Which Wrenches are Best for Rigging?


Box end, open end, ratcheting, adjustable. 

If you didn’t grow up with a wrench in your hand, here’s the quick-and-easy guide to recognizing which wrench is which, and how to pick the right wrench for the rigging job.


Wrenches are used to grab the head of a bolt or the nut on the bolt. When you’re looking at the job at hand, think about the best way to hold, loosen or tighten the bolt or nut, if there’s wear on the bolt head or nut, and how far for you’ll need to loosen or tighten it. 

For holding the bolt head while you loosen or tighten a nut on the bolt, choose the wrench that will securely grip the bolt head. An open-end wrench will allow for easy on/off the bolt, but may let worn bolt heads (where the bolt head corners are rounded) spin in the open end.

A box end wrench will give you more purchase and grip on a worn bolt head, as the many sides within the box end grab the sides of the bolt head as securely as possible.

A ratcheting wrench is one of the most useful tools for tightening or loosening the nuts on the bolts during rigging and de-rigging. Putting the ratcheting wrench to work speeds up the job and also makes a cool sound, kind of like that satisfying click of the oars when your crew moves through the finish as one. Many combination ratcheting wrenches allow you to flip the wrench ovyer to change the action from tightening to loosening. Ratcheting wrenches are like gold to a crew that needs to rig or de-rig quickly.

Imperial vs. Metric

Boat makers typically use 7/16” or 10mm for the rigging hardware, so make sure you know if you’re rigging an imperial- or metric-sized boat before getting to work. Using the wrong wrench will strip the bolt heads and nuts and make the rest of your season not so smooth.

Carrying an adjustable wrench in your coxing bag will ensure you always have a wrench for the job; it will fit most bolts or nuts on the boat, and it even helps with frozen wing nuts on the foot stretchers.

Mark Your Tools

If you want to be able to loan your tools to your rowers but don’t want to lose them, pick a color (or two) and mark all of your tools with colored electrical tape.



As a coxswain, you’ll want to have your own kit, with the wrenches that will ensure you’re fully prepared every time you take out a boat.

There are three basic ways to approach buying wrenches. Pick the approach that’s right for you and your budget, keeping in mind that you might lose a wrench or two.

The Cheap Route

Garage sales and second-hand stores are fantastic places to pick up tools without cutting into your bank account too deeply. Since coxswains are often looked to for that extra wrench during rigging, keep your eyes peeled the next time you’re at a garage sale or a second-hand store and stock up on the tools that fit the boats you cox. Prices for basic wrenches at these places can be as low as 25 cents.

The Retail Route

Hardware stores and department stores are the obvious place to build your toolkit, but make sure you have your target list of tools handy when you go in. It’s way too easy to buy an entire toolbox full of things you don’t need, just to get the best price. Having two or three (or four) of the wrenches that fit your boat is much better than having an entire set of wrenches, ninety-percent of which are extraneous and will just take up space and weight in your bag. Prices for a single, basic box end wrench at your local hardware store are $2-5. Prices for a combo ratcheting end wrench are $15-20. 

Over the Top

If you’re looking for the cream-of-the-crop when it comes to wrenches, there are no better tools on the planet than Snap-on® tools. These tools have been crafted to be a dream in the hand and are used by professional mechanics across the country because they are the best. Perfectly-weighted, smoother than silk in your hand, they also cost about their weight in a precious metal. Prices for a single, basic box end wrench from Snap-On start around $30. Prices for combo ratcheting end wrenches are $30-60.


Getting your hands on a double ratcheting wrench that fits your boat’s top nut and rigger nut sizes is ideal. For imperial boats, a double ratcheting wrench that has one end for 7/16” and one end for 1/2” nuts will put you at the top of the list of coxswains who are ready to rig.

For metric boats, matching a 10mm and 13mm in one wrench is ideal.

Double-ratcheting Wrench

Double-ratcheting Wrench


The simplest wrench on the market is handy to have in your kit, and the cheapest. Typically, both ends are of the same size, so you may need to carry one that is 7/16” and one that is 1/2” (or 10mm and 13mm for metric boats). Better yet, keep a stash of 7/16” (or 10mm) wrenches in your kit. When you’ve got rowers ready to rig, hand them each a wrench and the job will get done as quickly as possible.

Open and Box End Wrench

Open and Box End Wrench


Like the double ratcheting wrench, the offset double ratcheting wrench offers a different size on each end. The wrench is reversed by the latch that controls the catch direction on the wrench. Simply toggle the latch to change the direction from tightening to loosening. Remember the old adage, “Righty-tighty, lefty-loosey.”

Offset Double Ratcheting Wrench

Offset Double Ratcheting Wrench


This wrench offers the best of both worlds. The ease of an open end with the speed of a reversible ratcheting end. Both ends are typically the same size. By combining these two types, you can reach the pesky nut heads that can only be accessed by an open end, and perform speedy work on those nut heads that have free access. The reversible ratchet loosens on one side and tightens with the other. Wrench heaven.

Open & Ratchet Combo Wrench

Open & Ratchet Combo Wrench