The list of jobs we can accomplish with just a crack team of essential tools is pretty impressive. In this buyers guide I share my choices of best cordless powertools for boats and a few ways I've used them onboard my own yacht and in the workshop.
Best Cordless Power Tools for boats – and nifty accessories
Sooner or later, no matter how competent or incompetent you think you are with a power tool, you’re going to be wishing you had a cordless tool of some sort. Be that something to make repetitive unscrewing or re-screwing less tedious or perhaps you’ll be trying to do something that requires a bit of lateral thinking and ingenuity. Here’s a guide to the best cordless power tools for boats and their alternative uses.
Sometimes you need a tool to go up a mast with you and other times you’ll need a tool to head into a dark cupboard or bilge recess and reach an awkward place at fingertip reach.
Most cordless power tools are simply a battery, an electric motor and a housing that allows use of the motor in a specific orientation.
On the market today more and more manufacturers have introduced a familial set of tools that can share batteries. The best cordless power tools on boats use Lithium Ion batteries and they are between 12v and 18v depending on the level of work duty your tools are aimed at. These batteries can be swapped from tool to tool seamlessly. This means you only need one type of charger onboard.
At a Glance
Milwaukee Cordless Drill – Best cordless drill for quick charge time and small spaces – Buy it now from Screwfix
Makita Angle Grinder – Best Cordless angle grinder for cutting rigging and bigger jobs – Buy it now from Screwfix
Dremmel Cordless Rotary Tool – best rotary tool with universally available accessories – Buy it now from ScrewFix
Milwaukee cordless soldering – best cordless soldering iron for working in small spaces – Buy it now from ScrewFix
The Cordless drill
Every boat should have a cordless power drill stored in a dry place, ready to deploy.
You don’t need us to tell you how to use a cordless drill for drilling holes in things do you. But have you thought just how versatile this tool can be in your inventory for other jobs?
The most obvious use, other than drilling holes in things is to screw and unscrew things, or to bolt and unbolt things. Long bolts with a small hex head can be quickly drawn home using the slower speed setting and a hex bit.
But to look at the cordless drill as just a tool for holes and screws is a disservice to this mega tool. Think of it more as a versatile motor with a trigger and we’ll open up some more possibilities.
If you’re working in small dark spaces you’ll be needing a good head torch
If you want to empty your fuel tank in situ and you have limited access, then just attach the take off hose to a small drill pump and have your empty container fill up, as you can closely monitor and trigger-control the pump. Emptying my own fuel tank for inspection took about 20 minutes and I was able to run the fuel through a fine filter whilst doing so. It was clean and easy. Equally if we have an oily bilge and we are looking for a way to get it sucked up safely into containers for disposal, this is your best method to get the job done with the least amount of mess. Some have used this type of pump for quick and easy oil changes too. The pumps are so small you can easily stash a couple on board for different types of fluid transfer.
Clarke CPP3000B Drill Powered Pump
For just a few pounds you can pick up a portable mini pump, which can be used in a variety of ways around a boat and simply attached to a cordless drill.
Norton Round Shank Preparation Brush Set 3 pieces
When prepping my deck surface for a new nonslip matting to go down, I first needed to wire brush it and prepare for the regluing.
I picked up a range of different shaped wire brushes with drill bit attachments and interchanged them as I detailed around the deck recess using my favourite cordless drill. One battery on charge while the other was working away.
Drill powered winch
iWinch Drill Bit Manual to Electric Winch Adaptor Boating Marine Yacht P105
There’s also the option to turn a cordless drill into a power wincher using a small adapter. It’s basic but it works.
Choose a drill with an 18v Lithium Ion battery for the max torque/power to weight combination.
Ideally get one with more than one battery.
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Best Cordless Power Tools for boats – Cordless Drills
Hitachi 18V Li-ion Cordless Combi drill DV18DGL/JG
Hikoki is the same company as Hitachi. You’ll find the some item with both badges out on the marketplace. It’s a well respected tool manufacturer with sturdy motors. They make tools that last. The batteries are interchangeable across their range. Especially the multivolt.
13mm keyless chuck, 90min charge time, 18v battery
Milwaukee M12 BDD-202C 12V 2 X 2.0AH LI-ION RED Lithium Cordless Sub-compact Drill Driver
This lightweight but professional quality cordless drill will get into places other larger battery drills simply can’t. It’s light enough to carry up the mast with you or dangle with it at arms length into the bilges pumping out a spill.
10mm keyless chuck, 40min charge time, 12v battery
Parkside Cordless Drill 20v Lithium-ion Battery Screwdriver PABS 20-Li C3
Great value for money tools with interchangeable batteries, Parkside do a range of cordless tools and all do a good job. With their higher voltage batteries you’ll have a little more power for your money too.
13mm keyless chuck, 60min charge time, 20v battery
Best Cordless Power Tools for boats – Cordless grinder
The one tool that really does require a bit of extra safety gear is the grinder tool. Please equip your tool case with suitable eye and hand protection if you have a grinder onboard. Wear a mask too if you’re working on something that produces dust.
A grinding tool has a variety of uses and depending on which one you get and the level of speed finesse, it can open up other possibilities too.
The obvious uses for a grinder? Cutting away old spent anodes. Those furry bolts are a faff to undo. Just cut them away, taking care to avoid the prop shaft and then swap that cutting disk for a mild buffing disk or wet and dry emery and carry on cleaning up the prop shaft with that.
If you’ve got a cast iron keel like mine that needs dressing or tidying up on a regular basis, then get a wire brush, particularly a heavier duty version to brush back the keel.
Angle Grinder metal polishing
Got some welds you want to clean up? Yes, get a polishing disk around that.
If you are lucky enough to be able to buy a grinder with fine motor speed control, then you can add polishing to your list of jobs this tool can help out with. With a slow speed tool, you can polish out some metal work too.
Angle Grinder Metal Polishing Buffing Kit Steel Stainless Steel 7pc – Pro-Max
Angle Grinder Flap Disks
If you need to grind back some metal, then you can use a flap disk to skim away metal to your hearts content. Cleaning up messy bilge plates or other flat areas is a breeze.
EZARC Flap Disc 115mm 40 Grit Zirconia Grinding Wheel, Abrasive Discs Type 29 for Stainless Steel, Cast Iron and Sheet Metal, 10 Pack
Recently I had to cut away a section of sculpted fibreglass headlining to access an encapsulated deck plate inside a cupboard. A mini grinder allowed me to do this job with a thin cutting disk to minimise dust. I also had to cut away a section of my rudder as it had ruptured. I couldn’t imagine doing the job without a grinder. Once the new rudimentary epoxy repair had set, I skimmed it back using a flap disk.
And on a more serious note for boat salvage: If your boat is rigged with rod rigging and you find yourself in a dismasting pickle one day, then a powerful battery grinder in the emergency kit will help you cut that away faster than you can say, oops a daisy. Make sure you pack some spare disks though of the appropriate grade for your rig. It’s no good trying to cut away metalwork with masonry disks.
The best cordless power tool on a boat is the one you use.
Best Cordless Power Tools for boats – Cordless Angle Grinder
MAKITA DGA513Z 18V LI-ION LXT 5″ BRUSHLESS CORDLESS ANGLE GRINDER – BARE
Oh Makita we love you so. No tool line-up is complete without a dash of Makita.
A premium branded grinder should give years and years of good service. If you have already bought into the Makita system then this grinder is an easy add on. This full sized grinder inspires confidence. If someone pulled this bad boy out of the locker during a dismasting and was looking for volunteers to wield it, I’d have my hand up without hesitation. 110mins charge time
Price £134 (without battery) £299 as a 2 battery kit,
Parkside 20V Cordless Angle Grinder
It comes with a carry case and the batteries are interchangeable between drill and soldering iron etc
A full size grinder with good speed control. This takes standard fit disks and other attachments.
The side handle is detachable and disks are easy enough to change out. Don’t forget to remove the battery while you do this though. It’s all too easy to set these things going by accident.
Price £63 (without battery)
Parkside 12 V VOLT CORDLESS ANGLE GRINDER INC BATTERY & CHARGER WITH CASE
This dinky grinder is a really handy little tool. It is much smaller than a full sized grinder and fits into a small carry case onboard. I use this for cutting away anodes and for small jobs on the boat where a large grinder wont fit. Handy for cutting through bolts and other fittings on the mast. As well as handy for cutting fibreglass headlining.
Price £59.99 (with battery)
Best Cordless Power Tools for boats – Cordless soldering iron
Who knew they made cordless soldering irons!
Now there’s a few uses for a soldering iron and not all of them involve solder. In fact only one of them involves solder. The other is basically using the thing as a heat wand or melty cutty thing.
How often do we actually need to solder something on a boat? Not often. I think I’ve got the solder out just a few times to join lines or to put a new LED into a circuit.
Solder coating wires prior to crimping is good practice though and you are more likely to do this if you have portable kit read to go at a moments notice.
Heat shrinking an electrical connection is an essential bit of boating electrical installation and the wiring or connections are often in difficult to get at places. It can be much easier to use a soldering iron to heat shrink with than other direct heat sources. We use heat shrink to add chafe resistance on cables that go through bulkheads and through access holes in binnacle housings. It’s much tidier than PVC tape.
On boats though there’s one other area that can be possibly the single most useful purpose for a cordless soldering iron and that’s to heat melt the ends of control lines and ropes.
If you’re doing a spot of splicing and you need to tidy away the ends to finish, pull out the trusty soldering iron and gently rub the barrel nearest the top across the ends of your rope to give you a lovely smooth heat-sealed finish.
Likewise, if you’ve got any fabric that has some fraying evident, perhaps a canopy edge or bit of binding, then gently rub the soldering iron barrel along the edge of the fraying to heat seal it.
Some Cordless soldering irons have detachable ends and you can swap in other attachments, such as a hot knife blade. I don’t need to tell you how handy that is do I!
FROGBRO Portable Cordless Soldering Iron 1800mAh
A USB C chargeable internal battery means you can power this remotely via a powerbank or plug it into the mains. 90 minutes to recharge.
Truly a versatile heat wand. The fine tip though might be a little less effective at carrying heat to a broader area for heat sealing items.
Parkside 20V Cordless Soldering Iron Station – PLSA 20-Li A1 Bare Unit
Slightly less nimble, this cordless soldering iron uses the battery as a base station. So the wand remains light and agile, you are still connected with a cable to the battery. This might not be the kind of thing you’d take up the mast with you but for most other jobs it’s excellent.
uses 20v batteries as per all other Parkside tools,
Price £29.99 (without battery or charger) Price for battery and charger £44.99
Buy the battery and charger from Amazon
MILWAUKEE M12 SI-201C 12V 1 X 2.0AH LI-ION REDLITHIUM CORDLESS SOLDERING IRON
This is the hot stuff. This soldering iron from Milwaukee uses the same battery as seen in the 12v cordless drill. It has angle poise head and can interchange with different tips. It gives a heat warning lamp and shows your power status too. We love this premium offering from Milwaukee.
Price £132 (with battery) £59.99 (without battery) 40 mins to charge
Best Cordless Power Tools for boats – Cordless rotary tool
The Dremel name is ubiquitous, rather like Hoover is for vacuum cleaners.
What it is though is a rotary tool. Yes, that’s right it’s just another motor attached to a trigger and a battery.
The difference with the rotary tools, compared to say, a cordless drill, is that we don’t use the rotary tools for screwing or unscrewing anything. It doesn’t have a lot of torque, it has finesse instead. These are neat little wands that can access small spaces and have a plethora of tool attachments that allow us to cut, grind, polish and so on.
The intricately small cutting disks of the rotary tool allow us to perform fine tasks in places where you would never reach with an angle grinder. If you want to neatly trim a slot in a binnacle housing, this is a job for the rotary tool cutting disk.
If you want to smooth out a small hole you’ve drilled, then get the emery barrel on the end and sand away, inside a hole and feel incredibly smug in your choice of tool.
To fine detail if you’re varnishing or doing bright work, then this is your tool. If you need to neatly clean a hard to reach area, then get out the detailing stones.
There’s plenty of different shapes to allow just the right angle and fine detail for getting into corners.
There’s small wire brushes too, so if you’re cleaning battery terminals or battery connections, then have at it with the wire brush fitting.
What I’ve used my Dremel most for though is removing sail fittings quickly and other rivetted items. It makes short work of broken sail slides and smooths off batten edges
The fine motor speed control is excellent and it stops instantly when the power is turned off.
Don’t forget to wear eye protection though. These little tool attachments can get lively at high speed if they break.
DREMEL 8220 SERIES 12V 2 X 2.0AH LI-ION CORDLESS MULTI-TOOL
This nifty tool has a drop out rechargeable battery and comes with a carry case and a box of tool attachments that will equip your for most tasks you’re likely to encounter. The fine motorcontrol is good, allowing a wide range of speeds and there’s so much info online showing how to use the tools attachments that you’ll never be bored.
90 minutes charge time
Milwaukee C12 RT-0 12V LI-ION Red Lithium Cordless Rotary Multi-Tool – BARE
(uses same battery as the 12v Drill)
A little more stripped back in terms of tool tips that come with this one, it’s based on the awesome Milwaukee compact battery system though so this uses the same batteries as the 12v drill.
Parkside 12V Li-Ion Cordless Rotary Multi tool Brand New With attachments
The Parkside rotary tool is a bargain. You’ll get a ton of useful attachments with it as standard and if you have the small parkside grinder, it uses the same batteries as that. You can buy more batteries easily online or occasionally via the middle aisle at Lidl supermarkets.
It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye.
Wear eye protection.