Corded vs. Cordless Tools

Conceptually, the idea of cordless tools on a boat seems to be perfect.  After all, who wants to trail a cord when climbing a mast to add a spreader light and heaven forbid trailing a Dremel cord when replacing a waste deck fitting!  Unfortunately for us, the reality hasn’t worked nearly as well as the concept.

When we first decided to go commuter cruising and spend an undefined number of years cruising the Western Caribbean, we opted for all cordless tools — and bought the very best/highest recommended brands available.  Of course, that was in the early 2000’s.   We bought a cordless Maquita Drill, a cordless complete Dremel set, a cordless vacuum, cordless anything we could.  The drill and Dremel seem to get the most use.

Trusty Dremel took two chargings to finish enlarging our waste deck fitting hole

Unfortunately, any time we go to get the drill or the dremel because we need to use them, the battery is dead.  It seems the battery charge doesn’t like the hot tropical temperatures.  This started immediately after departing the dock sailing to Isla Mujeres, Mexico.   We had some important project that we needed the drill for right away, but right away was not to be because the battery was … dead.

After waiting what felt like forever, when we finally had enough charge to use the drill, it lasted JUST long enough to do what we needed and then rrrrrrvvvvvvvvddddd to a halt.

Every project I know dreads that sound!

CORDED Head Stripping Gun … just be careful not to electrocute myself!

I don’t know if it’s the heat in the tropics that makes the batteries not hold a charge – originally we thought it was just a lemon drill battery, but the rechargeable batteries in all of our cordless stuff suffer from the same malady.  Even if we never had a “right now” challenge,  we’re just not organized enough to realize the night before that the batteries probably won’t work.  Thus having to charge the battery when you need to grab a tool for some project provokes lots of new words and frustration around our boat.

So when we replaced the cordless vacuum, we opted for a long cord.  And when we added a heat gun and some other tools, all have … you guessed it … LONG CORDS!   We’re getting ready to replace the drill … we still haven’t decided for sure if we’ll get a new Makita or go with a corded version.  And if the Dremel battery every totally dies, we’ll likely replace it with a cord.

Of course the downside to cords is the potential to electrocute myself – most of the time, we don’t use tools while floating this close to the water – even while we’re off cruising.

So do you have cordless tools that you love and that always keep their charge?   Please leave a comment and share so when we buy a new drill, we won’t get the corded version if there’s one that will actually hold it’s charge!  🙂  Cheers — Jan

P.S.  Anyone with experience with a Craftsman Cordless Drill from Sears?  Craftsman is one of David’s favorite brands and he has a birthday coming up???





  1. Interesting post! You may have saved us some money on cordless tools. =)

  2. The problem with a lot of cordless tools is that they use old battery technology that has “memory.” What that means in practical terms is that you have to run them ALL the way down before re-charging, and recharge fully each time. Otherwise, they develop “memory” as to what full and empty are. The new lithium ion batteries have less of a problem with this . . . but they’re EXPENSIVE!!

    While our Makita cordless drill was a winner as far as Dave was concerned, we soon came to realize that the cordless Dremel was way underpowered for what we wanted to use it on. It would probably have been good for crafts, but not so good for cutting through 1/4″ stainless bolts. The corded one was much better suited to our needs.

  3. Interesting. I just had a discussion with my brother who is an electrical engineer. He also happens to be a battery expert. We talked about the new cordless tools and there various voltage systems. Size, weight and battery life. Yes, he mentioned that heat will kill a battery really fast. There is a difference between the Ni-cad 12 volts and the new Lithium ion cordless tools. I have thought that air driven tools might be the best approach to tool systems on a boat. An air compressor is not all that big and might have other uses as well.

  4. So do we think that heat affects the newer lithium ion battery less than the older style?

  5. Yes

  6. In addition to being less affected by heat and not having the memory problem, lithium ion are lighter weight and don’t self-discharge when stored nearly as much as the Ni-Cads or metal hydrides. too. FWIW, Dave really likes his Ryobi cordless tools, particularly now that we have one lithium-ion to share between them. Held a charge over the winter. Actually, his regret is that he bought a corded circular saw instead of a Ryobi cordless.

  7. Great article, our customers always have a hard time choosing between corded and cordless tools and it’s interesting to see it from your seafaring perspective. 🙂

  8. A new Li-Ion drill should hold a charge much better than your older drill. I personally buy pretty much all of my woodworking and carpentry tools reconditioned (I am a contractor and a woodworker). I like Hitachi tools for their value and they seem to hold up great for me. I’d recommend and check out their recondition tools, they are basically brand new or like new for alot less money. I have probably bought over 1 dozen different reconditioned tools from them and I will from now on.

  9. We have 18v Dewalt stuff onboard and it works like a champ. The lithium batteries are better, but keeping the batteries charged up is just a point of responsibility like keeping the water tanks up and the holding tank empty (or at least not full). If you don’t want to deal with it, no big deal.

    For “big” tools like the angle grinder, heat gun, and 1/2″ drill, those have cords. But for dinky stuff like a small drill, vacuum, and flex neck light, the batteries are awesome.

  10. If you are concerned about using corded tools close to the water (and you should be) consider installing a GFI outlet just inside the companionway, and always using that outlet (with proper extension cords) for those 110vac tools. That outlet can be powered by your inverter and/or your shore power system, and you will know it is protected. The dock power may or may not be protected. Regarding my opinion of Craftsman tools, they are great tools, but Sears seems to have a habit of changing battery configuration too often, making it difficult to get a replacement battery or replacement charger when one fails.

  11. Thank you for this post. It really differs a lot. Absolutely great!

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