention. Re-spray every three months for continued protection.
This two-part epoxy is one of the best fix-all products on the market. It cures quickly, is near impossible to melt and you can sand it. It comes in three colours: black, grey, and white. Sometimes used as a quick gelcoat repairer and at other times to patch leaking pipes, it’s a real "don’t leave home without it" product. I have even used it on cracked and leaking hot-exhaust systems.
The unsurpassed all-purpose soft scrub, soap and cleanser is used by professional boat cleaners the world over. The mild abrasive effect and the gentle deep cleaning allow Jif to clean just about any surface (Note: Never use Jif on gelcoat and use with caution on painted surfaces).
Jif can also:
• Remove green slime on the waterline
• Clean soiled boat fenders
• Polish stainless steel. While not as good as regular metal polish, in a pinch the mild abrasive action of Jif will brighten stainless steel.
Liquid electrical tape
Advertised as electrical tape in a can, its uses are endless. The gooey black (or red) messy paste penetrates the individual strands of wire, providing a long-lasting protective coating. Paste over electrical connections in locations too tight to wrap with regular electrical tape. Great for extreme wet locations like bilgepumps, but also useful as "whip it" for small line ends and a general purpose sealant.
Tip: Once opened the whole can may cure. To increase the lifespan store the can upside-down to prevent evaporation. If the lid sticks in place keep a pair of channel-lock pliers around for easy opening.
Used mainly for insulation of high-voltage power lines, self-amalgamating tape looks like black electrical tape except it’s much thicker and stretches. Rigging shops sell the same product in yacht white. Once stretched, this amazing tape wants to stick to itself. While it makes for a good electrical insulation material it is also great for stopping leaks in hoses.
Two wraps around an object produces 2kg of compressive force, and 50 wraps produces 50kg. While this force won’t stem a leaking hydraulic hose, wrapped properly, it will stop a leaking. Since the tape "grabs" by stretch and compression and not glue, it can even be used on wet surfaces. For extra security gently tighten a hose clamp over the top.
Also known as "foil tape", this product looks a lot like duct tape. Being made of aluminium, this tape is electrically conductive so it’s useful in many electrical applications (not as insulation). Imagine a damaged VHF antenna cable — aluminium tape is just the fix. It’s the perfect way to splice shielded cable and can also work as a heat barrier in certain applications. I have even used it to lay out an emergency SSB ground plane grid. Remember, the aluminium in the tape is a low grade and won’t last long if exposed to saltwater.
100mm grinder and a selection of discs
A small grinder has inexpensive attachments that can save the day when Huey throws you a curve ball. A flap-disc will smooth out rough metal and round the edge of bolts, cleaning the threads for reuse. Remember to use safety glasses.
Vaseline and silicone grease
Vaseline and silicone grease are both clear, seawater-resistant and provide good, consistent coverage. Use on stainless steel nuts to prevent galling, or smear a layer on a leaking hatch for a quick temporary fix.
3M Marine Cleaner & Wax
Nothing looks better than a shiny hull. 3M polish and wax has just the right combination of abrasive polish to leave a long-lasting shine. After one or two coats, switch to the standard 3M Wax.
Oates scrub pads
This great all-purpose scrubbing pad comes in various levels of aggressiveness. White is the softest; the more common green or blue (non-scratch) is medium; and black is close to sandpaper. Carry a few white pads for stubborn stains and a few more green for general cleaning.
Portable soldering iron/line cutter
Sold for less than $50, these refillable butane multiuse tools make boat-life easier. The hot-air attachment works on heat-shrink tube, the flame tip will reach temperatures that can free seized nuts and will even melt the ends of large dock lines. The cutting tip will quickly cut and seal medium-sized lines, giving a professional look to the finished job. The soldering tip allows quick fixes of wires, especially small difficult-to-solder pinpoint connections.
Tip: Don’t forget to keep a spare can of butane for fast refills.
Silicone gasket maker
A basic clear silicone gasket maker is just the right fix for a seeping window or dripping deck hatch (I have even heard of a bloke who used a version of this product called Blue Max to seal a leaking engine cooling pump and it apparently got him home over two days’ travel).
Tip: Don’t use silicone over any surface that will require painting later on. It will stop paint adhering to the surface for years to come.
Diluted phosphoric acid removes rust stains from almost any surface. A quick spray will clean and dissolve streaks from rusting fasteners and bleeding deck hardware — and it will even clean the side of a steel boat. Mix a solution of water and phosphoric acid at a 10:1 dilution ratio. Paint or spray over the rust bleeds and wait half an hour. Keep the area moist with an occasional gentle spray of water and watch the rust streaks disappear.
Tip: Removing rust streaks may clean the mess, but the underlying cause may still be present. Rusting fittings or deck hardware might mean the bolts are failing and need attention.
100mm fibreglass tape wrap and a bit of epoxy
Fibreglass cloth can be purchased in various widths just like a roll of tape. Looking a lot like an ace bandage, use it to wrap around a cracked fish pole or leaking pipe. Paint on the epoxy for long-lasting and quick in-the-field repairs.
On some boats standard wire ties have replaced lashing line for seizing. They can also secure shackles, serve as a temporary hose clamp, and are great for marking anchor chain lengths.
Tip: Trim the wire tie tail flush with a sharp knife to prevent the irritating sharp, skin-cutting stub left on most wire tie tails.
This synthetic leather soaks up many times its weight in water and is invaluable aboard. Use it to wipe-up spilt water, soak-up the last few drops from the bilge, wipe out wet wells, or dry the side of the boat after a rinse.
First published in TrailerBoat #277, December 2012. Why not subscribe today?