Screwing Around With Fasteners

My daughter came home the other day in a quandary over nuts and bolts.  She is coaching a university crew team and noticed that some of the fasteners that had been used to rig the rowing shells were rusted.  In some cases, really badly and had required a hack saw to cut them off.  While digging through the bins of boat parts and pieces, she found containers full of fasteners all thrown together.  Sound familiar?  She knew some of them were stainless and some were not, but there were hundreds of fasteners!

Oh, what to do?!?  (Imagine the drama here…)

“Get a magnet.”

“MOM!!” (Three syllable word)

“Just get a magnet.  Stainless steel won’t stick to it.”  So we did. And it worked.

We dumped the fasteners and other odd bits into a shallow box and dragged the magnet around through the mess, collecting the mild steel rejects on the magnet.  No wonder the team had so many problems.  Somebody tried to save money by buying the fasteners at the home supply store instead of a marine store.

Without getting into a chemistry lesson on why stainless steel resists rust, it is basically a blend of materials, or an “alloy”.  There are good blends, designed for the marine environment, which contain less steel, and not so good blends with more steel, which rusts.  The alloys are graded by number, with the higher number being better quality than the lower number.  A good quality marine grade stainless steel should be 316.  Stainless rated 312 might rust sooner, but be careful as higher than 320 is not as tough.  Mild steel and poor quality stainless will stick to the magnet, high quality stainless steel will not.  Fasteners on a boat are not the place to save money – get the good stuff.  Double-check the quality with a magnet if you are not sure.

I just watched a copy machine installer use a magnetized screwdriver to pick up a steel screw and poke it through a tiny hole to screw something together way back in there somewhere.  I had to laugh as I remembered trying to do that on the boat with stainless steel screws.  It becomes another opportunity to practice my off color vocabulary.  If you could just get the screw to stick to the screwdriver and reach way in there where your other hand won’t fit…..  Tape!  I could use Tape!  This has become one of my favorite tricks.

Pull off about two inches of cheap masking tape and poke the screw in question through the tape from the sticky side right in the middle of the piece of tape.  Place the screw on your screwdriver and wrap the tape up onto the shank.  Ta-da!  It’s stuck to the screwdriver.  Proceed as usual.  As you get the screw seated in its new home, the tape will tear off and come away with the screwdriver.  This is also a great way to prevent getting sealant all over your favorite tools.  Simple huh?

Ok, one more.  If you have ever wanted to work on a deck fitting by yourself, you may have delayed the job because you needed an extra set of hands.  I often get around this problem by using a pair of vise grips.  If you can get the vise grips to clamp onto the nuts under the deck from the side, you are in business.  As you turn the bolt from on deck, the vise grips will turn as well until they come up against another bolt and then stop.  At this point you can usually start turning the bolt and unscrew it.  You’ll know it’s done when you hear a loud bang as the vise grips and the nut fall off the end of the bolt.  Rig up something to catch the vise grips, nuts and washers so they won’t disappear into the bilge.  Don’t remove the bolts until all the nuts are off, as the vise grips will have to rest against something to hold the last nut.  This trick will work when installing as well, just get the nuts started on the bolts before you put the vise grips back on.

Is sealant squishing out all around the deck fitting?  Next time, put the fitting in place and put some strips of masking tape around the footprint of the fitting.  Pull off the fitting, apply the sealant and install the bolts.  Don’t worry when the sealant squishes out onto the tape, just leave it to harden.  Come back tomorrow with a sharp blade and trim around the fitting.  Pull off the tape and the extra sealant and you’ll have nice clean results.

Simple is best!


For more boating adventures with Captain Holly Scott and sidekick KC, find us at and

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