These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things

Published in the April 2019 Issue November 2019 Feature Tim McKenna

There are a few things that are required by the USCG to be on a boat such as flares, life jackets, fire extinguishers, etc. There are other safety related items that are required by various states. Ohio, for example, requires an anchor on most vessels. But what are some of the favorite (and useful) items that you carry with you, and just maybe, why do you have them on board? Well, to take a look at that question, here are a few of my favorite things that I carry on board, offered in no particular order.

Electronic Flare

The advent of the electronic flare as an approved nighttime distress signal is pretty cool. At least it may make the “old” flares that you have in a dry box worth having. That said, in a true distress situation, I want to have a true rocket flare that shoots high in the sky. Like anything else, the current offerings from Weems and Plat, and Orion are good additions to your safety and distress gear.


First and foremost for me are paper charts of the area we will be sailing. Yes, in this day of electronics attached to chartplotters, iPads, cell phones and more, I still like paper charts. When cruising, it is nice to have some type of chartbook and cruising guide for the area as well. A fantastic resource for Great Lakes boaters is the anchorage and harbor information available from the Great Lakes Cruising Club. (

Nav Tools

Basic navigation tools are one thing that I believe all boats should have aboard. Knowledge in their use makes chart navigation more accurate and allows for the combination of electronic navigation and traditional chart navigation to work more effectively together.


Good binoculars are a must. For use on the water my choice is a pair of 7 X 50 binoculars. This gives the viewer a 7x magnification and the objective lens at 50mm in diameter. The wider objective lens the more light the binoculars will take in, making the image brighter. This combination of magnification and width of the objective lens are easy to use on a moving boat as well.


Along with the binoculars several things that come to mind are a handheld compass, handheld GPS and maybe a handheld VHF. The compass is good to take bearings without being affected by the boat’s natural deviation, and a good handheld VHF serves as a good backup to the primary VHF radio on the boat. It is also a good way for kids who take off on the dinghy when at anchor to keep in touch.

Sew Kit

Have you ever had a sail tear or rip when the sailmaker is not around the corner? Sometimes you might need to make a minor (or more serious) repair while under way. Keep a selection of sewing needles, thread, sail tape and a good sailing palm on board. While not a must, it can certainly save that sailing vacation from more than a bit of an inconvenience. It can be easier than you think to make a quick repair that will save the day, so to speak. 


In the realm of “making repairs,” a good addition to the normal toolkit on your boat might be a good and handy multi-tool such as the variety of those offered by Leatherman, Gerber and others. Having a couple of good knives on board is a good idea too. These would be in addition to the ones used in the galley to slice a tomato. A pocket knife that can be opened with one hand is a good idea and may be a requirement in some race events.


Here are a few of the things that I feel are absolute requirements for any cruising boat. They are not safety-related and some are, if fact, related to age. A good headlamp for reading at night is a must. No matter what bulbs I put in the berth, the light is never right for reading while falling asleep at anchor. Also, it does not drain the boat batteries when I do fall asleep.

Jump Starter

A good lithium battery jump starter (about the size of a handheld VHF) serves multiple purposes. It will start your boat when you forget to keep the batteries charged and it will keep those pesky cell phones, iPads and laptops charged as needed. Every boat needs a good corkscrew. As I get older and my hands are not quite what they used to be, a good jar opener comes in handy as well.

Bubble Maker

When at anchor or on a mooring ball I’ve found that one item needed for some fun is a good bubble maker. Blowing bubbles at passing boats and dinghies can really liven up an anchorage. If you don’t have one they are easy to make with some wire and dish soap. If you are passing through the mooring field at Put-in-Bay and see bubbles in the air, stop by and say, “Hi.”


Finally, everyone needs a good hat.

Take care and let us know what sort of useful and/or fun things you have on your boat.

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