Duct Tape? Did the Man Say Duct Tape?

By Tom Neale, 6/17/2004


Tom Neale's logs have a new name and home on BoatUS Magazine. We know Tom has a loyal and devoted readership, so we wanted to share his tips and insights with an even bigger audience! For the latest articles, click here for Onboard With Tom Neale.

First I heard the Homeland Security guys telling me to buy duct tape to prepare for acts of terrorism. Then, last fall, I heard everybody and his brother telling me to buy it for Hurricane Isabel. Now the local TV news stations are saying to buy duct tape in anticipation of the upcoming hurricane season. I don’t need to be told to buy duct tape. I have a boat. I’ve got enough duct tape to mummify an elephant. Those of us with boats know all about duct tape and survival. We even use it for advance warning before a disaster. All you have to do is listen for that familiar RIPP across the harbor. When you hear the sound you know that a hurricane’s getting close, or at least that it’s going to rain and someone has a leaky port light. 

On Chez Nous we once used it for the apprehension of a dangerous fugitive. Our daughters’ pet hamster, “Bilbo,” escaped aboard. I don’t care what they call it, a hamster is really nothing more than a close cousin to a rat—in other words, in between orgies, they get their kicks by gnawing holes that can sink boats. So, after hours of unsuccessful effort at retrieving the little darling, we got a small box and put some food in the end, just beyond a carefully laid sticky-side-up carpet of duct tape. Around 2 AM we heard the box jumping all over the deck. Sure enough, inside we found the duct tape carpet covered with a mass of hamster hairs. Outside, hiding in a corner, was a semi-naked hamster, looking for its cage.


The cruising area of the US east coast and Bahamas is one of the most popular and, in my opinion, among the best cruising areas in the world. It is our neighborhood on “Chez Nous.” We’ve cruised thousands of miles every year in the area. From time to time I’ll give you alerts and other important information about developments and issues here. I’ll also continue the general cruising tips which are relevant wherever you cruise.

Click Here for More Tips

The government also tells us to stock up on water—several day’s worth. No problem; I’ve got a cruising boat. What concerns me is that the officials are only talking about drinking water. I know this because the pictures they show on TV news are of those little bottles of designer water—and we know that TV news is always totally accurate in its portrayals. This advice may work for the general population, but not for me. I refuse to participate in a survival tactic in which I only drink water. I’m not that selfish. If I don’t have enough water to also shower in, no one else around me is going to want to survive. I’m one of those people who need to take showers, especially when I sweat, which I’ve been doing a lot of lately, every time I turn on the TV. But my boat holds plenty of water in its tanks—enough to show compassion to other survivors by taking showers.

My boat also has plenty of water in the bilge. I’d have to be pretty dirty to want to bathe in this, and I’d have to pour in a whole lot of bourbon to want to drink it, but it does serve another purpose. There are enough creatures swimming around down there in it to feed us long after our food supply runs out—as long as I can catch them—assuming they don’t eat me first.

Batteries and flashlights are also on all the advice lists. On my boat I have 18 flashlights scattered around all over the place and enough batteries to feed them all. This isn’t because of any body’s list. It’s because I own a boat and I know that when things break on a boat we’ve got to fix them—we can’t call “Mr. Fixer,” because usually we’re out cruising in some place called “Paradise” while “Mr. Fixer” is back on the shore. I need flashlights to fix things because things prefer to break at two in the morning. There’s nothing I hate worse than stumbling around in the dark looking for a light. But I found long ago that if what I’m stumbling over is a flashlight, the first part of the problem is solved. The fact that I’ve got 18 opportunities to stumble not only betters my odds of stumbling, but it also reflects the fact that we on boats believe in redundancy. This is a very important survival tool that should be included in any survival advice.

There’s nothing new about this concept of redundancy. There was this guy on a boat during bad times long ago, and he had two of everything aboard. Some think it was so that they could make whoopee when the flood ended, but we boaters know that whoopee was only a secondary motive. Noah, being a cruiser, had two of each kind simply because he was on a boat and he believed in the principle of the thing. Having a spare is one of the things we do by second nature on boats—without any advice from the government. Sure, having two of each creature aboard definitely helped when it came to repopulation, but I’ve no doubt that Noah could have figured something out anyway. That’s because there’s another basic but all-important ingredient to having a boat—that all the advice givers don’t seem know about. It’s called “ingenuity,” and I know that Noah had a lot of that aboard. After all, without ingenuity, Noah would never have been able to deal with his two cockroaches that he obviously brought along.

Ingenuity, unlike duct tape, is the mother of all survival. I remember some bad times long ago when people were digging holes in their back yards and calling them “bomb shelters.” Some people are even doing it again. Hanging out in a hole sounds about as ingenious as swatting a mosquito on your nose with a snow shovel. Someone recently asked me how I was going to build a bomb shelter if things got really bad. “You can’t exactly dig a hole in your back yard when you live on a boat,” he said, a bit smugly. The answer was obvious. “I don’t need a bomb shelter. I have a boat. And I bet I have a whole lot more fun spending the weekend in my boat than you would in your hole in the back yard.”

Your boat gives you something else the list givers don’t tell you about. It gives you options. It gives you the option of having fun, even in scary times. It gives you the option of hoping more and worrying less when you think of that boat ready to go, full of duct tape, water and food. Just keeping your boat ready to go cruising for a few days means that you’re prepared—for good or bad.

But more importantly, that boat gives you the option of seeing the beauty of the world from a quiet cove or a sunset at sea. And while seeing the world from this perspective, you get a much clearer and better picture than you get from the sensation mongers of TV news. The view from here is one that inspires optimism and happiness. It’s an encouraging picture, not only of nature, but of the incredible society of which we’re a part. It helps us to appreciate more deeply its value, and appreciate more deeply the options our society gives us—like the option of owning a boat.

Copyright 2004-2008 Tom Neale