A clean boat is essential for all boaters

Dave Osmolski


After unwrapping our boats from their winter cocoons, we spend hours cleaning, deodorizing and waxing our boats until they gleam. Then we jump in the boat and proceed to splatter them with all manner of food, drink, bait, fish blood and entrails, saltwater, and heaven knows what else. After returning home from a delightful day on the water, we usually only have enough energy for a quick freshwater rinse to remove the salt.

If you have ever walked on the docks where charter boats tie up, you’ll notice that long after the fish are cleaned and the clients have departed, the captain and mate are still scrubbing, cleaning and polishing. Often it’s just the mate. As the main tool of the captain’s trade, the boat should look nice and clean for the next charter. And a clean boat is also a boat with fewer problems.

Although I don’t necessarily advocate polishing and waxing after each outing, I certainly advocate washing your boat, engine and trolling motor with fresh water after a saltwater excursion. Rinse out the live and bait wells. Cleaning the fish box with baking soda (buy the 5-pound box) will minimize the fish aroma and will sweeten the bait and live wells.

Always rinse baking soda away after using it. It is alkaline, and the reaction with your skin makes it dangerously slippery.

While you are rinsing, open the anchor locker and rinse it, too. You don’t need to remove all the rode to rinse, just dilute the salt that has accumulated. While you are in there, check the connection of the chain to the anchor and the splice of the chain to the rode. This is a good time to fix any problems.

After washing the salt off your windows, both the hard (Plexiglas clear acrylic) and soft (clear PVC) ones, you have probably noticed spots when the freshwater dried. The spots come from the small amounts of minerals in most water supplies. You can minimize or eliminate these spots with a safe and inexpensive after-shower spray, which you spray on shower doors and walls to keep minerals from accumulating there. Spray it onto a damp microfiber cloth and wipe down your chrome-plated and stainless steel railings and fittings to keep them spot-free, too.

Blood and things such as yellow mustard from that bologna sandwich the kids left on the deck can indelibly stain a boat’s gel coat. These stains can be removed, but you should only use this approach as a last resort. A chlorine bleach product (5 percent sodium hypochlorite) found in quart- and gallon–size containers in any grocery store will remove these stains. Some say it can damage the gel coat, but after 10 years of using this product, primarily on fish bloodstains, I haven’t observed any damage. This is particularly true if you wax your boat two or three times a season.

All this can be done in only a little more time than it takes to simply hose off your boat. It pays off, too, in that your boat will stay clean, and as everyone knows, a clean boat is much more fun.

I have switched all my cleaning rags to microfiber cloths. They clean better and leave no lint. Rather than using a stiff-bristled deck brush, use one with soft bristles that have the ends split into finer bristles. Although a brush like this seems too limp to clean well, it will actually clean better both on smooth and textured surfaces, as the soft, fine bristles are able to reach into the finest crevices.

David H. Osmolski of Charlotte Power Squadron/27 has been repairing boats since high school when his first boat, a canvas-covered canoe with cedar ribs, leaked in gallons per minute and required constant repair.

United States Power Squadrons, America's Boating Club logo

The Ensign magazine is an official channel of United States Power Squadrons, America’s Boating Club, a volunteer organization whose members teach boating skills and best practices to help improve the safety of our nation’s waterways. Learn more.