I’m sure every boatie who ever worked on their boat has, more than once, spent more time looking for tools and spares than it took to do the actual job. Story by Roger Hughes.

Finding stuff drove me to distraction on my first boat, and it drove me crazy (until now) on my latest, a 13.7m schooner. You would think there would be enough room in a nearly 14m hull with an almost 4.3m beam for all the tools and spares under the sun, and there pretty much is onboard Britannia. But the abundance of locker space creates its own problems: It can accommodate a workshopfull of tools and spare parts, but that doesn’t mean I can always find them, or even remember where I put them.

I would frequently spend more time trying to find something – the right-sized screw, a special tool, or a spare part – than it took to fix the problem! I would sometimes give up completely and sleep on it, hoping that something’s whereabouts might come to me in the morning.

It would often cause arguments between my wife and me: “I don’t know where you put the blasted thing! You never put them back in the same place, anyway, so how can you expect anybody to remember where you put so much stuff?” Kati was right of course, so we decided to do something about it.

On a boat of Britannia’s size, it is often possible to stow spare parts relating to a particular ‘trade’, like plumbing, woodwork, electrical, deck fittings, etc., all together in one location, which makes it easier to at least go to the right place. But on a smaller craft that’s not always practical, so you find yourself getting frustrated while rummaging through lockers that are not even relevant to the thing you want.



The answer is to accurately catalogue where things are – wherever they are stowed – whether it’s a special shackle or a spare alternator, so you have a method of finding it. In fact, if you think about it, it doesn’t matter where you keep things, so long as you can quickly locate them.

I’m not talking about a spreadsheet in Excel, or any other computer program (we tried that first and it’s too complicated), because you can bet your life the laptop battery will be flat when you want to open it, and if someone else is searching for something they might not be able to open the correct page anyway.

The simple solution is a hard-copy binder, stowed where you will always keep it – maybe the chart table… but then, if you lose even the book, you really are in trouble!

So, buy a loose-leaf spring binder, complete with an alphabetical index and plenty of blank pages, along with a pencil with a rubber on the end. This becomes The Book.

Buy a loose-leaf spring binder with an alphabetical index.

Then make a detailed drawing of every cabin on your boat where ‘stuff’ is stowed, which of course, means everywhere! An example is our fo’c’sle, where we have two spacious storage compartments under the vee berths, a hanging locker to stb’d, along with a block of four drawers and a cupboard above. On the port side there is also a large locker with four shelves and a second hanging locker. The bank of drawers and the locker with shelves needs a frontal sketch on the page, labeling them on the sketch A, B, C, or 1, 2, 3, etc., if you like.

Having prepared The Book, we started the tedious and timeconsuming operation of cataloguing every single item on the boat. We never dreamed it would take three more weekends and run into many hundreds of items (360, to be precise). However, if this ‘finding’ problem also sounds like you, I assure you it’s time well spent, saving many hours of labour on your boat in the future.


Cataloguing is really a two-person job, one calling out the item and its location, the other writing. And this is where it becomes tedious. Every individual part stored in every single drawer, shelf or locker must be catalogued in the appropriate alphabetical page of the book. For example, my six bags of various sizes of teak wood plugs go under page W for ‘wood plugs’, but also under page P for ‘plugs – wood’, indicating where they are kept. Thus, you can find the plugs under ‘wood’ or ‘plugs’ in the fo’c’sle, cupboard C. If you can’t remember where C is, it is just a matter of looking at the fo’c’sle sketch. Bingo! It’s that simple for anyone to find anything on the boat.

No matter what you are looking for, with the catalogue, you will be able to find it – for wood plugs, look up W for wood or P for plugs – wood.

Yes, a major advantage of the book is that everyone in the crew can find things quickly. Many things have more than one name anyway, so it pays to call a nautical item by a simple generic term as well, so landlubbers can also find it. For example, ‘Stainless-steel set-screws’ are also catalogued under ‘bolts,’ and ‘nuts and bolts.’ You get the drift?

Every cabin or compartment where things are stored needs to be illustrated in this way in the front of the book, including outside lockers, deck boxes and lazarettes. Just how deep you catalogue this process is up to you. I have a compartmented box of different sizes of electrical wire crimp fittings, which are all catalogued under the general name ‘electrical crimps.’ But I also have a compartmented box of many different small items, which are all in the book individually.

During this long process, you may even find things you never knew you had, or else find them in a different place to where they should be. Whatever you do, just catalogue it in your book, under as many separate headings as it takes to make them easier to identify.

You will eventually finish up with your book full of items on each alphabetical page, but they will not be in alphabetical order because you wrote them down as you catalogued them. Some pages will be full of items, others not, like X, which in my book has only one item, ‘Xylene,’ which is also under S for ‘Solvents – Xylene,’ along with a long list of other solvents. Port cabin, locker A.

Therefore, having finished the actual cataloguing, this is the point where you open your computer and re-type each item on a page in alphabetical order. Thus, on page W we have 26 items, the first being ‘walkie-talkies’ and the last ‘Woodruff keys’. I expect there is a program somewhere which re-calibrates lists into alphabetical order with one click, but I don’t have it. This process is tedious, but it saves having to scour through a long list on the same page. At least it’s a sitting-down job.

FORWARD CABIN: The fo’c’sle sketch showing all the cupboards and lockers.

Having compiled a neat alphabetical page, print it to replace the pencilled original. Now trace over your drawing with a ballpoint pen – or do a new drawing in Photoshop as I did. If you leave your original drawings in pencil, they will slowly fade until you don’t know which compartment is which. Incidentally, all this effort will someday impress a potential buyer.


It almost goes without saying that it is very important to put things back where they came from when you are tidying up, otherwise the system breaks down. This might sound like common sense, but it is easy to slip a bunch of tools back in the wrong place after use. In other words, become methodical, and your efforts will pay dividends in time saved looking for things, not to mention eliminating the frustration of emptying a locker only to find the item in another. My memory is sometimes so dull I check the book to see where to stow things again after I’ve used them.

Being able to find things quickly can also be a lifesaver in emergencies. Once, a friend who was stronger than he looked snapped the end off a seacock while trying to close it with a big pipe wrench [spanner]. He plugged the inrush of water with this hand while my wife looked in the book and found ‘wooden seacock bungs’, in saloon stb’d side seating C. In a jiffy the seacock was plugged. By the way, the remainder of the bungs are now attached to their respective seacocks, where they should have been in the first place, and that item has been erased from the book.

I once searched high-and-low for a specially spliced length of line that acted as the fore-staysail topping lift. Eventually I gave up and made a new one, using 9m of line. Later, when I was rummaging through one of our aft deck boxes, I found the line in the bottom of the box. It had been thrown in and not entered in the book. Me, methodical? Well, not always!


Roger’s Kia van has a large space underneath the rear floor, which utilises to store a multitude of common multi-use tools, all filed in the The Book under K for Kia.

So, what do you do with common tools used both on your boat and also at home, or at your work, like a big lump hammer, a large pipe-wrench, or a crowbar? One reason I bought a Kia passenger van about the time I bought my boat was that it has a very large storage space under the rear floor. Other vehicles commonly use this space to store the spare wheel; in the Kia the spare’s housed underneath this storage area.

So, I keep these multiple-use tools, like my circular saw, Dremel kit, belt sander, electric planer, woodworking clamps, saws etc. – plus a multitude of other tools stored in this space – under ‘Kia’ in the book. If your vehicle doesn’t have a space like this, you could store these common tools in a box in the vehicle— or buy duplicates. Otherwise, when you need something on the boat, for sure it will be in your garage, and vice-versa.

Finally, never forget to add anything you have recently bought, or to delete any consumable you have used up and not yet replaced. In other words, keep the book current, because someone else might need to find something in a hurry, when you are not around.

The total number of items we have catalogued to date is 360. No wonder it was impossible to remember what we have on Britannia, and where things were stowed. Now I don’t have to remember, leaving room in my mind for more important things, like where I put the Guinness… BNZ